Just as it dominated headlines in late 1978, the murders and mass suicide at Jonestown have provided rich emotional veins for writers in the Bay Area and beyond ever since, from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series to Leigh Fondakowski’s play The People’s Temple. Now the tragedy finds itself at the center of The Hunter, the latest Wyatt Hunt mystery by Davis author John Lescroart. While the first two Hunt books followed the P.I. as he formed his agency and solved other people’s whodunits, The Hunter finds him unraveling the truth of his own past — specifically, that of his birth mother’s murder.
“Given his age, and realizing that Wyatt would have been born sometime about 1967, I started casting about for interesting real-world events that might have somehow played a role, and that I could not too tortuously connect to the modern era,” Lescroart explained. “Upon reflection I realized that it gave me everything I needed in terms of resonance and narrative fodder, so eventually Jonestown became the center of things, and one that added what I believe is a huge and universal element to The Hunter.”
Having one’s own personal history affected by Jonestown is something deeply San Franciscan, and The Hunter‘s gallivants through Nob Hill and Marin County — and discussions of the Giants, the fog, and Indian Summer — make the Bay Area as much a character in this book as it’s been in Lescroart’s New York Times bestselling series starring defense attorney Dismas Hardy and homicide cop Abe Glitsky. Lescroart’s other inventions pop into one another’s novels as needed, and Lescroart’s fictional studio stable, he admits, allows readers to know, to an extent, what to expect when they see who’s the star of the show. But Wyatt Hunt came about when Lescroart, who starts his tour for The Hunter at A Great Good Place for Books (6120 LaSalle Avenue, Oakland) on Thursday, January 5, realized that Hardy and Glitsky were getting a little long in the tooth for younger, hipper readers. “And suddenly, there was Wyatt Hunt, living in his converted warehouse with its half basketball court, having different love interests, wind surfing, jogging, driving around in his Mini Cooper — just being a lot more physical and active.”
Though Hunt is in his third book, he’s also in his third act, having seen military service in Iraq and been a Child Protective Services worker before taking up the mantle of private dick. Lescroart, too, is in his third act (at least), having previously led Johnny Capo and His Real Good Band for many years and worked in offices, bars, and moving vans. Finally, after contracting spinal meningitis while body-surfing in 1989, the then-41-year-old Lescroart woke from an eleven-day-long coma and devoted himself, full-time, to writing. “The country music group Rascal Flatts has a song about that says something like God bless the broken road that led me straight to you,” mused Lescroart, “and that pretty much says it all. All of those experiences taught me some things that allowed me to get through them and on to what I feel I was born to do, which is tell my stories and entertain my readers. Given that, I can’t say I’d do anything differently.” 7 p.m., free. 510-339-8210 or GreatGoodPlace.Indiebound.com