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Kitsap author Gregg Olsen has murder on his mind
Gregg Olsen has finely tuned tastes and knows how to satiate them.
“I can’t stand a comedy,” the Kitsap author said. “I hate sci-fi and fantasy. But even if it’s a crummy suspense thriller, I’ll go watch it.”
Over coffee in a Silverdale café, sandwiched between bookworms and chess players, Olsen talks murder. It’s something he’s been doing a lot lately, as his serial killer thriller “Victim Six” releases this month. He’ll start a mini-tour promoting the book with an appearance at Kitsap’s Barnes & Noble tomorrow, Jan. 30, and will follow that with a signing at Port Orchard’s Bethel Avenue Books Feb. 2.
Set in the many diverse neighborhoods of Kitsap, “Victim Six” introduces the everyday, local haunts of Silverdale, Bremerton and Port Orchard to Olsen’s worldwide reader base.
“You’ll know every place in this book,” he said.
The book is shocking, darker than Olsen’s four previous works of fiction. He is best known for “Starvation Heights,” a true-crime account of Olalla’s Linda Burfield Hazzard, a doctor who starved her patients to death. Olsen has written on a battery of other real world cases, covering such topics of fascination as convicted child rapist Mary Kay Letourneau and Tanya Reid, a mother who murdered one of her children and attempted to kill the other.
“Victim Six” introduces Kitsap County Sheriff’s detective Kendall Stark, along with Port Orchard reporter Serenity Hutchins, two fictional women woven into a frightening tale of bloodlust in which a killer stalks, captures and tortures victims around Puget Sound.
“I’ve always been fascinated by crime,” Olsen said. He suspects he’s seen every episode of television’s Law & Order franchise, a show which, like his own novels, features cases “ripped from the headlines.”
“The psychology of it is what interests me. I want to know why — why would a mother smother her kids?” he said. “I want to get in there and find the answer.”
Olsen’s true crime research has given him what he calls a “pass into people’s lives” — from mansions to mobile homes, he’s listened to the stories of real-life criminals, victims and those who dot the long stretch between. Those stories now help keep his fiction fresh.
“It’s what I’ve studied my whole life for,” he noted. His experience also makes easy his transition to fiction, where the audience is much bigger and where his imagination can build on reality.
“I’m not encumbered by the facts or the truth,” he added.
In “Victim Six,” the 15-year Kitsap resident draws from his daily surroundings, as well as his knowledge of all things malevolent. Olsen spent time in the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office, the county jail, property room and records department in preparation for the book. He also spent a day with the county coroner.
Kitsap is a very different place from, say, King or Pierce counties, and those differences — those little eclectic oddities — are what drew Olsen to making it his setting. Local readers will “get that kind of wink, that ‘Oh, I’ve been there,’” while coming across area landmarks page after page, he said.
Olsen, who writes mostly at night from his Olalla home, puts together a novel a year in the realm of fiction, where he’s currently working on his fifth of six contracted books. His thrillers have been published in seven different countries. When it comes to true crime, the process is longer.
His widely anticipated “A Twisted Faith” took upwards of four years to complete.
“A Twisted Faith” is earning early national attention, with calls coming in for Olsen from Dateline NBC, Discovery and CBS. It’s the story of Dawn Hacheney, the wife of youth minister Nich Hacheney, who died in 1997 in an early morning house blaze while her husband was away. What unraveled afterwards was a web of sex and religion, leading to Nick’s conviction for his wife’s death. He was arrested on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the country stopped in horror to watch the World Trade Center towers fall, so little media attention was given to the story.
“I feel lucky that it’s in my own backyard and it’s a story worthy of telling,” Olsen said.
The hardcover comes out in April.
Olsen is already hard at work on his next piece of fiction, a black widow white-knuckler to release next year. “Starvation Heights” has been optioned as a motion picture, with Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts adapting it to script and Natalie Portman attached to star.
Meet Olsen at 3 p.m. Jan. 30 at Barnes & Noble and at 6 p.m. Feb 2 at Bethel Avenue Books. Learn more at GreggOlsen.com.