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"Killing the Messenger" by Thomas Peele

Killing the Messenger, Thomas Peele
Random House, Karl Mondon

Jeff Glor talks to Thomas Peele about "Killing the Messenger."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Thomas Peele: I am a newspaper reporter and in 2007 a newspaper reporter, Chauncey Bailey, was killed because of a story he was writing about a Back Muslim cult in Oakland, California called the Beys. Other journalists in the Bay Area were in a unique situation to do something about it, which was finish his work and send a message: killing a journalist is a futile action if the intent is to avoid journalistic scrutiny. Eventually, a group of journalists, students, non-profit administrators and academics formed the Chauncey Bailey Project to push that message and to also make sure that all responsible for Bailey's death were held accountable. While reporting on the murder and the Beys, and the questionable conduct of the police, it became easy to see that the complexities discovered would stand up to a long narrative treatment. There was a story to tell. I was also interested in tracing the history of the Bey's beliefs to their origins and explain them.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

TP: How well all the divergent sourcing I had - police reports, interviews, recorded jail phone calls, grand jury transcripts, books, newspaper and journal articles - allowed me to work toward a seamless narrative that moved from the 1920s through 2011. The book is primarily about people, the Beys, who wish not to be written about - and who killed to stop being written about. It's most sympathetic character, Mr. Bailey, is dead. Yet a wealth of information existed to tell the story of both and put them on paths that eventually violently collided.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

TP: I'd be pitching for my beloved New York Mets, assuming they'd want an out of shape, middle-aged, right-hander who never had much in the first place, let alone now. Then again, I'd probably fit right into their cost cutting budget, considering I'd pitch for free. Seriously, I don't know. I have been a journalist all of my adult life. I enjoy teaching, so probably that.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

TP: I am close to finishing Amanda Foreman's "A World on Fire," her fabulous history of Great Britain's involvement in the American Civil War. While writing "Killing the Messenger," I had to do so much for research reading that my reading queue really backed up, so I am looking forward to a lot of diverse reading this year. Next, I want to jump into a couple of old Cormac McCarthy novels and then Pete Hamill's "Tabloid City."

JG: What's next for you?

TP: I am a working investigative journalist and a university lecturer, so any book project has to be balanced with those duties. In the few months since I finished "Killing the Messenger," I've been kicking around some ideas and keep coming back to one that would involve a re-examination of a major even in American history. I love the book-writing process and certainly want to pursue other projects. "Killing the Messenger" is my first book, not my last.

For more on "Killing the Messenger," visit the Random House website.

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