When Killer Weekend, Ridley Pearson's new crime series kicks off, he'll be bringing murder and mayhem to his own backyard—and he couldn't be happier about it. Pearson clearly loves Sun Valley, Idaho, where he's lived for part of each year since 1980. Sun Valley has always attracted the jet-set crowd, from Clark Gable and the Shah of Iran right up to Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. But to Pearson, nature is the valley's finest feature.
“City people come and say what boring mountains, but they change every five minutes,” says Pearson. “You can see on the north side that there are no evergreens, and then look up just a couple of miles and there are the evergreens, because the snow depth is enough to water the seeds through the year so they can grow.”
Raised in Connecticut, Pearson, 54, moved into his parents' Sun Valley vacation home after college to play bass in a rock band at night and write fiction during the day. St. Martin's published his first novel, Never Look Back, in 1985, and signed him on for two more stand-alone thrillers. Then Pearson began writing series, first with Lou Boldt, the Seattle-based detective, and then Chris Klick, an ex-musician who lives in an Idaho cabin and unlocks mysteries surrounding missing music royalties (the latter written under the pseudonym Wendell McCall, which Pearson fused together from the names of two small Idaho towns).
Pearson has written more than 20 thrillers, eventually following his longtime editor Brian DeFiore to Hyperion. After 11 books with the house, including The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, the novelization of fellow Rock Bottom Remainder Stephen King's ABC miniseries, he left for Putnam. There were no hard feelings, according to both sides. Disney continues to publish Ridley's YA novels and the Peter Pan prequels he wrote with another Remainder, Dave Barry.
So it's Putnam publishing this new series, and for the first time, Pearson is using the real people and places of Sun Valley in his fiction. Killer Weekend features Sheriff Walt Fleming, a character based on Sun Valley's real sheriff (whom Pearson has known for 20 years). And the Cutter Communications Conference, or C3, during which Fleming has his hands full trying to catch a suspected assassin, is loosely based on the Valley's annual Allen & Co. summer retreat that brings together media moguls, politicians and Wall Street dealmakers. Pearson is anxious to show off his new fictional domain and on a driving tour points out the house of the five barns, explaining how a local man had five barns in New England disassembled and shipped to Idaho, where they were reassembled to create one house. Pearson used the exterior of the house as a model for the lavish home of Patrick Cutter, the setting for a party scene in Killer Weekend. How do the owners of the house feel about this?
“I just called them five minutes ago, so we'll see,” Pearson says. “I tell people when I use them in my books, but not when I use places.” The owners of the five barns house seem pleased to show it off. A giant hay hook hovering above a staircase catches Pearson's eye. “That would be a great place to find a body,” he says, continuing to spot things to use in future novels. Just driving down the one road connecting the towns around Sun Valley, Pearson sees potential. “All I have to do is blow a bridge and everybody's stuck,” he says. “Law enforcement, medical.”
With Sun Valley's beauty, dangerous terrain, Hollywood history and billionaires mixed in with working-class residents, Pearson has unlimited material to work with, and while place figures prominently in all of Pearson's fiction, for this new series there's no place like home.