Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome R. J. Calsyn, whose debut mystery is Primal Man (iUniverse Trade Paperback, August 2011).
Today R. J. discusses some of the issues he faced in writing his first novel.
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I have had a life long love affair with mysteries. Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, and Stuart Kaminsky are my favorite authors. When I was chairperson of the psychology department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis there were many times when I wanted to strangle someone in the administration or one of my colleagues. Writing a murder mystery provided a more socially acceptable outlet for venting my frustrations.
Primal Man takes place at Delphi University, a fictional institution in an imaginary town. The merchants in the Delphi Agora include a restaurant, bakery, souvenir shop, and an Oracle. Several characters in the novel consult the Oracle; her prophecies always come true! I chose to set my story in an imaginary setting to give myself more freedom in describing the location, events, and characters.
A gender war is raging at the university between the radical feminists and the sociobiolgists who have established the Program Male Studies (PMS). “Primal Man” is a supporter of the PMS. He is an exhibitionist who never speaks to his victims. He simply leaves an index card with a maxim and a warning. The first card reads, “Men are hunters; women are gathers. Gather yourself home.” The feminists respond to Primal Man and PMS in a number of ways including the creation of an army, the New Amazons, led by Professor Hilda German. The New Amazons dress in combat fatigues and carry signs that say “Stop PMS now!” Although I witnessed frequent skirmishes between feminists and their opponents during my university days, the intensity of the battles in the novel is the creation of an imagination gone wild.
In the first draft of the novel Primal Man was not a fully developed character; he just appeared occasionally, flashed his thing, and left a message. A reviewer suggested that I make him a full blown character and explore his motivation for exposing himself. I followed that advice, and Primal Man became one of the more interesting characters in the novel. His conflict between two religions, Catholicism and sociobiology, escalates throughout the novel.
The gender war provides the context for the featured event of the novel, the murder of Margo Elly. Dr. Elly, professor of biochemistry at the university, has developed “Passion with Protection” which is a spermicide that also increases libido. She recently established the Women in Science scholarship fund using profits from her drug patent. The feminists are convinced that Primal Man or one of the faculty members of the PMS is responsible for her death. However, there are several other suspects including her husband and a former student. Students and colleagues report that Margo Elly was rigid and difficult to get along with. They called her “Ice Queen.” She has many of the characteristics that I detest in a person — rigid, self-centered, haughty, and oblivious to the feelings of others. I purposely chose to make my murder victim a natural scientist, rather than a psychologist, to discourage the inevitable speculation that the victim was someone from my real life.
Heads of large institutions, including universities, often lose site of the main mission of their organization, because they become obsessed with their personal legacy. In my novel Bertha Sinduce, President of Delphi University, is totally ineffectual in dealing with the gender war and the murder of Margo Elly. She dedicates all of the resources of the university to raising money for her monument, the Museum of Medicine (MOM). Eventually she sidelines her management team and long time friends, Donald Speak and Liz Gold, and relies on an outsider, the mysterious Owen Nigel Onan, to raise money for the MOM.
Detective Graham Hunter has the responsibility of catching both Primal Man and Margo Elly’s killer. He is assisted by Maria Flores, a journalist from Chile. My detective shares many of the author’s interests including a love of red wine, Bob Dylan, and Inspector Morse. However, I have little in common with Hunter in terms of his athletic ability and good looks. Maria. Flores has many of the characteristics of my own wife — intelligence, beauty, and enthusiasm for life.
Father Dominic Alongi, chaplain at Delphi University, also assists Hunter with his investigations. Dom and Graham have been friends since grade school. The relationship between these two characters provided a vehicle to explore my own religious doubts. For example, how can a just and loving God allow so much misery in this world? Or, how can a Church that created the Inquisition call itself God’s representative on earth?
The novel is written in the third person omniscient voice which allowed me to tell the story from several points of view (POV). With a single narrator (e.g., the detective) I don’t think I could have conveyed the thoughts and feelings of the characters, particularly Primal Man and Margo Elly, nearly as well. Each chapter is told from the POV of a single character. The name chosen for many of my characters also conveys something about their persona.
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R. J. Calsyn is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has written over 100 social science articles on topics such as homelessness, gerontology, social support, self-esteem and achievement, and research methodology. He and his wife, Maria, now spend half of the year in Anna Maria Island, Florida. Bob loves tennis, long walks on the beach, and sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.
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About Primal Man:
Detective Graham Hunter is faced with catching an exhibitionist, investigating financial misconduct, and solving a murder. Hunter is a pacifist and a student of philosophy — not typical attributes of a cop. He is assisted by Maria Flores, a journalist who was born in Chile.
A gender war at the university is raging between the radical feminists and the sociobiologists who have established the Program in Male Studies (PMS). The exhibitionist, aka Primal Man, is a disciple of the sociobiologists. His attacks become more aggressive as the story progresses. The feminists respond with massive demonstrations and more. Dr. Margo Elly, professor of biochemistry, is the murder victim.
There are many suspects including her husband, a former student, two colleagues, and Primal Man. Clever plot twists, interesting characters, deviant sex, romance, and a surprise ending make for an exciting journey.