I seldom reread books, and that goes for my own books, with two major exceptions. Whenever I find it necessary to go searching for some small detail in Hour of the Hunter, I’m compelled to read the whole thing. It carries me back to my time on the Tohono O’odham reservation and to the people I met and the things I learned while I was there. And when people write to tell me how Second Watch has spoken to a similar experience in their own lives, I’m drawn back into that one, too.
The first Beaumonts, written in the early eighties, are now legitimately “historical fiction.” Agatha Christie’s first Poirot books were published in the twenties, making them far in the distant past when she was still writing in the nineteen-sixties. I now find myself in a similar situation but one of much shorter duration. My early mysteries were set at a time when there were no “devices” out there. Items that are everywhere now like cell phones, laptops, and tablets were nonexistent. I had an Eagle computer back then. It was a dual floppy desktop with 128k of memory. It wasn’t steam driven, but close. And the crime detection tools available to police investigators, ones we all know about today—like luminol and DNA analysis, for instance—were yet to arrive on the scene.
Several months ago I found myself needing to revisit one of those early books, Beaumont #4, Taking the Fifth. I was working on my upcoming book, Sins of the Fathers, and some of the characters in that are carryovers from that book to this one. In order to get the details right, I had no alternative but to go back and read Talking the Fifth. Let’s just say I was surprised.
It turns out that the early eighties were much more free and easy than I remembered, and much less politically correct. Some things in the book seemed totally out of character with the J.P. Beaumont I’ve grown to know and love. When he hopped into bed with a stranger, a visiting songstress named Jasmine Day, I have to admit I downright surprised and maybe even a little shocked. In the years between then and now a lot had changed in Beau’s life. For one thing, he had sobered up and had turned into what I regard as a far more likable human being.
But in reading that book, I also discovered a couple of items, small but jarring details, that didn’t quite jibe with things I had written in later books. Over the course of writing close to sixty books, it stands to reason that there would be a few dropped threads here and there. I was brought face to face with a major dropped thread problem after the publication of Second Watch. That book’s entire raison d’être is Beau’s service in the military in Vietnam. Shortly after the book was published, a number of readers wrote to me pointing out a twenty-seven word passage in book #9, Payment in Kind, in which Beau’s personal monologue includes mention of his NOT having served in Vietnam. My publisher has since reissued that book, and in the new edition, those offending words have been written out of the text.
It turns out there were a few telling details in the original Taking the Fifth that were also out of alignment. A bright turquoise stiletto heel found at the crime scene is referred to as being of a certain brand. There’s a problem with that, however, because that particular manufacturer never produced high heels. That glaring error needed to be corrected, as did the name of someone who was mentioned only once in Taking the Fifth but who, in later books has become a far more important character operating under a different name.
So last week HarperCollins reissued Taking the Fifth with those corrections installed but with the remainder of the story otherwise unchanged. The back of the newly published book includes a teaser containing the prologue and first chapter of Sins of the Fathers, due out in September. The cover art on the new paperback edition includes a lovely view of Seattle’s waterfront skyline complete with a Ferris wheel front and center. We all know that in real life Seattle’s Ferris wheel showed up decades late, but hey, what is it people say—something about not being able to tell a book from its cover?
Am I saying you must go out and purchase a copy of the new book? No, although you’re welcome to do so if you like. What I am suggesting is that you consider going back and rereading Taking the Fifth. When you do, I’m betting your reactions will be similar to mine. As in, “What the hell is he thinking?!!!” But don’t be surprised or come complaining to me when you discover Beau wandering the streets of Seattle digging for quarters and looking for pay phones. You have been warned!
If you decide to go the rereading route, when Sins of the Fathers goes on sale September 24th, you’ll be locked and loaded.
By the way, the galleys for the new book arrived yesterday, and guess what? There’s a waterfront Ferris wheel view on this one, too, only this time you really can tell the book by the cover..