About SPEAKING OF MURDER by Jonathan Black:
Speaking of Murder is a suspenseful mystery about a serial killer who targets a unique group of victims: motivational speakers. Witty, taut, and fast-paced, this is a terrific fiction debut from the former long-time managing editor of Playboy.
Hank Fowler is finally getting is life back together after his divorce and “early retirement” from reporting at Chicago’s biggest daily. But the tranquility doesn’t last long. After receiving an odd phone call from his old college roommate, who turns up dead shortly thereafter, Hank can’t help but investigate the case. Several more bodies are found in similarly mysterious circumstances, and the victims all have one trait in common: they are—or were—motivational speakers.
Meanwhile, Hank meets Rachel, newly divorced and trying to write a book, after she enrolls in Hank’s writing class. With her notalways-welcome help, Hank sets out to track down the killer. In this compelling, well-knit narrative, Jonathan Black creates a fast-paced murder mystery for the digital age. Speaking of Murder is a contemporary whodunit that should appeal to all lovers of the mystery genre.
Speaking of Murder is available in all popular ebook formats and accessible from all ereader and tablet devices.
Speaking of Murder, Agate Digital, 978-1-57284-490-2, Fiction/mystery
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About the Author:
Jonathan Black is the former managing editor of Playboy magazine. The author of Yes, You Can!, a nonfiction book about motivational speakers, Black is currently a professor of journalism at DePaul University. His writing has appeared in USA Today, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, among others. He worked at various magazines in New York before moving to Chicago.
Agate Digital is the newest venture from Chicago-based Agate Publishing, which partners with other forward-thinking media creators to publish affordable ebooks on a wide range of topics.
What inspired you to write Speaking of Murder?
I wrote a nonfiction book about motivational speakers (Yes You Can!) and remained fascinated by their appeal. It’s tempting to dismiss them as quacks and charlatans: they make it up as they go, they’re hypocrites who live in trailer parks, they drink all day. In large part, that’s our way of defending ourselves against their message—that we can all do better with our lives. We’d rather kill the messenger than heed what they have to say. There is, of course, a darker side to the uplift culture. One of the beefs I have with motivational speakers is that they preach an upbeat message but never bother with consequences. I like to think a certain entropy prevails, that the increase in one person’s happiness might come at the terrible expense of another. Then what? That’s the source of the murderous plot in Speaking of Murder.
What made you set this novel in Chicago?
Chicago is a great American city but full of contradictions. It’s both sophisticated and provincial, progressive yet tied to its past, rabidly proud yet prone to comparison. It’s these dualities that made it a fun backdrop for the book, whose main characters also shuttle between identities. They, too, are between things; it’s how most of us fall into new adventures, dangerous and otherwise. Of course I live in Chicago, which made it very convenient to set the book here. I’m also a New York transplant, which helps explains some of the attitude.
How much of your own experience shaped this narrative?
Professionally, I was a journalist like the novel’s lead character, Hank. I was laid off and had to grapple with changed circumstances, not all to my liking. It’s tough to go from a big job to scraping together a living. It was a challenge to pursue new directions, but fun to pursue new experiences. You have to if you want to remain alive and productive, but you never know where your instincts will take you. You’re working without a net. That’s the risk, and it’s what happens to the book’s protagonist, Hank. Like Hank, I fell into travel writing, which can be a tricky occupation: you’re often on the outside, trying to go someplace where you have no business. Non-professionally, I’ve had several friends from long ago who had a dramatic impact on my life but then disappeared. I imagine we’ve all had a couple of people like that in our lives. But what happens when they surface, and you’re no longer confident you know them? What happens when they appear with a new and scary agenda? That’s what Hank faces.
There are aspects of the book that get quite grisly. Is that something that appeals to you?
In our imagination, I think we’re all drawn to people with dark impulses who act out what we wouldn’t ever consider. I did find it surprising how easily I could drift into grim situations and macabre details. That’s the fun of being a writer.
The lead character has a quirky ally in the book—any chance we might see them again?
I didn’t set out to give Hank a woman friend. But the more I wrote about Rachel, the more I liked her. She was blunt and resourceful, and she turned out to be a very useful ally of Hank’s, though of course he resisted her throughout. They are already arguing about a new and mysterious series of murders.