For Victor Methos, writing convincingly about the most sinister of human deeds requires acknowledging the darkness within us all. But it doesn’t keep him up at night: “I feel it’s my way of shedding light into the dark corners of my own mind.”
Methos chatted with PW about his Desert Plains series— the newest book in the series is An Unreliable Truth—how his work in the legal field has informed his writing, and the undeniable allure of mystery and horror.
Can you share a little about the origins behind the Desert Plains series?
It was loosely inspired by a real serial murderer. Essentially, he was known as being so attractive that he had even done some modeling, and it was discovered later that he killed one of the photographers. It reminded me of a spider’s web: they’re beautifully symmetrical and alluring, but it’s just a façade to hide their true purpose. I knew I had to write a book that had a similar character.
How much of your writing would you say draws from your experience as a prosecutor and attorney?
Being a prosecutor gave me an understanding of law enforcement, as I’d hang out with the cops and detectives and listen to their stories and insights. Working both sides gave me a good overview of the justice system in a way people can’t get if they just work one side or the other.
In what ways does An Unreliable Truth change course from the first two books in the Desert Plains series?
It’s a spinoff of characters from the second book in the series, Crimson Lake Road. I knew I wanted it to be more focused on the legal thriller aspects than the investigatory aspects. A criminal defense lawyer is a unique type of attorney. It’s like an ethical exam every day: Do I defend my client using this tactic even though it might be seen as too aggressive? Or do I take the high road but hurt my client in the process? There’s no easy answer, and most of the time you simply have to do whatever is in the best interest of your client. I wanted to show the kind of ethical dilemmas defense lawyers constantly have to grapple with.
To what extent does setting (Utah, Nevada) play a significant role in your books?
Utah and Nevada are actually rather small-town, homey states, with the exception of Las Vegas, one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s an interesting feeling here to go from my town of 6,000 to an hour away in Las Vegas where people have literally been grabbed off the streets and sold into trafficking rings. I’ve always been fascinated with the different types of energy you can feel from different cities, and Las Vegas is certainly a unique place in the world.
How do you prepare to get into the mindset of a killer, and does it ever keep you up at night?
I’ve always believed in what Carl Jung called the “Shadow.” This unconscious, almost entity, that’s an amalgam of all our darkest impulses. There’s some arguments in anthropological circles that human beings only went from walking on all fours to bipedalism so that we could carry weapons to murder. It’s the people that proclaim themselves more righteous than others that are truly frightening. No one sees themselves as the villain in their own story. That’s why it’s so important for us to be in touch with that darkness: confronting it and engaging with it is the only way to control it. So, no, it doesn’t keep me up at night. I feel it’s my way of shedding light into the dark corners of my own mind.
Do you always see the twists in your books coming as you set out to write, or do they sometimes take you by surprise?
It’s a mix. I let my unconscious do the writing because our unconscious is universal. It’s what people relate to. And sometimes the unconscious gives me the twists up front and sometimes I have to wait to flesh it out before it comes to me.
From your perspective, what is it about murder mysteries and thrillers that makes them so enticing to readers?
Murder mysteries, in many ways, are just horror stories. We love horror as a species, but we don’t like acknowledging it. We all have that odd desire to look at graphic accidents and crime scenes. I’ve even seen a medical examiner, when he thought nobody was looking, poke a dead body. Just poke it for no reason, because it’s such a weird thing to see for us. There’s some draw there that I think the best mystery and horror writers can tap into for their work.
As you are writing, where do you look to for inspiration?
I’m constantly reading or watching movies and television, reading comics, reading whatever I can get my hands on. You never know where inspiration will come from. For example, I had a client once tell me that prison is like a fish tank where the sharks have eaten all the fish and only the sharks are left. That little comment inspired an entire book. So, I constantly have my ears open.