This spring, author Brian Lebeau will release his debut novel, “A Disturbing Nature” (May 10, 2022, Books Fluent), a psychological and insightful thriller about a prolific killer and investigator in post-Vietnam War-era New England.
When FBI Chief Investigator Francis Palmer and Maurice Lumen’s paths collide, a dozen young women are already dead—bodies strewn in the woods across southern New England. Crippled by the loss of their families and haunted by mistakes, they wrestle with skeletons and ghosts neither understands. Who is destined to pay for the sins of their fathers, and who will pay for their own?
Under a celebrity veneer, the Beast in Palmer simmers. Called back from an investigation that’s gone dry in Seattle to his field office in Boston, he’s assigned to a case closer to home. Without closure and carrying the scars of every predator he’s hunted down, Palmer’s thrust into a new killer’s destructive path and forced to confront his own demons.
On the surface, Mo Lumen seems an unlikely suspect. Abandoned by the Great Society and sheltered from the countercultural revolution, he’s forced to leave Virginia under the shadow of secrets and accusations. Emerging in Rhode Island, burdened with childlike innocence, reminders of the past threaten to resurrect old carcasses.
A psychological thriller set in the summer of 1975, “A Disturbing Nature,” explores the concept of two deaths, blurring the line between man and monster.
An Interview with Brian Lebeau
What can you tell us about the two main characters readers will meet in “A Disturbing Nature?”
Maurice “Mo” Lumen is 24 when he arrives in Rhode Island. As the result of a childhood “accident,” his mental and emotional maturity is permanently that of an 11-year-old. Forced to move from his last home in Virginia, Mo must adapt to a new environment, working his first job and living without family for the first time. But, while Mo tries to focus on the good, he can’t ignore the words and actions of others, threatening to resurrect the accusations and secrets he thought he’d left behind.
Chief Investigator Francis Palmer is a hunter. During his 20 years with the FBI, he’s helped solve the most notorious mass murderer cases, from The Boston Strangler to his most recent, The Campus Killer. Along the way, Palmer has created an alter-ego, The Beast, to get inside the mind of monsters. Now, he struggles to prevent The Beast from consuming him. Over the course of a three-and-a-half-week investigation closer to home, Palmer will be forced to confront his past, his failures, and his greatest fears, The Beast threatening to take control.
Serial killers have existed for centuries, but we didn’t use this term until the late 1970s. Did this play a role in why you set your novel in the 1970s?
I chose 1975 because that was when I turned eleven—Maurice “Mo” Lumen’s intellectual age in “A Disturbing Nature.” It was also the year the Red Sox went to one of the greatest World Series ever played and a decade after landmark Civil Rights legislation. Initially, the story was entirely from Lumen’s perspective, but as FBI Chief Investigator Palmer’s role grew from an important secondary character to a primary lead in parallel with Mo, the connection to serial killer history from that time became necessary to understand his background, motivations, and the demons he had accumulated.
I think it’s safe to say nobody gets as deeply involved in hunting down the types of monsters Palmer tracks without having their view of the world altered. So, I thought it would be interesting to explore one hypothetical path because dangerous serial offenders impact monsters as well as men.
Even though your work is fictional, was it important to you to create an authentic portrayal of serial criminals and their victims in the novel? Why?
“A Disturbing Nature” needed to be historically and geographically accurate throughout, deviating only as necessary to support the fictional aspects of the narrative. As an interpretation of America’s post-World War history through the eyes and experiences of two fictional characters, I wanted the environment around Lumen and Palmer to be consistent with that time to lend credibility to the their actions, motivations, and heredity. All locations are presented as they would have looked in 1975, and historical events have been researched to align with the story, including the serial killers discussed in the novel between 1963 and 1975. Minimal artistic license was applied to support Palmer’s involvement in the Ted Bundy investigation, with all other circumstances and timelines of that case incorporated as accurately as possible.
