As the author of nearly two dozen thrillers, John Lescroart is used to keeping his readers in suspense. But for his latest mystery novel, even the Sacramento-based author didn’t know how it’d end. That’s because Lescroart was one of just twenty-six authors who co-wrote No Rest for the Dead over a period of two years.
The book, and the concept of using a team of writers, was conceived by Andrew Gulli, editor of The Strand Magazine, a mystery and short-story publication, as a benefit for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Gulli and his sister Lamia Gulli, who acted as the novel’s editors, first reached out to Lescroart and gave him only a base story outline and four character names to start off the suspense.
“I knew almost nothing about the book’s plot,” said Lescroart. “I knew a few of the main characters and their basic relationships, but otherwise, I was in the dark. And that made it all the more fun.”
Although Lescroart wrote the novel’s first chapter, it actually ended up becoming the eighth chapter in the book. “I was the one setting the bar, so to speak,” he said. “I was motivated to make the characters as ‘real’ and as strong as I could, so that the others following me could [be] clear that this was not just a lark of a project, but a real book with characters who demanded to be taken seriously.”
His efforts paid off. The novel itself is a mastery of suspense and detail. The foggy marinas and craggy hills of San Francisco are the backdrop to, as one character tongue-in-cheekily borrows, “murder most foul” — a graphically detailed decomposed body discovered in the embrace of an Iron Maiden. Rosemary, an employee of a San Francisco art museum and a mousy, motherly heiress, is quickly blamed, tried, sentenced, and executed for the crime against her co-worker/husband, the social-climbing, openly philandering, arrogantly charming museum curator, Christopher. But — and naturally, there’s a huge but — Jon Nunn, the detective who presented the damning evidence against Rosemary, suspects he’s been duped. Ten years later, he vows to get to the bottom of who killed Christopher Thomas — for real, this time. No spoiler alert necessary, but as a whodunit, the book turns every single character into a suspect once his or her backstory and relation to the murdered and murderess are revealed.
Although Lescroart helped direct the initial plot, the rest of the authors were left with quite a bit of room to play with. And each writer brought his or her own stamp to the book. You know it’s Kathy Reichs, popular for writing the books that inspired the television show Bones, when you read the detailed coroner’s reports recreating the scene of the crime and all the medical minutia. And it wouldn’t be Alexander McCall Smith without a few German characters and a lovely, layered conversation between two entwined would-be innocents.
But the finished product is a mostly seamless romp through the fictionalized art world, and you will find yourself racing through each new chapter till you reach the dénouement. And the final twist is such that even Lescroart, who, after all, wrote the first pages of the book, didn’t see it coming. “And I was paying attention,” he said. “You’ll have to read the book to find out for yourself.”