Interview and excerpt with author Bill Pronzini for “The Violated”

 

Q) Your new book, THE VIOLATED, delves a great deal into the darkness of rape and the kinds of effects it has on women and men in a community. What inspired you to take on such a dark topic?

A) Anger at the proliferation of rape in our society.  Next to murder, it’s the most despicable of all crimes.  Most novels that deal with the subject have large urban settings and focus more on the perpetrator(s) than on the victims.  I wanted to do a book showing the consequences of serial rape in a small California town – its effects on the women assaulted and those close to them, on the family of the murdered sex-offender suspect (who may or may not have been guilty), on the investigating police officers, and on various others directly or indirectly involved.

 

Q) What kind of research did you do for this novel?

A) Quite a bit on rape and psychosexual behavior, and on small town police procedure and forensics.  Also research on various topics pertaining to the lives of the individual characters and the eventual solution to the crimes.

 

Q) Was there a particular character or scene that you found difficult to write?

A) Yes.  Violence in my books is kept to a minimum, off-stage for the most part and toned down when it needs be on-stage; I hardly ever dwell in Tarantino territory.  The one graphic rape scene in THE VIOLATED, necessary to the plot, was by far the most difficult to write, even though it’s relatively brief.

 

Q) Your characters use the word ‘poor’ to describe the rape victims of Santa Rita, is this a commentary on how society perceives survivors of rape? Do you believe that these survivors can overcome this stigma or are they forever branded as ‘raped’?

A) If I overused the word “poor” to describe the victims, it wasn’t a conscious decision.  But yes, that is how society rightly or wrongly perceives them.  As to whether or not the stigma of rape can be overcome, it depends on the psychological makeup of the victim.  Some can, some can’t, but in all cases they are fundamentally, often profoundly changed.  The women assaulted in THE VIOLATED are of different ages, backgrounds, social status, attitudes; each is affected by and deals with her ordeal in a different way.  That was a conscious decision.

 

Q) Many of the women in THE VIOLATED are portrayed as either victims of sexual attack, of their partner’s decisions, and even the environment that they live and work in. What are you using victimhood to convey?

A) Nothing gender specific.  That in effect and to one degree or another, serial rape and murder in our midst makes victims of us all.

 

Q) What are some of the challenges you face writing in multiple perspectives?

A) The main challenge was creating distinctive “voices” for each of the characters. I’ve used the multiple first-person format before, most notably in A WASTELAND OF STRANGERS, so the task wasn’t as difficult as it might otherwise have been.  The hardest voice to get right was that of the Hispanic police detective, Robert Ortiz.

 

Q) What do you find rewarding in this style of narration?

A) Meeting the challenge mentioned above.  I like the format because it allows each character to speak for himself or herself, and the story to unfold as seen through their eyes.  If done properly, it also provides a greater sense of personal involvement and interaction, and a deeper understanding of the individual.

 

Q) How much influence does your wife, Marcia Muller—fellow recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award, have on your writing?

A) Marcia’s influence on my writing is the same as mine on hers:  we try to help each other be the best writers we can.  We read each other’s works in progress, make suggestions for improvement, and with permission, sometimes do minor editing/revising.  I don’t have difficulty writing from the viewpoint of women characters, but now and then I’ll make a gender mistake that Marcia will point out – invaluable in a book like this one which has so many different women’s voices.

 

Q) Do you have a favorite type of character to write?

A) Nameless.  After 40-some novels and dozens of short stories featuring him, he’s practically an alter ego.

 

Q) Which author do you feel has influenced your writing the most?

A) Several authors influenced me early in my career.  Evan Hunter/Ed McBain.  Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald.  Thomas B. Dewey.  Others to a lesser degree, among them one who might seem surprising:  John Dickson Carr.

 

Special Excerpt for the book “The Violated”

The dead man lay faceup on the grassy riverbank, legs together and ankles crossed, arms spread-eagled above his head with palms upturned and fingers curled, in a grotesque parody of the crucifixion. He was posi- tioned closer to the water’s edge than to the asphalt path that paralleled the river, the soles of his shoes less than a yard from its thin rind of mud. Early-morning April sunlight laid a pale gold sheen on the waxen features, causing the sightless eyes to shine as if with a faint inner fire. Flies and other insects crawled in the wounds in head and groin, though the blood was dry now.

