Ridley Pearson long ago established himself as one of the premier writers of adult crime novels. His latest book, Steel Trapp: The Challenge, however, is his first foray into crime novels for young adults. As he explained in a recent interview, this book was originally intended to be another adult thriller.
"It started as an adult crime thriller and had at its center a young boy of 14. I wrote the whole novel as an adult novel," said Pearson. "In working out what I wrote next for my adult publisher, it became apparent I wasn't going to use this book. My assistant at the time, Louise Marsh, who was always the first to read my material before any of this career kind of thing came up [writing books for kids] said, 'Hey, are you totally sure this should be an adult novel? I'm totally loving the kid in this book. Maybe it should be one of your kid books.' And I kept saying this is a Roland Larson book [the U. S. Marshall from Cut and Run]. As time went on I realized that she was right, and I went back and recast the book with the kid as the focal point and sort of turned down the volume on the Roland Larson parts."
The kid is Stephen "Steel" Trapp, a brilliant boy of 14 who is blessed (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with a photographic memory. While on a train to Washington, D. C. to compete in the National Science Challenge, he sees a woman get on the train with a briefcase. When the woman exits the train in Chicago, she leaves behind the briefcase. Stephen takes the briefcase to her but she insists it isn't hers, even though Stephen is absolutely sure he remembers her bringing it on the train. His attempt to be a Good Samaritan immediately backfires as he becomes entangled in a kidnapping and terrorism plot and puts himself in mortal danger. With the assistance of Roland Larson of the U. S. Marshalls' Fugitive Apprehension Task Force, Stephen tries to unlock the mysteries inside the briefcase and stop the sinister plan before it is too late.
Although Stephen's photographic memory causes him to get into trouble in the beginning, it also helps him discover the clues that will solve the mystery. To Pearson, the idea of someone who has such an ability to recall information is intriguing.
"I enjoy the idea of somebody who can't forget," said Pearson. "There is part of the human condition that is made easier by the fact we can forget. This idea that you can't let go of things, whether it's your parents being mean to you or a friend being mean to you, it’s good when those things can leave your head, and the fact that there's this kid and that stuff can't leave I think will make him a very complex character."
Although this is a novel written for kids, Pearson admits that his approach to writing this book is not much different from his approach to writing his adult crime novels.
"There really isn't much difference in writing for young adults and adults. It's fun for me, because at its base, it's all storytelling. I don't try to pull any punches. I don't try to write down to the kids. If they don't get a word then, as my dad used to say, 'Look it up!'. You can go to a dictionary and figure out what a word means. I just try to write a story that I would want to read."
Although this is a book primarily about a kid, fans of Pearson's adult crime thrillers will find great enjoyment in it as well. Pearson has not only crafted a tightly plotted story, but has also incorporated extensive research into this book, one of the hallmarks of his previous novels.
"The job of a novelist is to suspend a reader's disbelief. I don't want you disbelieving what I'm writing because I'm making up a world anyway, and if you start disbelieving it, I failed, and you're likely to throw the book across the room and pick another one off the shelf."