Santlofer’s Novel More Graphic Than Most – USA Today


By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY

Self-portraits aren’t unusual — unless the artist is using himself as the model for a corpse.

In Anatomy of Fear (William Morrow, $24.95), author and artist Jonathan Santlofer does just that.

“It is a little creepy,” concedes Santlofer, whose genre-defying, sketch-filled work of fiction, subtitled A Novel of Visual Suspense, will be published Tuesday. “But I do my best work when I’m looking at my subject. I have this very big mirror in my studio. I’d lie on the floor with my pencil, get into position, and start to draw.”

His 20-year-old daughter, Doria, was the model for the portrait of a murdered young woman in the novel, he says, but she took the assignment in stride. She spent much of her modeling time sprawled on the floor “talking on her cellphone.”

Santlofer says he considers Anatomy of Fear “a bridge” between a traditional novel and a graphic novel. The 100 sketches he incorporates into the book do as much as his prose to propel the story forward.

“I’m trying to create a niche,” says Santlofer, 59. “The drawings I used grew organically out of the story and had to deliberately advance the plot.”

Art has always played some part in his novels. His three previous ones —The Death Artist, Color Blind and The Killing Art — feature art historian Kate McKinnon, who solves crimes in the art world. He has created a new protagonist, young NYPD forensic sketch artist Nate Rodriguez, in Anatomy of Fear.

In the novel, Rodriguez is so good at what he does, he sometimes can sketch an entire portrait of a suspect based on a witness’s description of just one physical detail. Rodriguez also taps into his amazing intuition and his possible psychic abilities to create his sketches.

Rodriguez’s skills are brought into play when he becomes involved in a series of murders in which drawings of the victims, already dead, are left at the scenes of the crimes.

Rodriguez hopes these sketches will help him uncover the murderer’s identity. Some of the black-and-white sketches in the book are marked with vivid red blood stains.

The writing in Anatomy of Fear is somewhat atypical of a traditional novel. It’s leaner and more spare, somewhat reminiscent of a graphic novel. “The drawings enabled me to cut back on the prose,” says Santlofer, who says he may someday write a graphic novel. But, for now, he’s writing another novel starring Rodriguez.

An established New York-based artist, Santlofer turned to writing in 1989, after a Chicago gallery fire destroyed most of his artwork. The tragedy sparked a move to Rome, where he soon began to turn away from painting abstracts to more representational works. He also began to write fiction.

“Writing is more of a challenge,” Santlofer says. “Drawing comes more naturally to me, but there’s no question that they influence each other in my work.”

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