Articles

Boogeyman of serial killers arrives in Budapest tomorrow
Vasárnapi Hírek
September 12, 2004
Translation by Dohi

More precisely, Inspector Davenport, the fearless crime chaser of modern crime fiction. Even more precisely, of course, the father of the character: John Sandford. Born in Iowa in 1944, he studied liberal arts — in American history — and got his degree in journalism. He began writing in the army and it was the army that sent him to journalist school. Since he had been sent to work in Korea, he was one of the lucky few to avoid Vietnam. Initially he worked for the Miami Herald, then for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1978. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 and was one of the finalists with his series of articles about American aborigines. He finally won the Pulitzer in 1996 with a series of articles about an American farmer family, entitled Life on the Land.
He only worked part-time for the Pioneer Press from 1989, and quit a year later. He wrote a series of articles in 1996, telling what happened to the protagonists of Life on the Land. Apart from this, he writes reviews for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, but he put away full-time journalism for good. Was polite literature so tempting for him? "As a child all I wanted was to become a reporter but after 20 years of journalism I began to burn out and I knew I couldn't do it any more. In addition, I couldn't have supported my children in their university studies, either," he says. That is why he tried writing novels. He sent his first novel to an agent, who liked Sandford's style but the agent thought the book was not coherent enough. "I've read many detective stories and each that caught my attention had an outsider character," Sandford replied. He created two characters of this kind. First, Kidd, the computer expert artist, then Davenport. "I've always thought of him as a kind of sociopath who is slightly warped. Of course, Davenport changed a lot throughout the stories, he became calmer..." His criminal journalist past helps Sandford to keep his stories and characters fresh. "I have to know what a crime scene looks like, and, of course, I have experience in this, since I've seen murdered people lying on the street. I had an idea about a series of novels where the events would be centered around various sports but since I never did any sports I had to give up the idea. I did hang out a lot with cops, though, so I'm pretty familiar with what I write."
In Titkos práda, Sandford presents his protagonist, Inspector Davenport as a married man, which is in contrast with the playboy the character used to be. Sandford's comment on the change is that "You always have to have a plotline dealing with love in a novel. People are always interested in how romance forms between a man and a woman. The problem is, if I write 15 Davenport novels, each with a different woman, the protagonist might resemble a predator instead of a playboy after a while. This worried me and I wanted to show that Davenport is capable of love and he doesn't just collect women, like in the beginning." The author also has a considerable experience in creating evil characters. "I got to know lots of bad guys, partly as a journalist and partly because I did extensive fieldwork in prisons before I quit the journalist business. I spent one month in a prison and mainly interviewed murderers. I wanted to know what happens in their head, how they can kill someone, especially their girlfriend? Of course these people killed for various reasons. Some were absolutely brutal but one of them couldn't remember anything. I believed him because it was evident he was dished because of the drugs. Another guy was completely crazy, he couldn't stop himself. But the most horrible thing is that totally ordinary people can become cold-blooded murderers, and this type of killer is presented in Titkos práda. There is an astonishing case in connection with my experience with murderers. Still as a journalist I wrote a front-page article about a man who turned out to be a ruthless killer a few weeks later. What's more, I was enthusiastic about that man in the report — it was shocking."
Sandford is working on other novels besides the Davenport books. After writing eight Prey novels, he felt he had to take a break. Kidd is also an extravagant detective, artist and computer expert. Apart from writing, Sandford is also working as an archaeologist — recently he supervised and photographed an Israeli excavation. But what does he read in his free-time? "The competitors, mostly," he says. "Robert Parker is a genius, Carl Hiassen is also a friend of mine, and of course Grisham, Clancy, King — I like their books. Most of the authors I like used to be journalists. I think we, ex-journalists understand each other's work more and that's what really counts..."
This is it, an appetizer for John Sandford, who, of course, is already loved by many inland readers, awaiting his new stories. Here is a chance to meet the author in person and have the books signed tomorrow at 3 pm in the Alexandra bookstore in Duna Plaza. On Tuesday, you can have the Hungarian editions of Rules of Prey, Secret Prey and The Hanged Man's Song, among others, signed by your favorite author from 4 pm in Árkád Libri and in the Alexandra bookstore in Lurdy Ház from 6 pm. Let there be many of us!