In his 13 years as a lawyer, Raffi Yessayan, a Boston native, has worked as a prosecutor for the district attorney and served as chief of the Gang Unit. But no challenge has been quite as exhilarating for this debut author as writing his first thriller, Eight in the Box, about a serial killer dubbed “The Blood Bath Killer” and the legal team who tries to catch him.
“I was in court one day when a police officer and a legal district attorney were talking about a James Patterson thriller that sounded good,” Yessayan says. “Once I read it I thought, I can do this, and I analyzed the book to see what you need to do to write one.”
Yessayan was determined to write a book that people were going to want to read, and he tackled his project with a lawyer’s sense of precision and every intention of becoming published.
“The big idea that came to me was the killer and the motives for his killing. In a way, there’s no true protagonist in the book. You have the young prosecutor, Connie Darget, and the Assistant District Attorney, Angel Alves, but I’m hoping people understand the killer, too. I don’t want them to hate him, even though he’s doing horrible things.”
Despite being steeped in law enforcement, writing his killer turned out to be easier than he thought.
“I knew I could think like this killer and make him interesting,” Yessayan says. “I tried to get into [his] philosophy. He’s complex and not just doing it for sexual gratification.”
But the prosecutor in him struggled; he worked hard to keep gruesomeness out of his scenes. “The last thing I wanted to do was to create someone that would give other people ideas or perpetuate violence against women or children,” he says.
Yessayan took advantage of his personal experience in the very subject he was tackling, though he kept the book a secret from his co-workers for as long as possible. “A lot of people don’t know what it’s really like in criminal law and investigation,” he says. “I was able to I convey some of that.” It also didn’t hurt that his wife, a fiction writer and teacher, generously offered to bring his chapters to her own writing group.
While he discovered that he had a knack for dialogue—which he picked up from the multitude of voices, legal and criminal, that he hears on the job—point of view and structure gave him trouble. “It was hard to make the story come together for the first time,” he says. “I read a lot of novels to try to learn things.”
In a few years, writing mostly on weekends, he finished the book and submitted it to agents. “I tried to learn from my rejections and tightened up the manuscript every time,” he says.
Simon Green of Pom Inc. ultimately signed Yessayan and sold the book to Ballantine Books. “I don’t represent a lot of genre writers, but this novel was so smartly written that there was no way I could resist,” Green says. “What first grabbed me is his credentials—the idea that a prosecutor was writing a legal thriller. It’s incredible how facile a writer he is.”