John Pilate, his sardonic imaginary pal Simon and lovely instructor friend Kate investigate the decades-old mystery of a murdered college president--a mystery still rife with loose ends. In too deep to wash his hands of the mystery, he risks death to get to the truth of what really happened in 1963 and why it's just as deadly today.
In the early 1950s, a professor in tiny Peru, Nebraska strode into a college president's office and shot him dead, then killed himself. Though few remember this terrible event, it inspired J. Alexander Greenwood to write the novel "Pilate's Cross."
Today Greenwood is a public relations consultant in Kansas City, but in late 2003 he moved to Nebraska's Peru State College for a two-year stint as director of marketing and public relations. Nestled in the rural "Campus of a Thousand Oaks," he found the inspiration for a mystery story.
“The real core of this book is about the open secrets that can fester in a community until an outsider raises questions,” Greenwood said. "When I worked in Peru, every day I’d walk past a plaque in the administration building that honored the college’s former president and dean, who both died on the same day in the 1950s. It didn’t hint at anything nefarious; it could have been a car wreck for all I knew. I finally asked--and it was worse than I ever imagined.”
Greenwood eventually gained access to police records, crime scene photos, witness affidavits and news coverage of the decades-old murders, but the resulting book is not a thinly veiled fictionalization of an historical event.
“The professor’s motive was, in the grand scheme of things, terribly petty,” Greenwood said. “'Pilate’s Cross' is inspired by the questions this terrible crime created; but as a work of fiction it is set in a different place and has a more complex motive for the murders."
"Nearly all aspects of the book, including the location, characters and most importantly the mystery are strictly products of my imagination.”
However, recent real-life events are chilling in their similarities, and lead Greenwood to reconsider marketing the book.
"In April the former president of the college took his own life as news of a financial scandal was about to break. Though I wrote this book two years ago--three years after I left Peru--I had some serious trepidation about promoting it in the wake of this tragedy."
He added, "The 'college president' character isn't based on my former boss, and I would be very concerned if readers thought he was. Peru was very good to me, and it's very important that people know this book was not meant to mar his memory or upset anyone--especially my friends in Peru, Nebraska."
"Pilate's Cross" has been described as 'The X-Files' meets 'The Prisoner.' It follows newly transplanted college instructor John Pilate, his sarcastic imaginary pal Simon and lovely friend Kate as they investigate the unsolved mystery of a murdered president of Cross College. In too deep to wash his hands of the mystery, he risks his life to get to the truth of what really happened in 1963 and why it's just as deadly more than 40 years later.
The book's cinematic structure made it an ideal project for a book trailer by celebrated digital media design company T2 + Back Alley Films of Kansas City. The trailer's world premiere was at 1:13 p.m. CST on October 13, 2010 at http://www.PilatesCross.com.
"T2 is simply the best in the business. I'm over the moon at T2's interpretation of the book," Greenwood said. "The trailer really transports you right into the world of Cross Township--like a movie."
T2's concept and screen execution was teamed with Wheeler Audio of Kansas City to record actors and mix sound for the trailer. Greenwood wrote the dialog and voiced two of the characters.
"The trailer was truly a collaborative effort between T2, Wheeler and me," Greenwood said. "I just hope that the book lives up to the high expectations set by the trailer."
T2 + Back Alley Films http://www.T2.tv , led by CEO Teri Rogers is a nationally recognized digital media agency that creates all forms of new media content. Their specialties include motion graphics design, experiential design, augmented reality and other forms of new media, as well as original films and documentaries, digital production and postproduction.
"David's cover reminds me of an Alfred Hitchcock film poster," Greenwood said. "There's a lot going on in his concept. It really elicits the book's themes of isolation, danger and mystery."
Greenwood and Terrill are now collaborating on a novella based on a series of Terrill's paintings titled "What the Gardener Saw." Greenwood is also working on a follow-up to "Pilate's Cross."
"The reviews have been very good so far, and I love writing about these characters, so why not?" Greenwood said.
"Pilate's Cross" is a Premium Selection at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/6806 . Smashwords has distribution relationships with leading online retailers such as Apple, Diesel eBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Sony, and leading mobile e-reading apps including Aldiko, Stanza, Kobo, FBReader and Word-Player, spanning all major mobile platforms including Android, Blackberry and iPhone.
The book's website at http://PilatesCross.com has links to retailers where the book is sold; as well as excerpts, more information about the author and an interview about the origins of the book.
NOTE TO EDITORS & REVIEWERS: Review copies of this book are available upon request.
Pilate moved his car from the path of trucks and equipment as they demolished the white two-story home next door to his faculty apartment.
He loitered a moment to observe the heavy equipment as it pulled down the wooden skin and frame of the shabby residence.
'Sad in a way,' said a man who had, in the noise of demolition, sauntered up to Pilate unobserved.
'Huh?' Pilate said, startled. He turned and saw a disheveled tie, sweater, baggy pants and moth-eaten overcoat wearing a gangly man with prematurely grey hair.
'Sad? How so?'
'Well, the house had to go, I guess, but there is so much history tied up in there,' he said.
'Oh really?' Pilate said.
The man extended a hand. 'Yes. I’m Derek Krall, school librarian and amateur town historian.'
'Oh, nice to meet you, I’m-'
'John Pilate, our smokin’ new instructor,' Krall said, smiling.
Pilate rolled his eyes. 'Crap. Has everyone heard that story?'
'You’ll soon find you can’t fart around here without someone smelling it across town,' he said with a wry chuckle. 'How the hell did you end up out here in the middle of nowhere?'
