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Alan Gregory's Goodbye: PW Talks with Stephen White

By Mitzi Brunsdale, Publishers Weekly, Aug 09, 2013

White keeps readers teetering on a high wire of suspense, rounding off his 20-novel Alan Gregory psychological thriller series after 20 books with Compound Fractures, a therapeutic exploration of murder, guilt, remorse, and retribution.

Why did you decide to close your successful Alan Gregory series now?

It's time. A Supreme Court justice, I think it was Lewis Powell, when asked why he was retiring, replied that he thought it was prudent to step down while there were still people who thought he should stay, rather than waiting until everyone thought it was time for him to go. That is wise counsel.

Why/how did you choose the crucial tightrope walker metaphor for Gregory's predicament, especially as it relates to his friend Sam Purdy?

Alan's sense of betrayal is pervasive. The peril inherent in funambulism — the legend of Ivy Baldwin has been lurking in my head for decades — was an ideal metaphorical fit. As Alan's doubts about Sam's motives evolve, and the conflict sharpens, the threat of catastrophic consequences for their families gave immediacy to Ivy Baldwin's caution that the high wire is "the greatest poison in the world. One drop could kill you."

Alan Gregory consults young therapist Delilah Travis professionally about his problems; what do her notes add to readers' understanding of the novel?

By adopting a two-volume ending for the series I created an inadvertent dilemma — I had to find a way to reveal the previous book's backstory without resorting to exposition. Delilah's sessions with Alan provide an opportunity for him to tell her, along with readers new to the series, how the characters arrived at that point in the narrative. Her therapy notes later become crucial to the long-planned resolution.

Which character development in this novel pleased you as its creator the most?

The easy answer? Sam Purdy. He grows the most. The truth? The kids. Grace and Jonas and Sofie. Writing children in a believable way is a challenge in adult fiction. The kids' roles in this story are crucial. I had to get them right.

Why does the epilogue of this novel leave readers with a final puzzle?

I am aware of completing a circle. From the time that I imagined that I might someday write an end to the series, I've known the conclusion would find Alan in the same vicinity where he began. I suspect that few readers will recognize that the opening lines of the epilogue bear a resemblance to the opening lines of my first book. The puzzles that are revealed at the end of Compound Fractures are a reminder that despite how everything settled for Alan, not much has really changed.

Are you planning to begin another mystery series?

I never planned to write this one, so readers can be forgiven for not believing my protest that I don't intend to write another. We'll see. Either way, it's been a great ride. My gratitude is boundless.

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Compound Fractures (USA)

Dutton (USA) 2013

Q & A
Ivy Baldwin

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