Actor Eriq La Salle has written a thriller, "Laws of Depravity." (courtesy Eriq La Salle )
After a successful career as an actor, writer and producer, Eriq La Salle has shifted gears to write his debut novel, "Laws of Depravity" (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $15). La Salle may be best known for his long-running role playing Dr. Peter Benton on the NBC drama series "ER” and, more recently, appearances in the drama “A Gifted Man.” But it was the TV movie "Mind Prey" that piqued La Salle's interest in writing a thriller.
"Laws of Depravity" follows a serial killer who murders 12 clergymen every 10 years, emulating the martyrdom of Jesus and his disciples. It falls on NYPD detectives Quincy Cavanaugh and Phee Freeman to catch the killer -- but the investigation becomes more complicated when they discover that the clergymen are far less pious than they would have their communities believe.
This Friday at 7 p.m., La Salle is scheduled for a reading and signing at Eso Won Books. We caught up with La Salle to ask him a few questions about his new role as a novelist.
What inspired you to write your first novel?
I view it as all of it being connected. Being an actor, which started my career, is to me just telling great stories. The whole love of being an actor comes from being in touch with that little kid who used to tap into his imagination and play games and make up stories. For me that evolved into directing and producing and writing short films to shoot.… It’s all just been storytelling, which is my first love.
Was your novel inspired by the role you played in the movie "Mind Prey"?
Loosely. That experience really introduced me to the world of thrillers — I wasn’t a big thriller reader at the time. Once I produced and acted in that film, it introduced me to the world of John Sanford. I thought he did such a great job with these antiheroes: the cop that is so good at what he does and yet is battling so many personal demons. That really opened my eyes and created this appetite in me for this type of genre and this world. I love edgy. And I think that the truth is none of us are all light and none of us are all dark. Being able to explore the dichotomy and struggle that each person has in trying to walk that line, I find fascinating.
Your novel deals a lot with ideas of moral corruption in the church. Why was that a subject you were interested in exploring?
There are two ways of looking at the novel. First you have to make it work as a straightforward thriller. You have to have your bad guys, you have to have your interesting kills, you have to have the high stakes. The book is also designed with a lot of metaphors, so a lot of things aren’t exactly as they seem. In the novel, the church is supposed to represent the highest standard for man because it is the spiritual, it is the connection to God. Those that operate with a corrupt connection to God, I think those are the most guilty people. In the religious world, there are scandals every single day coming out about people of the cloth and politicians. I just find it fascinating when people live a double life of saying they are committed to one thing and they are in complete contradiction…. To have people at that level betray basic trust and things that we’ve endowed them with, makes for a fascinating story.
You provide a lot of background about the murderer, Abraham Deggler. We know about his childhood, his passions, and we even see his need for confession and atonement. Why provide so much insight into his everyday life?
Shakespeare never really wrote about bad people; he wrote about people doing bad things. People who do bad things, for instance Richard III and Iago, from "Othello." These men felt insulted, they felt rejected, they felt passed over — they felt what they were doing was justified. I used that because I also want the reader to be torn by the thought: “Why am I feeling sympathy for a man who is doing something so heinous?”
It goes back to the question: What is the genesis of his dysfunction? And was he responsible for that? So he becomes a product of abuse and the horrible things committed against him. If you look at the set-up, we’re supposed to be rooting for the priest and the clergy — and I want to be clear that this is not an attack against the specific religion, this is not an attack against Catholicism. It’s against derelict spiritual leaders, no matter what faith, and a man betraying his commitment to God. Historically, we’re supposed to be rooting for the kind preachers and priest. Well here, you have a guy doing something so horrific, so terrible, and yet, once you see who these other people are in their entirety, it raises some questions in the reader. And that’s exactly what I wanted.
In “Mind Prey,” you played the part of a detective similar to your main character, Det. Quincy Cavanaugh. How do you think you relate to Det. Cavanaugh?