“Jesus’ death wasn’t the worst of the persecution of the Martyrs. The greater and even lesser known Apostles died equally horrible deaths,” writes Eriq La Salle in his debut thriller, Laws of Depravity, which Kirkus calls “a delightfully twisting roller-coaster ride through light, dark and the shades in between,” in a starred review.
These killings—crucifixions, beheadings, flayings—are mirrored in the crime scene photos of the more than 30 victims, all clergymen, of the “Martyr Maker.” They were also the initial inspiration for La Salle, a successful actor and director, to assume the role as novelist and take on the serial-killer genre.
“I read an article about how all of these disciples were brutally murdered,” the former E.R. star says from Los Angeles. “I had never heard about it. Come to find, out a lot of people—religious and nonreligious—didn’t know it as well. I thought, there’s a story here somewhere. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something interesting.”
Once he decided “to try my hand at writing,” La Salle recalled that article. “One of the staples of a good thriller is having a great killer, a killer who does things in an original way. I thought, this is kind of original,” he remembers.
So, with methodology first, he set out to establish the twisted mind and motive of the man who might perpetrate such vicious crimes. “I knew what type of killer he would be before I created my protagonists,” he says, referring to Detectives Quincy Cavanaugh and Tavares “Phee” Freeman, partners in Manhattan’s Fifth Precinct for more than four years when they first confront the gruesome handiwork of La Salle’s killer: a 70-year-old Catholic priest, skinned alive, with hands and feet “severed and neatly placed next to his body.”
With the help of Special Agent Janet Maclin and her trusty iPad, the detectives search New York City for the man—or men—behind what the FBI has dubbed, “the Martyr’s Murders.”
Laws of Depravity is the first of an intended trilogy, to be followed by Laws of Wrath and Laws of Affliction. La Salle offers a short prequel, Laws of Innocence, for free download on his website as a gift for fans, “something to hold them over,” he says, until the second book.
“Quincy and Phee are the heart of the franchise,” explains La Salle, but “Maclin became a readers’ favorite. When I was thinking about the sequel, she just made a cameo. Because I have a very strong female following, I wanted to give my fans a very strong, original female character to follow.” The author laughs at the power of his creation to engage fans. “So, Maclin started working her way back in.”
La Salle’s dedication to the project can be summed up in his outlook on writing. He practices the “old-fashioned rule of getting up every day and writing something.” He put in upward of 12 hours a day, every day, for six months to complete the first book. “Some of those days wield several hundred words,” he says, “and some of them are much more painful.”
Which leads to the process of actually bringing his manuscript to the public. He went the “traditional route” and learned “how human editors and publishers really are. They have their reasons. Some of them make sense, and some of them don’t.”
Due to changes in technology, La Salle decided to self-publish. “When you believe in something, you make an investment,” he declares. Although he finds “there’s still a little stigma in the self-publishing world,” he’s found “some gems in there as well.”
To ensure the veracity of the religious references and crime and autopsy scenes, La Salle ran his book by a pastor and one of the technical advisors he met on the set of E.R. “If [being on that show] taught me anything, it was respecting technical advisors,” he says. “Books like this have to ring true.”
Once completed, La Salle assembled a competent editorial team and hired the same graphic designer to design the covers of all the books in order to retain the uniformity necessary for a series. “A friend helps with publicity and sets up certain things, but basically, it’s all me,” he adds.
Proud of the “amazing five-star reviews” he’s garnered online, La Salle claims sales “have been steadily growing.” When he received the Kirkus star, he thought, “Whoa, the game has definitely changed.” He believes that authors are “more empowered” in today’s publishing climate. “We’re at an interesting point where things work more in favor of the artist.”
But his success as an author and publisher has paid off in more than sales. His debut raised the interest of an agent, with whom he has been discussing finding support for the trilogy in print and on the screen.
Regarding his added duties as publisher, La Salle cautions, “It’s a lot of work. I won’t downplay that. You have to be built for this: It is a marathon."
Tom Eubanks is a writer and editor living in New York. In publishing for over two decades, he also represents authors and artists. He’s currently working with fashion icon Pat Cleveland on a long-anticipated memoir.