Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Stop! Thief!

Sun Valley is high-jacked for new crime novel

Express Staff Writer

Prolific author and Wood River Valley resident Ridley Pearson is signing his new book, set in Sun Valley, at the Community Library Thursday.

Ridley Pearson is "frazzled." His new crime novel, "Killer Weekend," a crime plot set in one Sun Valley, comes out next week. He and co-author Dave Barry just finished penning the final installment in their Peter Pan Series, "Peter and the Secret of Rundoon," and Pearson just finished the follow up to "Killer Weekend," called "Power Struggle."

Pearson is a writing machine. He turns out at least a book a year and to date has 26 novels to his name, so it's no wonder he feels overwrought.

Oh, and Pearson, who is a long-time resident of the Wood River Valley (and St. Louis), will do a book reading and signing at 6 p.m., Thursday, July 5, at the Community Library in Ketchum.

The protagonist of the new series, published by Putnam, is a sheriff in Blaine County, Idaho, whose name happens to be ... (wait for it) ... Walt Fleming. (Please notice non-accidental spelling.)

"Killer Weekend" takes place in Sun Valley. It's centered on a high profile business gathering, akin to the conference thrown by investor Herbert Allen held each July in Sun Valley. The sheriff of the county leads a chase against time when one of the guests at the conference receives an inexact death threat. Other stories flow through this main concern, including serious personal issues that crop up to distract from the case at hand.

The real Blaine County sheriff, Walt Femling, and Pearson have been friends for many years.

"Walt is very involved in this," Pearson said. "What's interesting about Walt is that he's almost too good to be true, in real life. He can't be that in the novel. He has to be flawed. He's been so gracious about letting me flaw him out. He has a lot of depth. He really cares—cares that the community gets along. I was involved in a search and rescue once, saw how nice he was and professional. Also he invited me to be on a board regarding the county jail. We've worked on that for 15 years, so I've seen how this guy works."

Like the fictitious sheriff, Femling is also FBI trained and has a father who is a retired FBI agent. But the similarities veer after that.

"It was pretty fun," Femling said. "We met and talked a lot. When Ridley started stretching too far we had conversations to keep it real. He likes his books to be very accurate and real. We made an effort to do that. It's fun to get the manuscript. He e-mails all the time. He loves things to be detailed. He even looked at my car to see what I carry. We go to that extreme. But it still is fiction."

Femling and the security people in charge of the Allen & Co. conference have long worked together. In the novel, there is friction between the many agencies that provide security for the conference.

"The head of security, Mike Stapleton, and his crew are NYPD guys. We have a very close relationship," Femling said. "We touch base in May, identify problems, and extremists. It's a whole roll of activities and things. I give him my deputies for some events. We keep in the loop."

While "little things pop up nothing has ever come up that we couldn't handle, thank God," he said. "It's a very well run event, everything is top notch and well coordinated."

Pearson began writing books, under the pen name of Wendell McCall, using a mountain town like Ketchum as the setting. Then he gained fame as the best selling author of the Seattle based Lou Boldt crime series and several stand alone crime novels. Returning to the Wood River Valley in his novels was something he wanted to do again.

"To write about a place that I've lived so long is a gift," he said. "Having lived in the valley for 27 years (I know) there's an ambience to the place that you couldn't get just visiting. It's a feeling—not something you'd see on the surface. I hope that some of the characters express that. I'm really quite excited that it will be a series. It's really rich with Sun Valley and the wilderness.

"Urban place crime is easy. There's lots of crime and it's believable. There's all aspects to this crazy place we live."

The Wood River Valley offers contrasts of personal wealth, lifestyles and values, Pearson said. He believes that living in St. Louis finally gave him the objectivity to write again about the area.

"There's character of place to any novel, and when I write about this character, the character called Sun Valley, it gives me a wonderful leg up. I know that gal," he said. "I know what it feels like to be a local, and there's just a lot of material.

"I think this is my best published book by far. It's a complicated business getting a book out. (His new publisher) Putnam is a great house. They have the combination to the lock. This is more of a commercial novel. That has its pluses and minuses. Though I hope not too many minuses. The last crime book was two years ago. This book with a new editor probably took 14 intense months. It has short chapters and moves fast. That's been a terrific challenge. I don't want to write pulp. That was my aim. I didn't want to lose characterization and descriptions. It's a really good balance, I think. I've written 26 of them, and it's still tricky."

Pearson does tricky really well. Advance reviews of "Killer Weekend" have been hugely positive. For readers within the Wood River Valley the fun is in trying to figure out who is who while being on intimate terms with all the locales. For those outside, it gives Sun Valley, the grande dame of U.S. ski destinations, a new and mysterious twist.

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