Bill Tepper’s exciting new novel The Master of the Game pits a diabolic serial killer against the best the police force has to offer, John Hightower. Their contest is at the heart of this book. I interviewed Bill Tepper by email to get some idea about how to balance two strong protagonists in the same narrative – and about how likely it is that serial killers can get away with disposing of bodies.
JW: You balance the good guys with the bad guys, in one way or another. They play a game based on power. Is this a real life phenomenon you are describing?
BT: Yes. And what a delicate balance it is. The more powerful, clever and elusive Simon became, the more hapless Hightower would seem. Simon studied Hightower’s book, he was completely familiar with police procedure, and he used all of his considerable capabilities to keep from getting caught. Without a body, crime scene, or witnesses, even the most relentless police footwork would prove fruitless.
Many killers are not caught unless they make a mistake. John Hightower was the first to admit that. However, I did hope to bring him up on par with his adversary. Hightower did come up with some real insights. He discovered Simon’s true identity, predicted motivation and many of his impending moves. But for a lucky accident, Simon would have been captured on at least one occasion.
Perhaps in “The Return Game,” John Hightower will justify his credentials.
JW: Your villain is strong, intelligent and rich, as well as being extraordinarily competent in a wide range of fields. How difficult if at all was it to ensure he did not come across as sympathetic? Or were you hoping to subvert the notions of heroism and villainy?
BT: Simon is all of those things and his many abilities can be admired, but never the man. Anyone capable of committing such horrific acts can only be abhorred. That is, by the overwhelming majority of us who are normal.
Heroism, villainy, good, evil, each being in the eye of the beholder, have been in conflict since the dawn of man. The concept provides a strong rationale for humankind’s innate aggressiveness and consequent behaviours. I would not presume to subvert something so inherently us.
JW: You have your killer abduct and dispose of a number of victims and hint at many more. It seems that it would be possible for dozens of people to disappear from society and not ever be found - in some cases not even be missed - do you think this is really possible? Is society so disengaged from the individual that we could any one of us slip away completely?
BT: In the United States over 8,000 people go missing every year and are never heard from again. It would be naïve to think that none fall prey to some kind of foul play. So, I would have to ask, do you really think it is not possible?
“Is society so disengaged from the individual,” quite aptly put. We live in a society of limited resources and even more limited attention spans. Cases are solved quickly or they fade to black. They simply pile up on the desk too quickly and interest always shifts to the next new thing. This was John Hightower’s greatest fear – that even as high profile as Simon was, in time the resources devoted to his capture would melt away.
JW: Thanks very much, Bill. I look forward to reading the next instalment – The Return Game.
John Walsh, Shinawatra International University, November 2004