Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Books: Out of Order by Charles Benoit

Out of Order
Charles Benoit
Poisoned Pen Press
Release Date: March 1, 2006


I’m one of those folks who actually believes the things he reads. Junk mail
offers, threats on bumper stickers, emails from former Ugandan government
officials who apparently need my help to access millions in offshore banks –
if it’s typed up, I tend to assume it is true. This explains why I own stock
in a wombat farm (The Other Gray Meat™) and how I ended up spending three
years in the Army. As a copywriter for an ad agency, I find myself actually
believing the things I write, sometimes Calling Now! before I even finish
writing the ad. Given this affliction – and knowing that I am not alone – I
have promised myself that I will only put things in my mysteries if they are
true.

I’m not talking about the actual mystery – I still have to come up with that
on my own. But all that neat little stuff that peppers my books – the
location of coffee shops in Cairo, the details of hotels in Casablanca, the
layout of the sleeping berths on Indian trains – is really true. In Relative
Danger, all that stuff about Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Fridays
restaurant on the Nile and the rugby players in Bahrain is accurate. And in
Out of Order, my new mystery set in India, when I tell you that the Pink
City Express pulls out of Delhi at 0600, you can go ahead and book a seat.
It’s not easy getting all these details right. Once I start a book, I have
to travel to every place I plan on writing about, staying at the hotels I
want my protagonist to stay at, seeing the sites I want him to see, eating
the foods he’ll dine on later. And it would be one thing if I set my books
in New York City or LA or Toronto. But no, I am driven to write the kind of
around-the-world adventure mysteries I love to read, books like Jon Clearly,
Wilton Barnhart and Paul Theroux wrote, books that take readers places they
never thought they’d see, and show them a time they’ll never forget. And
while I seldom ‘rough it’ – camping is a concept I accept only in theory – I
often surprise myself at the places I end up.

I wouldn’t have this problem if I were a better writer. “It’s a work of
fiction,” my wife likes to point out. “Go head and make it up.” But the
truth is I can’t. For me, every element of a book has to ring true – from
characters you’d swear you know to a story line that, while a bit
outrageous, is just outrageous enough to be believable. And if I were to try
telling you about getting hammered in a martini bar in Bangalore or
hobnobbing at a Bollywood premiere in Mumbai or what it’s like to chase a
felonious monkey across a rooftop in Jaipur without having experienced it
myself, well, you’d just know I was making it all up.
I’ll continue to travel, setting my books in the kind of places they feature
on the Discovery Channel, collecting exotic stamps in my passport and exotic
parasites in my bloodstream, all the while building an impressive – and I
certainly hope tax-deductible – credit card bill. So pick up a copy of Out
of Order and come along for the ride.

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