A once-infamous real-life murder case and a famous fictional detective have significant roles in Florida author Michael Lister's latest novel.
Innocent Blood is a prequel to Lister's previous six mysteries about former cop turned prison chaplain John Jordan. The new book recounts the first case Jordan ever investigated, back when he was 18 years old: the Atlanta child murders in 1979-81.
The fictional detective is Harry Bosch, the protagonist of 19 novels (the most recent is The Burning Room) by internationally bestselling author Michael Connelly, and of the Amazon Prime series based on the books. Bosch makes a crucial cameo appearance in Innocent Blood, advising the young Jordan.
On May 14, Lister and Connelly, who lives in Tampa, will appear together in conversation at Genaro Coffee Company in St. Petersburg to talk about "music, movies, television, other writers and books that have been important to us. We'll talk about the two characters a lot," Lister said in a phone interview.
The Atlanta child murders are largely forgotten today, but, the author says, they have haunted him for years. Lister, 47, was born in Tallahassee and has lived for most of his life in the tiny northwest Florida town of Wewahitchka. In his youth he also lived in Atlanta and remembers the murders dominating the news at a time that he was about the same age as some of the victims.
Between 1979 and 1981, at least 29 African-Americans, most of them male children and teenagers, were abducted and murdered in the Atlanta metro area in cases that investigators considered linked. In 1981, Wayne Williams, a 23-year-old black man, was arrested; he was charged with and convicted of the murders of only two of the victims (both men in their 20s). Williams is serving two life terms.
Lister doesn't think Williams' arrest solved all the murders. "If you look at the infamous list (of victims), it's obvious there's no way a single person could have committed all those murders. It was a quick and easy way to close all those cases."
When he began writing about his John Jordan character 20 years ago, Lister said, "I just knew this case would be part of his backstory. There are a lot of places where my life and experience and Jordan's and that case intersect."
One of those intersections is the decade Lister spent serving as a chaplain in the Florida prison system, Jordan's occupation in the previous novels. But in Innocent Blood Jordan is just out of high school, a sheriff's son trying to decide whether to follow in his father's footsteps or pursue a yearning to become a minister.
Jordan heads to Atlanta to study and work at Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Ga., one of the first megachurches. It's a real church, and Lister also includes two of its real-life pastors, Earl Paulk Jr. and his son, Don Paulk, as characters. Earl Paulk received a series of phone calls from a man claiming to be the killer, and Lister, who knows the Paulk family, makes that incident part of his story. While writing the novel, Lister said, "I talked to them to get their perspective, to be sure I was remembering things correctly."
He also let Connelly know he wanted to include Bosch in his story and sent him a copy of the book. "He actually gave me some really good notes about the book in general and some specific things about Bosch," Lister said.
The two have known each other for some time. Lister's publisher sent his fourth Jordan book, The Body and the Blood, to Connelly for a blurb. "He wrote a great blurb, and he wrote to me personally to tell me how much he liked it. Then we got to know each other at conferences and conventions."
Connelly was asked for another blurb for Lister's bestselling book, Double Exposure. "He was a real fan of that one. He said there had only been three times he had read a book straight through, and that was one." For Innocent Blood, Connelly wrote a glowing introduction.
The regard is mutual, Lister said. "I've always been a fan of his work. I have so much admiration and respect for him, and he's been so important to me. So I wanted Bosch to be important to John Jordan."
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.