Seedy suspense story continues in the family tradition

By |2018-01-16T07:21:20-05:00October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|

At first look, 27-year-old Christopher Rice is a rather unassuming looking gay man, cute if perhaps a little too skinny. But his eyes display the intensity of the soul that lurks beneath the designer shirt, and his mastery of the creative mind he possesses. One might say he inherited it from his mother, best-selling writer Anne Rice, author of “Interview With the Vampire,” or from his father Stan, a poet. But to say that would be to deprive young Christopher the full credit he deserves. His imagination is his own, and his stories derive little from those of his mother, save a similar voluptuous vocabulary and an ability to keep you turning the pages.
Rice’s first novel, “A Density of Souls,” was released in 2000. It quickly became a New York Times bestseller, a feat he repeated three years later with “The Snow Garden.” With his latest effort, “Light Before Day” (available now from Miramax Books; $23.95), Rice takes us on a trip to the underbelly of trendy West Hollywood, the place he now calls home.
“After publishing ‘The Snow Garden’ and moving to Los Angeles, I was determined to get a literary sense of my new home,” said Rice. “So I devoured every piece of classic detective fiction set in Southern California that I could get my hands on.”
Like legions of readers before him, Rice was enthralled by the works of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.
“I decided I wanted to write my take on a first-person detective thriller featuring a partnership between a young gay man and an older straight writer,” Rice said. “I was excited by the idea of having my protagonists cover the same ground Philip Marlowe used to explore on a regular basis, before it was home to large numbers of gay men who bear little resemblance to the self-hating homosexuals who pop up now and then in Chandler’s novels.”
Rice’s rendering of West Hollywood might be even darker than those of his legendary predecessors, though. If the ‘homosexuals’ he writes about aren’t self-hating, a fair number of them are certainly self-destructive – including, at times, the young hero in the book, reporter Adam Murphy, who while investigating the disappearance of three pretty young men from West Hollywood, inadvertently stumbles into the bowels of the crystal meth trade and a porn ring catering to wealthy pedophiles.
“I have a deep affection for West Hollywood and can’t think of anywhere else I would rather call home at this time in my life,” said Rice. “That said, ‘Light Before Day’ is a thriller first and foremost and as a thriller writer, I believe that danger and menace can be found in any community if you look in the right places. While the novel is grounded in a real setting, the more dangerous and unsavory aspects are specific to the individual characters, not their community. There is a large culture of gay pool parties in the Hollywood Hills, and most of them have a highly charged sexual atmosphere that includes drug use. But that’s not to say that their hosts are committing the crimes that Scott Koffler and Billy Hatfill commit in ‘Light Before Day.'”
Rice, however, does admit that one ‘unsavory aspect’ represented in the book is a very real problem in West Hollywood today.
“There is no understating the extent of the crystal meth problem in the gay community at large, and the struggles the character Nate Bain undergoes in dealing with his addiction to this terrible drug are very real and very common,” he said.
As a writer, the crystal epidemic both frightened and fascinated Rice.
“While researching the novel, I came across a brilliant series of articles put together by the McClatchy Company’s California newspapers on the crystal meth epidemic in rural California,” Rice recalled. “In one of them, the reporter described how a toxic byproduct of the meth making process ignited a structural fire so hot and intense that the fire department had to stand back and watch it burn. The toxic byproduct in question was a highly flammable substance called white phosphine. Meth makers use phosphorous during the cooking process and some of them dispose of the resulting waste in terribly dangerous places, like under the floor of their own homes. Phosphorous is air reactive and it turns into white phosphine as soon as oxygen hits it. I was chilled by the idea that individuals under the influence of this drug were handling toxic chemicals and byproducts to produce it. But my imagination was also fired by the idea of someone using this substance as a type of weapon to kill meth cooks and make their deaths appear accidental.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.