How a stalker made crime novelist Jeffery Deaver's life imitate art
Creepy criminals are familiar territory for bestselling novelist Jeffery Deaver. But as his latest novel is published, he tells Hannah Stephenson about becoming the victim of a deranged fan
Over the years, Jeffery Deaver has written about crazed psychos, highly intelligent serial killers and stalkers in his bestselling crime novels. But the genial author - who introduced quadriplegic forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme and his sexy sidekick Amelia Sachs in The Bone Collector, which was made into a film starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie - never imagined the tables would be turned on him.
Today, the 65-year-old American, whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages, agrees to an interview on the strict condition his friends and family aren't mentioned and that his whereabouts remain vague.
He's not being precious. Being the victim of a stalker for the last two years has made him much more security conscious.
It began with an email from a would-be writer, asking Deaver to look at some of his work and reply with his comments.
"My policy is that I don't do that, because of potential plagiarism claims," the author explains. "I gave him some general advice. Curiously, he snuck a few little snippets of his writing into his emails, which I looked at. He was a decent writer, but I never looked at any of the manuscripts or partial manuscripts.
"He took offence at that. He said he liked the advice, but clearly I wasn't on his side - and it got stranger from there. I would get 70 emails a day, sometimes 50 within the space of an hour, just rambling. Many of them made no sense.
"Then there'd be an email saying, 'Jeffery, you are the star in my pantheon, you are my idol and I follow your inspiration because you're such a fun writer', but those were far outweighed by the crazy stuff.
"There were some ambiguous threats, which I don't want to go into. I called the police, and told them they needed to know about this fellow."
He had previously researched stalking for XO, his novel about a country singer who is targeted by an obsessive fan.
"It's very difficult to stop these people," he reflects. "The best thing to do, a police officer told me, is simply ignore them.
"So for the last year, I have not had any communication with this fellow."
Using the services of a private investigator, Deaver has discovered the stalker's name, where he lives (which is thankfully more than a thousand miles away) and even his profession (he has a full-time job).
"He was quiescent for a while, but then just recently he started up again and sent me the shower scene from Psycho on a YouTube clip. I thought, 'Okay, that's it'. I cancelled two book tour events."
But because the stalker hasn't confronted him in person, he says the police can't do anything.
"He doesn't have a vehicle. Possibly, if he lived next door to me, it would be more of a reason to do something, but he hasn't done anything actionable. So, there's not much to do except be smart.
"But it is curious, because the folks I've talked to in law-enforcement say, 'Just ignore him and he'll go away' - and he hasn't gone away."
In the past, fellow bestselling thriller writer Patricia Cornwell has employed bodyguards - something Deaver is keen to avoid.
"She and I both write about sick and twisted killers, but I'm going to avoid bodyguards," he says. "My book events for my readers should be pure fun. I don't feel vulnerable. He hasn't changed my life, except for cancelling two signing events.
"It's irritating, because part of me thinks people like this get away with it when we change our behaviour, but my responsibility is more towards my readers. I don't want to expose my fans to embarrassment."
He's had security cameras installed at his two houses and now has permission to carry a pistol, but this isn't simply due to being stalked.
"I have a 'concealed carry' permit, which gives me the right to carry a hidden gun, which I do occasionally. I walk my dogs in a very secluded part of where I live. Not that long ago, there was a sexual assault in the woods. I carry it for security," he says.
His latest page-turner, The Steel Kiss, sees Lincoln and Amelia on the case of a killer who causes death and destruction by hacking into a "smart controller", which can work home products remotely, in acts of "domestic terrorism".
Today, you can turn your oven on from a remote location, turn up the heating, tell your door to unlock for an hour when the plumber's expected and start your car remotely, Deaver explains. Imagine that facility getting into the wrong hands.
"I'm very reluctant to have too many of these electronic things in my home, because I wouldn't trust a product which could cause some harm," he says.
"In both my houses, I have a video monitoring system that I can log into anywhere in the world. I don't have a problem with that. I would not put in a system that turned the oven on, or turned down the heating system, because something might happen.
"There are a lot of hackers out there who have nothing better to do than cause mischief."
Away from the world of crime-writing, Deaver - a former journalist, folk singer and lawyer - breeds Briards. He and his ex-girlfriend have a dog business together and take the dogs to compete in national shows.
He's currently working on a TV comedy show, which has not yet been sold, a series of short stories and is already researching his next novel, a thriller set in Italy.
But, when he sits down at his computer these days, does he fear more nuisance messages from the stalker?
"I don't dread opening emails. If I heard the doorbell ring and looked at my security camera and didn't recognise who was there, that might make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but he's nowhere nearby.
"But I live alone and I do sometimes get spooked. The other night, my two dogs went nuts, started barking. I took my gun and a flashlight and went outside.
"I didn't find anything, but I have to be cautious, although I didn't think for a minute it was my stalker, well, not that stalker."
Then his imagination stirs.
"If I were writing a clever story, I'd have the stalker you see and the stalker you don't see and maybe they'd be working in tandem," he says.
- The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99