Art Imitates Life

Ridley Pearson wasn't always a writer. He spent his twenties playing rhythm guitar in a bar-band based in Providence, Rhode Island. Pearson was trying to break out of the music business -- which, he says, "was making me $50 a night and very tired" -- when he saw Peter Falk from Columbo on The Johnny Carson Show. Falk said he was going to quit the television series if he didn't get better scripts, so Pearson started trying to write that script the next day. "I loved the show," he says.

Sadly, Pearson couldn't save Columbo; his teleplays bombed. But when they evolved into thriller crime novels, they became best-sellers. Now in his forties, Pearson very nearly cranks out one book per year. Hard-core work ethic aside, his productivity is in part due to the endless stream of plot ideas provided by the media. Pearson has written about illegal organ harvesting, high-temperature-accelerant arson, babynapping, chromosome-splicing and the practice of castrating sex offenders. His latest novel, The First Victim, tackles one of this year's hot-button issues, illegal immigration -- but not of the South Texas/Mexico variety.

Pearson's plot opens with human cries coming from a metal shipping container sinking in Seattle's Puget Sound and twists and turns its way through government policy, organized crime, DMV corruption and sweatshops filled with Chinese women. It's social commentary, with plenty of intrigue, character development and murder thrown in for good measure. Pearson doesn't like the fact that with most books of his genre, readers don't learn anything about the world they live in. He tries to impart some information about social issues -- "subtly, quietly, without being preachy."

His readers could definitely learn a thing or two from Pearson about forensics. His meticulous research in the field has won him fans among criminals and crime-fighters alike. In fact, one book that analyzed Puget Sound's complicated currents and tides actually helped a prosecuting attorney convict a man who had thrown his wife off a bridge.

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Despite his writing success, Pearson still plays guitar -- only now, it's with a bunch of writers. He moonlights with Stephen King, Amy Tan, humor columnist Dave Barry and sportswriter Mitch Albom in a '60s cover band called the Rockbottom Remainders. Their official slogan: "This band plays music as well as Metallica writes novels."

-- Lauren Kern

Pearson signs The First Victim Wednesday, July 7, at 6 p.m., at Murder By The Book, 2342 Bissonnet, (713)524-8597.

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