For Jeff Crook, the hardest part about writing The Sleeping and the Dead (Minotaur Books/St. Martin's Press) was striking and maintaining a perfect balance between crime fiction and horror. As a fantasy writer, it was easy to let his imagination run the show and give in to his story's ghostlier aspects.
"But I knew I had to maintain the mystery," Crook says.
The mystery is set in Memphis, where an especially dramatic serial murderer dubbed the "Playhouse Killer" has been stalking the catwalks and back stages of area theaters like the Hattiloo, Playhouse on the Square, and the McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College. Like Vincent Price's hammy Shakespearean actor in Theatre of Blood, the killer takes his victims in ways that resemble well-known death scenes.
Jackie Lyons, the hard-edged protagonist of The Sleeping and the Dead, was fashioned after many of the outspoken women Crook has known. She's a former vice detective and a human train wreck with substance problems, money problems, and a pending divorce. She makes what little money she has by photographing crime scenes for the MPD and the only good thing in her life is the Leica camera she bought at a bargain price from a stranger. But what are the weird spectral images that keep showing up on film? Are they defects or otherworldly clues?
Crook didn't think The Sleeping and the Dead would be part of a series, but he is currently working on his second Jackie Lyons novel.
"The first thing the publisher asked me was, 'Do you have another?'" he says, clearly pleased.
"The Sleeping and the Dead" reading and book signing at Burke's Book Store on Monday, July 9th, 5:30 p.m.
and at Square Books in Oxford, MS, on Tuesday, July 10th, 5 p.m.