Two boys on their way through Echo Park for a Saturday morning of fishing saw the body shortly after they emerged from the wooded area above where it lay. They ventured close enough for a clear look, then turned and raced back to the parking lot beyond the picnic area and chil- dren’s playground, where the older of the two used his cell phone to call 911 as he’d been taught to do in an emergency.

The first patrol unit, responding to the Santa Rita Police Department dispatcher’s Code 2, possible 187 radio call, arrived in a little more than five minutes. The officers, Leo Malatesta and John Jablonski, questioned the boys briefly, then followed the route the boys had taken to the river- bank. After a brief visual examination of the corpse, Malatesta, the senior member of the team, told his partner to make sure both boys stayed put in case they were needed for further questioning. He then flipped the switch on the shoulder radio mic velcroed to his uniform epaulet to confirm the 187 and request immediate assistance.

While he waited, Malatesta studied the crime scene. The dead man appeared to have been shot twice, maybe three times, with a handgun of undetermined caliber—a revolver, if the lack of shell casings in the vicinity was any indication. Probably right here on the bank, since there were no drag marks or other indications that the homicide had taken place elsewhere and the victim transported here.

Judging from the dried blood, the state of rigor, and the accumulation of insects, he had been dead since sometime the previous night. On      a cold night this time of year, the area would have been deserted after dark. The dew-damp grass was thick and spongy,  the ground beneath   it fairly solid; you could tell where it had been walked on, but there wouldn’t be any clear footprints. Here and there around the body the grass was mashed down but not torn up as it would have been in any kind of struggle or dragging. In addition to the asphalt path above, an irreg- ular, man-made path angled upward through the grass into the line of evergreen trees above, the route the boys had taken. Victim and perp or perps could have used either to get to this point.

There was little chance of anyone having witnessed the crime. This was a sheltered spot, trees hiding the picnic area to the north, more trees growing down close to the water’s edge to the south. Malatesta turned toward the river. The recent drought had narrowed it some, but it was still fairly wide here, and brown with silt. It ran in a more or less straight line past the park, then bellied sharply eastward to where it tapered down on its course through the town proper. Farmland lined the far acreage at this point, the few visible buildings too far away for anyone to see over to this bank in the daytime, much less at night.

That was all there was for him to look at and conclude. A careful search of the area and a hands-on search of the corpse was the Investigative Unit’s job.

He was still looking out at the river when his partner returned. “Coroner and ambulance on the way,” he told Jablonski. “Lieutenant Ortiz and the rest of the IU likewise.”

“Chief Kells?”

“Also being notified.”

“Kids’ll  stay  put.  I  got  their  names  and  addresses  to  make  sure.” Jablonski looked around. “Any sign of the weapon?”

“Not that I could see.”

“Thrown in the river. Or else the perp took it away with him.” Jablonski moved to where he had a better view of the dead man’s face. “You know him, Leo?”

“Don’t you?”

“Not with all that blood—” Then, in sudden recognition: “Christ!” “Yeah,” Malatesta said. “It’s him, all right. No wonder the shooter put

a round or two in his crotch.” “If that’s why he was killed.”

“Why the hell else? Capped him in his junk first so he’d suffer some, then finished him off.”

“Execution-style.”

“Not quite. No star-shaped laceration, just powder tattooing. Close range but not a contact wound.”

“Mad as hell, whoever pulled the trigger.” “Right.”

“Why lay him out like this, I wonder.” Malatesta made no comment.

“Funny,” Jablonski said. “Even with the guy’s past sex crimes record, the DA wouldn’t charge him on account of insufficient evidence. If he’d still been in jail on the other felony rap, this wouldn’t’ve happened.”

“Not now, it wouldn’t. Not here. Some other time, some other place, maybe.”

“You think he was guilty, Leo?” “Don’t you?”

“Bound to be a hell of an uproar whether he was or not. Another media swarm, too.”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe  they’ll  interview  us,  put  us  on  TV.  First  officers  on  the scene.”

Malatesta shrugged. “You go back to the parking lot, Johnny. I’ll wait here. Don’t let anybody come down except the lieutenant and his crew.”

“Right.”

Alone again, Malatesta stood over the body and watched the feeding insects. One of the swarm of flies, a big bluebottle with its wings glis- tening in the pale sunlight, sat on a staring eyeball. Ants moved in a solid line from the torn and bloody crotch across a pant leg and down into the grass.

He spat into the mud rind beyond the up-pointed shoes. “Just what you  deserved,  you  son  of  a  bitch,”  he  said.  “Whoever  blew  you  away ought to get a medal.”

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