'Oh, you know, the usual series of missteps,' Pilate said, smiling. 'Man plans, God laughs.'
'I hear ya,' Krall said.
'So what big history is tied to that?' Pilate jerked a thumb at the crumbling walls.
'The Bernard place? Where do I start?' Krall’s eyes widened. He clearly loved this stuff, whatever it was. 'That is—alas was—the scene of the most famous suicide in the history of this town.'
'Oh,' Pilate said. Pilate frankly couldn’t see much argument against suicide in the desolate winters of this burg. 'Someone name Bernard offed himself?'
'Yup. Bullet to the brain,' he put his finger to his temple and made a 'bang' sound. 'He was a professor here.'
'That’s encouraging,' Pilate said, shrugging in his overcoat against a cold gust.
A monotonous beep issued from one of the heavy loaders as it backed up with a full load of debris.
Krall looked down at his feet for a moment, then at Pilate. 'Yes, well, it’s pretty extraordinary, considering.'
'What? Did he get psycho from the lonely winters here? Mentally ill?' Pilate realized the cold gust he felt was not a breeze at all, but his old friend Simon. He saw Simon over Krall’s shoulder, glaring at Pilate from the window of his apartment.
'Well, probably. He sucked a bullet out of the barrel of a gun after he murdered his boss and the college president,' Krall said.
'Oh, I see,' Pilate said, his gaze torn away from the window back to Krall’s face. 'Tell me more.'
Pilate followed Krall back to his cramped and, Pilate thought, laughably stereotypically messy office. Stacks of papers, dozens of school annuals and what had to be at least fifty Post-it notes littered the large oak desk that ate up most of the room.
'Sorry for the mess,' Krall said, bursting into a humorless staccato laugh. He bent over a file cabinet and pulled out a large brown envelope, the kind you might use to mail a manuscript or magazines. 'Assassination File November 1963' was scrawled haphazardly in black marker.
Krall offered it to Pilate.
'Uh, thanks, but I went through my JFK conspiracy phase after the movie,' Pilate said, a polite smile. 'The Cross College incident, remember?'
Krall looked pained. 'That’s what this is,' he said—the word moron left unsaid.
'Oh, sorry. November 1963, huh? '
'It happened just a few days after President Kennedy was assassinated. Cross College lost its president and coincidentally a man named Kennedy to an assassin, too.'
Pilate thought that fact was almost as weird as all those Lincoln-Kennedy assassination coincidences that fascinated him as a child. Lincoln had an assistant named Kennedy who warned him not to go to the theatre. Kennedy had an assistant named Lincoln who warned him not to go to Dallas. Pilate had a figment of his imagination who warned him not to go to Cross.
Pilate opened the envelope. Inside were at least one hundred pages of documents, photocopies, newspaper clippings and graphic crime scene photos of the double murder-homicide. Aesthetically, the photos’ saving grace was that they weren’t in color.
One showed an almost comically surprised looking President Keillor, his right eye a ghastly black hole, sprawled in his chair. Another showed Kennedy, his puppet strings cut, a third eye bored in his forehead.
Pilate flipped through a dozen or so other photos with different angles of the same horrors. He came to one of a portly man lying on a hooked rug, his arms extended like a tweedy Christ, a gun loosely spilling from one hand.
He held it up to Krall, who had watched Pilate take in the gory photos wordlessly. 'This Bernard?'
Another photo showed a close-up of Bernard’s face, a crease where his glasses pinched his nose still apparent, his mouth a trickle of blood. A garish mosaic of dark inky blood and brains spilled from behind his head.
'God this is awful,' Pilate finally said, going back through the photos.
'Yes, it was.'
'Hmph. Why?' Pilate said, looking up a moment at Krall, who had his feet on his desk.
'Well, he left a note,' he dropped his feet to the floor, leaned over and pointed to the photo. A typed letter and fountain pen was beside the body. 'See?'
'He left instructions for his burial, and a postscript,' Krall smiled, sat back down and raised his eyebrows mischievously, clearly relishing the opportunity to tell the tale to a new listener.
'And?' Pilate said.
Krall gestured toward the envelope. 'Gimme.'
Pilate handed him back the packet. Krall fished through the papers until he found a copy of the letter, handing it to Pilate. 'Here’s what the police transcribed from the original letter. Not sure where the actual letter is—probably lost in a box or hole somewhere.'
Pilate took the paper.
'Who is Dr. Benton?'
'Hmm? Oh, the guy he asked to look after his affairs? He was a prof here. One of the few who could stand the guy.'
'I see, so Bernard was…' Pilate was going to say 'misfit' or 'loner' until he read the postscript:
P.S. Wally tried to fire the wrong person.
'Dr. Walker Keillor. Nobody but his missus called him Wally to his face. I think Bernard meant it disparagingly. He told Bernard a few days earlier that Dean Kennedy agreed it was time for Bernard to move on,' Krall said, putting his feet back up and laying the file on his desk.
'Oh. So they fired him?'
'Yes, as you do in academia. They just declined to re-up his contract. After twenty-four years,' Krall whistled, making the sound of a bomb dropping, his hands behind his head and leaning back. 'Real bummer.'
'Yeah, apparently so,' Pilate chewed on his fingernail. 'Sounds like the most interesting thing that ever happened here.'
'Could be,' Krall said. 'Though I hear the flood of forty-three was pretty big news.'
First Rate Mystery Thriller
Pilate's Cross has a bit of everything--action, romance and spine-chilling suspense. Mr. Greenwood has a very strong voice for storytelling. His style is to tease and draw you in, and that's exactly what happened when I read his book.