Mystery Books News is thrilled to welcome Jeffrey A. Cohen as our guest blogger today. Jeffrey is the author of The Killing of Mindi Quintana (Welcome Rain Publishers, May 2010, 978-1-56649-958-3), a crime novel in which a celebrity murderer takes the public by storm — a killer with a book, a jailhouse literary sensation.
Jeffrey takes a look at fame through the backdoor of murder: Our Celebrity Killers.
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Years ago while in law school, I became fascinated with the phenomenon of the jailhouse literary sensation, and particularly, Jack Henry Abbott. He was the convicted murderer who became a cultural icon and literary shooting star when his book of letters to Norman Mailer, In the Belly of the Beast, was published in 1981.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey A. Cohen
One irony of the Abbott case is that this evil man’s letters, irrationally justifying his lifetime of violent crime, resulted in public sympathy, literary acclaim, and even his parole (with Mailer’s assistance). Another irony, a tragic one, is that within six weeks of his release Abbott killed again, the night before a laudatory review of his book would appear in the New York Times. And a final irony—the most perverse of all—is that the man he stabbed in the heart, Richard Adan, 22, a night-shift waiter who refused him the use of an employees-only restroom, was by day pursuing his dream of becoming a writer himself.
We tend to invest our violent criminals with special qualities—they’re poets (like Abbott), they’re rebels (like Gary Gilmore), they have greater souls, or they bravely act in the face of society’s most sacred rules—our antiheros. Only, in truth, they are almost never heroes of any sort, and kill because they are less not more. The jailhouse literary sensation and our other celebrity killers, bask in the limelight of a little life turned big through evil acts, and blossom and flourish in our misconceptions of them.
This is the spark behind The Killing of Mindi Quintana. In my novel, Freddy Builder kills Mindi Quintana, an old college flame, and is writing the book about their relationship everybody wants. It’s a lying rewrite of Mindi’s life and his own, and of his miserably thin involvement with her. Freddy is a department store clerk with dreams he’s done little to further. But now as he awaits trial, excerpts of his book appear and receive praise, and interest grows in the case. His own lawyer, Philip, watches with disgust as Freddy builds his acclaim from the bones of his victim. And as a new celebrity killer takes the stage.
The Killing of Mindi Quintana asks if our iconic criminals are truly the charismatic, talented, existentially heroic figures of film, literature and the press. It explores America’s obsession with its killers, and takes issue with murder as a platform for celebrity, a credential for acclaim. And it delivers a long deserved comeuppance to a false icon: the poet-murderer—the killer with a book.
Author note: A version of this article first appeared at http://incoldblogger.blogspot.com.
For more about The Killing of Mindi Quintana or to discuss these issues, please reach out to me: JeffreyACohenBooks.com. I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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About The Killing of Mindi Quintana: Freddy Builder is certain he is meant for more. More than his life in corporate America bondage. More than selling china to bluebloods in Philadelphia’s landmark department store, Chanet’s. Meant for more, meant for better, and lacking only, only an occasion to rise to.
And now that occasion is murder-of Mindi Quintana, an old college flame wanting simply to stay in his past.
Freddy’s crime is major news from the start. Mindi is the beautiful daughter of a renowned Philadelphia businessman whose dramatic fall a few years back captivated the city. A televised trial for Freddy is in the offing.
Meanwhile, he is writing the book about his relationship with Mindi everybody wants — a remorseless rewrite of her life, his own, and their miserably thin involvement. As excerpts of his book are published to acclaim, he gives articulate, sympathetic jailhouse interviews, publishes ghostwritten articles on prison issues, and coverage goes national. A new celebrity murderer is taking the stage — a killer with a book, a jailhouse literary sensation.
Freddy’s defense attorney, Philip, watches in disgust as his client builds his fame with the bones of his victim. As a career public defender, Philip thought he’d seen evil in all its incarnations. He’d lost his outrage, his passion for the law, and his marriage along the way. But Freddy’s case is a turning point for him — the public’s sympathy for the poet-murderer, the rebel, the killer as greater soul, stirs something dormant in Philip.
To stop Freddy, and to vindicate Mindi, Philip will have to violate his oath, even break the law. But with the help of Mindi’s best friend Lisa, he gives Mindi back the truth of her life and death. And he’ll deliver a comeuppance to a killer with a book.
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