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‘ER’ star Eriq La Salle turns to crime novels with thriller ‘Laws Of Depravity’

‘ER’ star Eriq La Salle turns to crime novels with thriller ‘Laws Of Depravity’

Long before Eriq La Salle became a familiar face as Dr. Peter Benton on the medical drama “ER,” the actor and director remembers his earliest dream was to one day write books.

“Even before I wanted to be an actor, I used to dream of being a writer, whatever that meant,” he says. “Just being a storyteller has always fascinated me.

“I just tried it in different disciplines,” La Salle says. “Whether it’s as an actor, whether it’s as a director, it’s all storytelling.”

But now, after a debut a decade ago, La Salle now has achieved that boyhood dream. His thriller, “Laws Of Depravity,” is the first in a four-book series starring a pair of New York City police detectives and the FBI agent with whom they team to catch serial killers.

  • Actor-director Eriq La Salle’s debut novel, “Laws Of Depravity” is...

    Actor-director Eriq La Salle’s debut novel, “Laws Of Depravity” is the first in a planned series of four novels featuring a pair of NYPD detectives and the FBI agent they team with to catch serial killers. (Image courtesy of Sourcebooks)

  • Actor-director Eriq La Salle’s debut novel, “Laws Of Depravity” is...

    Actor-director Eriq La Salle’s debut novel, “Laws Of Depravity” is the first in a planned series of four novels featuring a pair of NYPD detectives and the FBI agent they team with to catch serial killers. (Photo by Lori Allen)

  • Actor-director Eriq La Salle’s debut novel, “Laws Of Depravity” is...

    Actor-director Eriq La Salle’s debut novel, “Laws Of Depravity” is the first in a planned series of four novels featuring a pair of NYPD detectives and the FBI agent they team with to catch serial killers. (Image courtesy of Sourcebooks, photo by Lori Allen)



“I like that fast pace and that sense of vulnerability,” La Salle says of the thriller genre. “Getting the reader to really be like, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going to happen?’ That high-octane, muscular storytelling is something that I definitely gravitated to.

“So I decided to try my hand at a thriller, and then a thriller series,” he says. “I’d read a lot. I’ve read so many of the John Sanford books, Lee Child’s, Don Winslow.

“I like revisiting characters, because I don’t always have enough room to tell their story in one book,” La Salle says. “So that’s pretty much how it was born.”

A decade ago, when unable to find a publisher willing to give him a chance, La Salle self-published his novel. Sourcebooks and its Poisoned Pen Press imprint recently picked up the book for this new edition, with plans to release three sequels over two years.

“They said, ‘Look, we want we want to republish [the initial book] because these books deserve a much bigger audience than they got,” La Salle says. “And we did OK for a self-published book. But this series needs to be much more widely read and widely exposed.”

That’s what Sourcebooks offered to do, he says. “They said, ‘We’d like to come in. We’d like to rebrand. We’d like to republish with a machine behind you now.’”

Now, with a new prequel novella, “Laws Of Innocence” added to “Laws Of Depravity,” La Salle finally has the book he’d imagined.

First thrills

La Salle might be best known for his role on “ER,” but in a career of more than 35 years on screen and behind the camera, he’s often worked in the crime genre of film and television. One of those projects provided an early nudge toward writing thrillers, he says.

“I produced and starred in a version of one of John Sanford’s novels called ‘Mind Prey,’ as his character, Lucas Davenport, which is a very wildly successful series that he’s been writing for years,” La Salle. “That introduced me to (thrillers) turned into cinema.”

That planted a seed, he says, that started to grow years later when he read about the ways in which the Apostles allegedly died.

“I read an interesting article, which I didn’t know at the time, that all of Jesus’s disciples were brutally murdered,” La Salle says. “I started doing some research on it. It’s not in the Bible, but the biblical scholars talk about it often. And I thought, ‘Wow, that would make a really interesting story.’

“So I had to kind of play with that and let it kind of percolate,” he says. “Kind of manifest what the story was going to be.”

Good and evil

La Salle started “Laws Of Depravity” with his antagonist, a serial killer who strikes once every 10 years, murdering a dozen corrupt members of the clergy, and then vanishing.

“I just knew it was a cool concept to have a modern-day serial killer, who was killing in the same fashion that Jesus’s disciples were murdered,” La Salle says. “So I started with that. I knew I wanted my antagonist to be brilliant because I think the more brilliant your antagonist is, the more brilliant your protagonist has to be. It sort of elevates it.”

He also decided to make the readers squirm over the murders being committed. Not just by their brutality, but by the fact that the ordained victims had committed their own acts of depravity, too.

“Some of the success of the book is that people ultimately get a little torn with how they feel,” La Salle says. “It’s very similar to Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Silence Of the Lambs,’ where at the end of the film we’re rooting for a cannibal, you know what I mean?”

La Salle says the influence of cinema surfaced often as he wrote. Where his villain was inspired by the 1991 movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” his good guys were influenced by a film released four years later.

“I emulated the concept of the movie ‘Seven’,” La Salle says of the detective partners played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. “One guy (in “Laws Of Depravity”) is Italian and Irish American, the other one is African American. They are the best closers in New York City, and so they are assigned these high-profile cases.”

He also decided to team his two NYPD detectives, Quincy Cavanaugh and Phee Freeman, with a female FBI agent.

“I wanted to have a strong female voice and presence and intelligence,” La Salle says. “So l introduced this FBI agent Janet Maclin who actually had been pursuing this case before our guys. I liked that element that they think it’s just happening. And she’s saying, ‘No, this has been happening for 30 years.’

“That’s pretty much how I got started with the concept,” he says. “Started with the antagonist, then worked the protagonists, and then you know, just started sprinting from there.”

Toppling barriers

La Salle says that while there are Black writers of crime thrillers, authors in the genre tend to be White. And that’s something he hopes he can help change, if only a bit at a time.

“I think the problem with publishing are the gatekeepers who have so much power,” he says. “What happens with gatekeepers is they gravitate towards what they’re most comfortable with. They gravitate towards what they feel readers will be most comfortable with. And so I think when you have African Americans, it’s sort of like, what category do you fit?

La Salle says he doesn’t think book publishing is doing a worse job promoting diversity than Hollywood, though both need to do more.

“I think their ignorance or prejudice or whatever you want to call it is sometimes a combination of many things,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not always that sinister. Sometimes it is.

“Sometimes it’s just like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know how to market you.’ It becomes a Catch-22,” La Salle says. “There aren’t a lot of Black voices here, so we don’t know what to do with Black voices here, so we don’t allow Black voices here.

“This cycle that will continue until we just go, ‘Hey, listen, this is a good story. And this is a good writer. This is a writer with promise,’” he says. “And you nurture that the same way you nurture many White writers that are trying different things. I think that that’s really, really important.”


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