Killer read turns out to be written by murderer
When the judges of a contest for first-time crime novelists awarded their prize to 'Cuts Through Bone', they hailed the book for its authenticity.
No one from the Private Eye Writers of America panel, however, deduced that there might be a good reason for its author's believable voice -- he was himself a convicted killer serving a sentence for murder.
"He's not available. He's in an institution," Jade Reed, his cousin, told an interested publisher that called to follow up on his win.
"Will he be out soon?" came the reply. After a pause, Ms Reed said: "Well, he's there indefinitely."
Alaric Hunt (44) has lived more than half his life in prison after being convicted of killing Joyce Austin, a 23-year-old graduate student, in Clemson, South Carolina, in 1988.
Ms Austin died of smoke inhalation from a fire started by Hunt's brother, Jason, with a can of petrol and a match to distract emergency services while the two of them robbed a nearby jewellery shop.
They were sentenced to life with no parole for at least 30 years.
Hunt, who works in the prison library, discovered authors such as Ernest Hemingway while locked up.
He wrote 'Cuts Through Bone' in nine months in sessions between his prison duties. The story centres on the murder of a woman whose boyfriend, a military veteran, is wrongfully accused of the crime.
Clayton Guthrie, a middle-aged detective, teams up with Rachel Vasquez, the inquisitive teenage daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, to get to the bottom of the case.
Unlike some other American states, South Carolina has no law barring prisoners profiting from such work. Still, Hunt's publishers, Minotaur, are keen to stress that his book is not based on his own offence.
The book received mixed reviews. "Sometimes, a crime novel grabs you on the first page with its plot. Sometimes, it's the writing. Rarely is it the author's background. But Alaric Hunt hits the trifecta in his debut," wrote the critic for the 'Richmond Times-Dispatch' in Virginia.
Hunt hopes to earn parole in five years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)