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A Career in serial murder: Richard Montanari takes it to the movies

Category: Misc./General Career News
Article Date: March 24, 2006 | Publication: Cleveland Free Times | Author: Charles Cassady Jr.

Posted by: admin

In case you’re wondering where career advancement at the Free Times leads, especially for ink-stained wretches in the movie review pages, the answer is ... serial murder.

This can be a good thing. This week, Cleveland Heights author and former Free Times and Cleveland Edition film critic Richard Montanari has a round of local readings and signings for The Skin Gods, his latest high body-count thriller. At 7 p.m. tonight he’ll be at Barnes & Noble in Mentor (7900 Mentor Ave.). The same hour tomorrow he appears at Borders in Beachwood (2101 Richmond Rd.).

At nearly 400 pages in hardcover, and with a high-profile launch by Random House, The Skin Gods is the biggest production yet from the five-time novelist. But he says he cut down on research time by writing about what he knew best.

“I watch at least one movie a day,” he says. “I’m one of those people who watch so much from Blockbuster, I’ve seen the entire middle of the store.”

Accordingly, The Skin Gods concerns a mad killer terrorizing Philadelphia with an MO drawn from movies like Psycho and Fatal Attraction, re-enacting their celluloid atrocities in real life. Dubbed “The Actor” the villain strikes as the city is being used as a location for a Hollywood blockbuster, with no shortage of shady film folk loitering around town as suspects.

After a series of books featuring his character of Cleveland homicide detective Jack Paris, Montanari started 2005 with a fresh publisher and series. The first installment, The Rosary Girls, introduced the heroes of The Skin Gods: battle-scarred, middle-aged Philadelphia homicide veteran Kevin Byrne and his new partner, amateur boxer and single-mother, Det. Jessica Balzano, tracking a fiend who preyed on Philadelphia Catholic schoolgirls, staging deaths inspired by religious ritual. A big seller locally, The Rosary Girls made Montanari’s name overseas, spending two weeks in the London Sunday Times bestseller list. There is recent word of movie interest in France, where it sells under the title Deviances.

In the field of page-turners where lawmen hunt human monsters, the Case Western Reserve University English major is becoming a marketable name alongside the tale-spinners he idolizes, such as Michael Connelly, John Sandford, Jeffrey Deaver and Hannibal Lector’s creator, Thomas Harris.

What helps set a Montanari book apart, the author says, is the gambit of ominous passages that are the only ones Montanari writes in the first person — that of the anonymous killer.

“I always include a POV from my psychopath.”

As a professional writer steeped in cinema and movie lore, it comes as no surprise that Richard Montanari has done several as-yet-unproduced screenplays himself. What may be unexpected is the shock-horror subject matter: two are romantic comedies, and one much-cherished work-in-progress would be a biopic of the tragic jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.

Montanari said he has never adapted any of his own novels or novelized his screenplays, but he has a contract with Random House for two more novels. And while he considers it “unproductive” to visualize movie deals while he’s writing, he does have casting choices in mind for his leads, just in case the duo ever came to the screen. He thinks Rachel Weisz might make a good Jessica. Russell Crowe might work as Byrne, but he sees that character more like Liam Neeson, Gerard Butler or Barry Pepper.


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