British suspense writer Lynda La Plante has become a sleuth herself.
In the name of research, the creator of such acclaimed dramas as "Prime Suspect" was trying to track down and interview a sophisticated fugitive whose story would be the basis for her TV thriller, "Framed."
It wouldn't be easy; he'd been declared dead.
She had worked her police sources in London, met with criminals on the run in Spain and made a fruitless journey to Miami. Now, on a second trip to Florida, her efforts looked as if they were finally going to pay off.
She had been waiting in a Miami hotel room for an anonymous middleman who said he could arrange for her to meet "The Dancer"--a suave criminal who had informed on his accomplices, escaped from jail and then faked his own death. La Plante was keen to talk to the fugitive and study his milieu.
As she sat in her room, an airline ticket was shoved under her door. This was it.
"If I say where I went, it might get me into trouble," says La Plante, recounting the strange encounter over cigarettes and mineral water at a posh London hotel. Nor will she supply other details that might identify the man.
"We flew for about an hour and then got in a car and drove to a great, sprawling place, she says. "High walls all around like a little fortress."
Upon arriving, La Plante was told by a minion to "dress for dinner."
She came downstairs to find herself in the middle of a cocktail party. "I still didn't know who the guy was," she says. No one in the room resembled the person she had seen in old photos.
"I only knew who it was when we sat down to dinner because he sat at the head of the table," she recalls.
Notably, the man at the head of the table had a marked resemblance to Timothy Dalton, who plays the lead role in the A&E; film. She later learned the fugitive had undergone plastic surgery to create a new face that combined elements of Dalton and Tom Cruise.
La Plante says she wound up staying in the sumptuous hide-out for two weeks, meeting with the man in brief snatches, during which she learned about his life, his attitudes, his mannerisms and his crimes.
Copious research is a must, says La Plante, a former actress who has won bushels of awards for her writing. And because she mostly writes crime stories, that means getting to know criminals.
She wears a gold pendant shaped like a revolver--a present, she says, from a Mafia don she met while researching her novel "Bella Mafia."
"I'm not drawn to criminals in particular," she says. "I go to them because I need material. I don't approve of their crimes, and I don't approve of criminality. And I don't make criminals look like God's gift to the world. But if I'm writing about them, then of course I have to meet them."
Much of what she learned from interviewing the fugitive went straight into the script of "Framed," an intense psychological thriller about a sophisticated criminal who, like the man she tracked down, had escaped from prison and faked his own death after testifying against his accomplices.
Within the first few minutes of the story, he is recaptured. What evolves from that premise is a tale of deception and manipulation as the smooth "supergrass" charms and mesmerizes the young cop assigned to watch and interrogate him.
During their long periods together, the supergrass instructs his police minder on such things as the finer points of clothes and cuisine, and teaches him how to play chess. The cop is entranced and the plot thickens.
La Plante says she got the idea for "Framed" when she read a newspaper story about the supposedly dead supergrass, who had been spotted in Spain. She put that together with another article she had clipped about a police officer who had been convicted of helping an informer escape.
And with a rough idea of the story she wanted to write, she went off in search of the fugitive who had been presumed dead.
"People say, 'Why did he see you?' I think he saw me for his own ego," La Plante says. "He was the most egotistical man I've ever met in my entire life. As long as he was talking about himself and what he felt--about poetry, art, films--he'd talk."
"The more I got to know him the more I could write his character and all the different facets of it."
La Plante says she sent two drafts of her script to him, which he marked for changes and sent back. She has not maintained any relationship with the man since "Framed" was completed, however.
"To be quite honest," she says, "I never wanted to see him again after it was done."