Why Did I Have to Wait for My Mama to Die Before I Could Write Perfect Killer?

Perfect Killer was a substantial departure for me and a book that had to wait for my mother to die before I could write it.

This book is a departure for two reasons: First of all, I’ve tried to write two books inside a single set of covers: a Southern novel wrapped inside a thriller.

The Southern novel is all about why a prominent civil rights attorney would ask a world-famous neurosurgeon to help her save the life of a white racist convicted of murder in a cold-case hate crime.

The thriller is the tale of the military’s search for a perfect drug to turn the average soldier into the killing equivalent of a special forces operative. As it turns out, what I thought I had imagined turns out to be far more frighteningly true than fiction.

Perfect Killer also has an underlying core of deeper significance as the characters try to deal with the physical, biological roots of human consciousness and free will.

The second point of departure concerns my mother, one of the last of the “Steel Magnolias,” born on one of her her father’s two cotton plantations in the Mississippi Delta and an anachronistic believer in the white planter culture that reigned for so many years (and still lives on under the surface). I, on the other hand, got kicked out of Ole Miss for leading a march in 1967.

I needed to wait for Mama to die because Perfect Killer has some unkind observations about this culture. As much as I disagreed with her views about the culture and her father (“The Judge” in Perfect Killer) I loved her too much to break her heart by writing this book while she was alive. She, the Judge and the history and culture in which they lived are described in as accurate and contextual way I could muster. There is no fiction there.

My mother’s name was Anabel (born Anabel Bradford) just like the hero’s mother in Perfect Killer, and she was buried in the Itta Bena cemetery on just the sort of winter day described. The hero, Bradford Stone, remembers many things that I went through. Although I have taken some liberties with my personal history, I have been as accurate as memory allows with my mother and her father, Judge John Wester Bradford.

I will no doubt upset many of my living relatives with the straight-forward confrontation of this past. My cousin Billy Bradford still owns Mossy Island Plantation, but has no day-to-day operational involvement. He is an entomologist who still lives in Mississippi. I have tried to look him up, but have been unsuccessful so far in locating him. I am likewise estranged from my other cousins as well. Time, distance, politics, attitudes, all play a role in this, I suppose.

Perfect Killer is the first novel I have ever written in the first person. I did this because it was the only way I could bring out the intensity of emotions the book requires. The hero, Bradford Stone, is largely autobiographical, at least through the character’s adolescence. Some names have been changed, but few other liberties have been taken.

For similar reasons, this book contains many characters who are real. The legal “vetting” of this manuscript was lengthy and intense as I scrambled to obtain legal releases giving formal written permission for the names to be used.

One of the names that has been changed is that of Al Thomas. The character in Perfect Killer named Al Thomas is a faithful rendition of him including the attempted hanging and cotton gin incidents and the VFW hut experiences, all of which happened. I do owe my life to Al. There is a street named after him in Itta Bena. The street’s on the map, but I have been unable to locate it on the ground. There is an irony running around there somewhere.

There are many other ironies as well. The Judge’s house is now owned by an African-American man. The house on Mossy Lake which my uncle William (Wish) Bradford and his wife Elodie used to live has been torn down. I vividly remember many wonderful days playing there with cousins Billy, Peggy and Juanita, but especially Billy who gave me my first shotgun, a single-shot .410.

There was a barn there and a country story and a dusty road among the cotton rows punctuated by the ramshackle wood-and-tin shacks surrounded by poor black people that I was taught not to see. I am thankful that teaching was eventually unsuccessful.

One of the newer and nicer houses there is owned by the man who now farms the plantation for my cousin Billy. It also houses a great outdoors outfitter, Mossy Island Outfitters, which I highly recommend, especially to those who’d like to go duck hunting in the area.

As with all my previous novels, Perfect Killer is fiction based on a solid core of factual research. It was inspired by No More Heroes,  a scholarly non-fiction book by Col. Richard Gabriel (U.S. Army, retired) who is a professor at the U.S. War College, the author of more than 30 other scholarly texts and a former consultant to the Department of Combat Psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

After I had finished the manuscript, Col. Gabriel read it then emailed me back to say that far more of it was true than I knew. He said that the drug I had described had been tested on some of the troops in the first Gulf War and was, in his opinion, responsible for one of the forms of Gulf War Syndrome.

Col. Gabriel wrote a non-fiction Afterword for Perfect Killerwhich might make for interesting reading even before beginning the body of the book.

I hope you enjoy all the books within the books of Perfect Killer. I certainly believe it is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever done.

Lew's Books