Moving from Mystery to Suspense

Though I was a fan of mysteries from junior high school on, it wasn’t until I’d published several books in other genres that I launched my Nick Hoffman series in 1996.

I can’t claim the idea was entirely mine.  I’d been writing a lot about children of Holocaust survivors, and my editor at St. Martin’s suggested a change of pace.  “You’re got a great sense of humor.  Why don’t you write something funny?”

Well, the funniest stories I knew were about academics, so I chose academia as my setting and the series was born.  I picked a fish out of water for my narrator/protagonist.  Nick Hoffman was a New York Jew somewhat stranded in the Midwest, gay, and improbably for his colleagues, in love with teaching composition even though he was an Edith Wharton scholar.

The series took off, but my other work leapfrogged it and was taught at many schools around the U.S. and Canada, so I found myself invited to speak at one college and university after another.  Wherever I went, some faculty member would take me aside and tell me about what Borges calls “bald men arguing over a comb.”  Every department–whether it was in a community college or at an Ivy League school–had some scandal, imbroglio, vendetta, or other juicy story.  I was bombarded with material.

I tried different forms with the series: dead body in the first line, dead body halfway through, no corpse at all.  And of course I attended a slew of mystery conferences and appeared as a panelist or moderator on dozens of panels.  But after Hot Rocks, the seventh in the series, I had run out of steam.  Nick was never one of those sleuths who was untouched by the crimes he encountered; if anything, he was battered and beaten down by them as much as he was by academic stupidity and cupidity.

Luckily for me, I wasn’t under contract and forced to squeeze out another book.  I let the series lie dormant while I kept publishing in other genres.

Assault with a Deadly Lie by Lev Raphael

And then over the course of a few years, I noticed a disturbing trend reported in one newspaper after another: even small town police departments forces were becoming militarized.  They were getting surplus assault weapons and armored vehicles from the Pentagon, setting up SWAT teams, and recruiting from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Even more disturbing was a shift in consciousness due to being trained by the military: cops were starting to think of citizens as The Enemy.

This shift is an enormous change in our republic, and it disturbed and fascinated me enough to make it the centerpiece of my 8th Nick Hoffman novel, Assault With a Deadly Lie.

The academic satire hasn’t disappeared, but now Nick’s world of academia has been infiltrated by a more dangerous worldview, and even tin pot administrators think of themselves as arbiters of national security.  The stakes are much higher for everyone involved, especially Nick, in a story that I seem to have ripped from the headlines, though it’s been under way for several years.

Assault With a Deadly Lie is Lev Raphael’s 25th book.


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