A surprise beginning

Jeffery Deaver takes backwards approach to new thriller

Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Seinfeld might seem like an unlikely pair especially as sources of inspiration for a thriller. But that’s what happened to Jeffery Deaver. The writer caught Sondheim discussing his musical Merrily We Roll Along — which tells the story of a Broadway composer in reverse — on a radio show. The musical transitions between scenes with the title song which takes on different meanings at different stages in the composer’s life.

Deaver liked the idea of an audience’s expectations rearranged going backwards in time. The concept also brought to mind the Seinfeld episode “The Betrayal” and Christopher Nolan’s Memento and gave him an idea of his own.

“I thought right then: ‘I’m going to write a thriller that does the same thing’” he says. “And I went home and began The October List . And it was a very arduous process.”

In telling the story of Gabriela a woman trying to recover her six-year-old daughter from kidnappers demanding she provide the eponymous list and a huge ransom Deaver simplified things by creating an extensive outline beforehand. That The October List is shorter than most of his books also made things easier. But he nonetheless faced a formidable challenge in crafting a “surprise beginning” rather than a surprise ending.

“I’m known for my twists and turns surprises” he says. “If you begin at the end where’s the surprise? Most of the chapters in The October List end on a question mark but because we’re going backwards in time I had to give the resolution I had to let the reader know by giving them facts that happened earlier.”

An impatient reader could of course skip to Chapter 1 and read the book in chronological order. But Deaver designed the book to be accessible. While he encourages fans to reread it he says once is enough to “get it.”

But although it’s gotten good reviews and may become a film Deaver’s adamant that The October List marks an end for him not a beginning. He would never he says write a book with this structure again.

“I think it would be very very difficult to come up with an idea as good as this one was. I’m not saying the book is necessarily good. But in terms of the reverse chronology content I think it would be very hard for me to come up with something that matched how this works as a story that goes backwards.”