I can remember coming home from college one year and finding my father all amped up about a thriller he was reading. Actually, he was more than amped up, he was bouncing off the walls. He kept saying, "It's the wheelchair scene, Bobby. The wheelchair scene. You've gotta read this book!" My dad had been a journalism major in school and was editor-in-chief of the Temple University Press, a daily newspaper published by the university in Philadelphia. He loved history and loved reading about the Civil War and Russia. In fact, he had decided to go back to school, and after he retired, was earning a graduate degree in history from Villanova University. I mention this because seeing my father so excited about a thriller was more than unusual. When I asked him about the book, he scooped it up off the kitchen counter and showed me the cover.
RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris.
This is painful to admit, but at the time I had no idea who Thomas Harris was or what RED DRAGON might be about. My interests were a thousand miles away. But then I moved to Los Angeles and everything changed. I can remember a life without e-books, a ten year stretch when bookstores were really thriving and crime fiction was in a Renaissance. No matter where you lived in the city, you could throw a stone in any direction, and nine times out of ten, wind up hitting a bookstore. Authors came in every weekend to meet their fans and sign their latest work. I was writing spec scripts at the time, but reading a lot of novels and showing up for book signings as often as I could. One question that every author seemed to be asked was, what are your ten favorite novels? Every answer was different, except for one novel, a single title. Every author I was following included RED DRAGON on their list. As I thought it over, Harris's influence had been huge. He'd had an impact and changed the entire genre. But even more, Harris's RED DRAGON and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS had changed everything for me as well.
I wrote THE DEAD ROOM for my father as a way of saying thanks -- a legal thriller set in Philadelphia and the surrounding neighborhoods where I grew up. It's the story of Teddy Mack, a young civil attorney who has just graduated from law school. Unfortunately for Teddy, and for unknown reasons, his new boss is forcing him to represent a man arrested for the horrific murder of an eighteen-year-old girl. I particularly enjoyed doing the research for this novel because everything about it was new. I had the opportunity to meet with the district attorney of Philadelphia. I walked through the Criminal Justice Center, Police Headquarters, and most fascinating of all, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, where I learned that the only protein source inmates receive is turkey because of the tryptophan. Caffeine, of course, is forbidden! Writing THE DEAD ROOM changed me. And RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris, and as presented by my father, turned out to be the light that showed me the way. "It's the wheelchair scene, Bobby. The wheelchair scene. You've gotta read this book!"