Murderer's crime novel wins literary award
Alaric Hunt, a convicted murderer who has been jailed since 1988, pieced together a vision of the outside world gleaned from episodes of Law and Order and novels to write a serial killer thriller that would go on to win him both a literary award and a publishing deal, the New York Times has reported.
Hunt submitted the manuscript for his debut novel Cuts Through Bone, written while he was in prison, to a novel-writing contest run by Minotaur Books and the Private Eye Writers of America, the New York Times revealed on Monday. Judge and author SJ Rozan felt the voice was "new", and avoided "the same wisecracking self-deprecating tone you see with a lot of private-eye books", she told the paper, while editor Toni Kirkpatrick was keen to let Hunt know he had won the $10 000 award, which comes with a publishing contract.
Phoning the number Hunt had provided with his submission, she was told he was "in an institution". Like a prison?' Kirkpatrick asked. "Yes," she was told by Hunt's cousin. "'Will he be out soon?' ... 'Well, he's there indefinitely.'"
Hunt and his brother pleaded guilty in 1988 to murder and arson, after they set off fires to divert attention from their burglary of a jewellers. Joyce Austin, a student, died of smoke inhalation.
Minotaur, however, "was intrigued" rather than put off by learning of Hunt's situation, with publisher Andrew Martin telling the New York Times that "he's allowed to write. He's allowed to submit. No one said he's not allowed to publish. He's not writing a memoir of the crimes and trying to make money off that."
Cuts Through Bone features a young Puerto Rican woman who works for a private detective, and follows the pair's attempt to prove the innocence of a war veteran whose fiancée was shot and killed, and who the NYPD believes could be responsible for a spree of deaths known as the Barbiedoll murders.
'Glances of the outside world'
Hunt had only written short stories before he entered the Minotaur contest, he told journalist Sarah Weinman for the New York Times piece, but he wrote the first draft of Cuts Through Bone in five months, in longhand. "He assembled the other elements of his novel from piecemeal glances of the outside world," writes Weinman. "He took cues for his version of New York, for example, from Law and Order episodes; a photocopy of a 1916 map of the boroughs; Berenice Abbott's Changing New York; and novels he read set in the city. For research on detective fiction, he read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, as well as some crime novels by Ed McBain."
Kirkpatrick and Hunt used letters to edit the novel, sending a single copy of the manuscript back and forth, with Cut Through Bone eventually published last May. Publishers Weekly was unimpressed, writing that its "overblown prose ('dawn broke, like an egg yolk bleeding yellow into a dark pan') doesn't help an unremarkable plot", but Weinman found that while the novel "adheres to certain private-detective conventions … what Hunt executes well, though, is the character of Vasquez, her sibling tensions and her existential struggles."
Austin's mother, Frances Austin, had not known Hunt had published a novel until she was informed by Weinman, and said she would not buy a copy of Cuts Through Bone. "This is America," she said. "I can't prevent him. Can't even try. But knowing this creates a lot of emotions I don't want to deal with."
Hunt told the NYT: "What haunts me is not seeing beyond what I wanted and casually risking. That's the act that defines me; something I didn't do, but failed to do: consider. I killed Joyce Austin, and I killed my brother and myself. There's a hole there that can't ever fill up." – © Guardian News and Media 2014