Excerpted from Midnight Rambler by James Swain. Copyright © 2007 by James Swain. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q:. What is MIDNIGHT RAMBLER about?
A: MIDNIGHT RAMBLER is the story about an ex-cop named Jack Carpenter who’s been forced to resign from his job because he beat up a serial killer named Simon Skell, the Midnight Rambler. When the book starts, the case against Skell is unraveling, and Carpenter is doing everything he can to keep Skell in prison.
Q: You’ve set the story in Florida. How does the setting lend to the mood and plot?
A: I’ve lived in Florida for the past 25 years and always wanted to write a book which captured the unique flavor of the state. On one hand, it’s a tropical paradise. On the other, it’s filled with horrible killers and crime. I can’t think of anywhere else that functions with such extremes.
Q: Did the Rolling Stones’ song “Midnight Rambler” inspire the story, or did you come up with the story first and then find the song that fit it?
A: I was reading a law enforcement case investigation guide about paraphilias, which are psychosexual disorders involving reoccurring fantasies that are common with serial killers. It made me think of the Rolling Stone’s “Midnight Rambler”, which is a homage to the Boston Strangler, a famous serial killer in the 1960s. I thought it would be interesting to write a novel about a serial killer that’s obsessed with this song. That led me to watch the documentary Gimme Shelter which chronicles the Stone’s infamous outdoor concert at Altamonte Speedway where a black man is murdered in front of the band while they’re playing their set. The movie also features the song, which plays an important part in the novel.
Q: Describe your main character, Jack Carpenter.
A: Jack Carpenter is an ex-cop. Before his fall from grace, Carpenter ran the Missing Person’s Unit of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department. In the novel Jack is living above a seedy beach bar and struggling to get his life back together.
Q: Jack Carpenter has a very special relationship with his dog. What does this relationship say about Jack’s character?
A: Jack’s dog is an Australian Shepherd named Buster who Jack has rescued from the pound after his wife walks out on him. Buster is what vets call a potential fear-biter — he’ll bite you if he thinks you’re going to harm him. Buster adores Jack and a handful of his friends, and hates the rest of the world. In many ways, Jack and his dog are very much alike.
Q: Did you model the Midnight Rambler or his crimes after any real-life cases or murderers?
A: The Midnight Rambler was modeled after a notorious serial killer named Oscar Ray Bolin, who lived a few miles from my home. Bolin was handsome, charming, and very efficient. He was, and continues to be, a master of manipulating the system from behind bars. A law enforcement officer I know described him as a “killing machine.”
Q: What research did you do into law enforcement, missing persons cases, and the serial killer psyche to write this book?
A: Several years ago, I happened to meet a real-life abduction specialist. Over lunch, I asked him to explain what he did. He told me to forget everything I’d seen on TV or read in the papers about the subject. He then gave me an education in finding missing people and capturing their abductors, which include sexual predators and serial killers. It’s been a fascinating experience.
Q: In your story, the killer uses the media to complicate the case for Jack. Can you tell us about this?
A: Bolin’s case influenced this portion of the book. Bolin worked the local media so well that they treated him like a rock star and included flattering pictures in the paper. A woman in the spectator gallery developed a crush on Bolin and later married him.
Q: Do you think that media reporting skews the outcome of criminal cases, in general?
A: That’s hard to say. However, I do know that the media often impedes law enforcement’s ability to find missing people.
Q: A frightening child abduction scene takes place at Disney World. Why did you set this scene there?
A: In the early 1990s I heard about a thwarted child abduction at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. I spoke to a Disney employee I knew and was absolutely chilled by what I was told. I wanted to show my readers how vulnerable small children are, even in places as safe as Disney.
Q: In what ways is Midnight Rambler a departure from your other popular crime novels.
A: My first seven books are mysteries. Although Midnight Rambler has an ex-cop at its central character, it’s was written as a thriller.
Q: Jack Carpenter is an abduction specialist. Was there a reason behind making him this?
A: I had a family member who was abducted and I grew up hearing stories. When I learned that there were individuals who specialized in finding missing people, I decided to learn more.
Q: What effect would you like Midnight Rambler to have on readers?
A: I hope they have a hell of a time reading the book.
From the Hardcover edition.