Dangerous madmen certainly existed in America before 1963, but our social awareness changed after the Kennedy Assassination, and one of those changes was an elevated curiosity with infamous serial killers. Therefore, I wanted the history to be held constant, while the variables surrounding a serial killer on the loose could mirror America’s broader path.
Why did you decide to parallel the plight of the disabled in America during the 1970s with that of Black and minority populations in “A Disturbing Nature?”
Because a friend with whom I traded baseball cards was Black and intellectually disabled, the decision to parallel the plight of those two minority groups was one made at the outset. Just as the promises of civil rights legislation in 1965 proved to be much greater than the accomplishments, Johnson’s Great Society largely overlooked the treatment of people with disabilities in America. Redirected to support other initiatives of The Great Society, resources previously targeted to assist those with intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders were diminished, and facilities closed. This forced people in need out onto the streets, including dangerous individuals.
Efforts to broaden political support toward addressing the needs of mentally and physically disabled citizens did not begin in earnest until the mid-1970s, in the wake of the first significant wave of serial killers and as the Vietnam War was winding down.
There is irony to be found in the words of Mo’s father as he pleads for his son’s rights in the country for which he fought to preserve freedom and justice for all.
What are the primary themes in “A Disturbing Nature?”
The first of two primary themes in “A Disturbing Nature” explores the separation between man and monster. Because we live in an age where social presence is a misguided measure of self-worth, it’s easy to forget the hypocrisy of presenting a version of ourselves to the outside world while concealing an alternate one. As the story unfolds, two extreme characters struggle to maintain images very different from those they know intimately. Told through the voices, experiences, and memories of these two polarized characters, “A Disturbing Nature” mirrors Post-World War II America, and their unlikely and unavoidable attraction speaks to the thin line between hero and villain, man and monster.
The second theme concerns the heredity of prejudice, the hypocrisy of privilege, and paying for the sins of our fathers. The experiences of the book’s two main characters raises questions around who can determine guilt, how society should punish those assigned blame, and when guilt finally gets washed away.
Which authors most influenced your writing style?
For “A Disturbing Nature,” I needed to create two distinct voices to accommodate the two very different primary characters. This required two dissimilar writing styles that would converge as the two men are inevitably drawn together. For Lumen’s settings, I was inspired by the earnest simplicity of John Steinbeck’s style, “Of Mice and Men” being a primary influence. Lumen’s dialogue and introspective scenes were influenced by Ernest Hemingway—accessible and non-threatening, even as Lumen’s perspective grows darker.
For the settings in Palmer’s scenes, I drew on my love of film noir from the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s and literary dark romanticism of the 1800s. Palmer’s dialogue and memories were influenced by Raymond Chandler, though more succinct and updated for today’s audience, with descriptions kept to a minimum and character nuance handled through extreme visuals. As “A Disturbing Nature” is an allegorical tale, the use of symbolism throughout was heavily influenced by F. Scott Fitzgerald and his masterpiece, “A Great Gatsby.”
What can we expect from the rest of this series?
It is safe to say that all characters from “A Disturbing Nature” are candidates to be explored further in subsequent books. In the second novel, “An Anxious Resolution,” expected to be released in 2023, we’ll follow the non-serial paths of four characters. This will provide background and perspective for the ending of the first novel and move forward with Palmer. All four novels were laid out during the writing of “A Disturbing Nature” to ensure storylines are consistent and arcs are closed. Old mysteries will be solved, and new mysteries will emerge to take their place.
Along the way, Palmer and other central characters will grow, fail and survive; at least most will. I hope that readers will enjoy the unconventional points of view in “An Anxious Resolution” and the use of first-person narrative in book three before settling on a surprising third-person perspective for the fourth and final book.
While “The Echo of Whispers” series will end, FBI Chief Investigator Palmer will continue to solve major crimes and battle demons in future novels. And he will continue to evolve, as we all do.
Featured Image: BooksForward