A Life of (Writing) Crime

Author Peter Abrahams, Williams Class of 1968
Peter Abrahams '68

He’s been dubbed by Stephen King “my favorite American suspense novelist.” And critics at The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Salon.com routinely heap gushing praise upon his work.

But bestselling suspense and mystery novelist Peter Abrahams ’68 still wonders at the persistent distinction between crime fiction and literary fiction. “It’s silly,” he says. Taking in the sweep of marshland behind his Falmouth, Mass., home one Sunday in May, Abrahams says the only thing that matters is telling a great story.

Since graduating from Williams, he’s produced 19 novels, including the popular Echo Falls Mystery series, as well as several books for young readers and the Chet and Bernie Mysteries.

“I’ve never had more on my plate,” says Abrahams, who attributes his love of stories, particularly adventure stories, to both a childhood surrounded by books and to his mother, who taught him how to turn a phrase and choose “the exact right word.”

Abrahams, who says he does some of his best writing in the shower, works at a desk in a roomy, spare studio over the garage. “Notice the desk faces away from the view,” he says, describing a “Calvinistic” routine of waking to an hour of email correspondence and Facebook updates, followed by a trip to the gym or tennis court, and then hunkering down to meeting his daily quota of 1,000 words. He rarely falls below it.

Abrahams doesn’t read crime fiction—”I don’t want any contamination,” he says. And perhaps that’s one reason why his novels continue to surprise. Though full of heart, his prose, praised by Kirkus Reviews as “pitch perfect,” is restrained. He leaves the bludgeoning to his characters. “I like a sentence to do more than one job,” says Abrahams, who has made a point over the years of paring down dialogue and keeping descriptions to a clean, precise minimum. “The imagination of the reader is one of your biggest tools.”

It’s a tool that comes in handy in his work on the Chet and Bernie series, written from the point of view of Chet the dog. An unabashedly crotch-smelling, leg-lifting canine, Chet functions as Watson to Bernie’s Holmes, describing what Bernie’s up to while holding forth in the sparest doggie poetry: “And then—yes. She barked. … I barked back. She barked…”

You can read more about Abrahams’ work in the July Williams Alumni Review. (Or read the text-only version.)

Also check Abrahams’ website and follow his canine creation online.