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Butcher hits his stride with Asheville-based murder mystery

Ken Butcher's third novel, 'As the Crow Dies,' will be released Tuesday. It's available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's website and at local bookshops. Ken Butcher's third novel, 'As the Crow Dies,' will be released Tuesday. It's available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's website and at local bookshops.

Ken Butcher has been head of research at Selee Corp., Henderson County School Board member and “day laborer” at Kilwin’s, his wife’s ice cream shop.

After all that, he’s reached an impressive pinnacle with As the Crow Dies, a detective novel based in Asheville involving a highly intelligent trained crow, a mysterious science company tied to the search for Osama bin Laden and an unlikely crime-solving partnership made up of a veteran police lieutenant coming off a career-threatening injury and an Army veteran who moonlights as a roller derby star.
As the story opens Ira Segal and Sgt. Dinah “Dinosaur” Rudisill have just caught a murder case involving a body found on the banks of the French Broad River behind 12 Bones barbecue restaurant. From there the detectives ricochet from the victim’s employer, Creatures 2.0, to the Grove Arcade, the Grove Park Inn, the River Arts District and the Blue Ridge Parkway in a race against time and the considerable skills of a team of highly trained villains.
Butcher first became a published author in 2009, with In the Middle of the Air, followed by a sequel, The Dream of St. Ursula. None of those had the character development, plot twists and page-turning climax of this detective novel. A lifelong avid reader, Butcher, 68, improved his technique with research.
“I read a book called Story Grid, a very systematic way of making sure you touch all the right bases for a particular kind of genre,” he said. “That was very constructive for me.”
Starring the terroirs, architecture and quirkiness of Asheville as much as the characters themselves, As the Crow Dies will be a delight to local readers. The book’s release date is Tuesday, June 2.
Residents of Hendersonville since 1998, Ken and his wife, Jen, have three sons and five grandchildren.
Here’s our interview with the author:

How did you go from ceramics engineer to School Board member to ice cream shop proprietor to detective novelist?

I guess the way to answer that is I’ve always been an avid reader and I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to try to write something. You’re right I was in charge of research at Selee and did some engineering on my own. I still do a little bit, projects for various companies. As far as the ice cream shop, I was really the day labor there. That was really Jen’s creation. It was really fun to do that. A few years ago I started writing and this is my third book — The Middle of the Air (2009), The Dream of St. Ursula and now As the Crow Dies.

Did you always read crime fiction?

Probably like most readers I’ve gone through phases. I remember as a kid, my father was really into science fiction so I was really into science fiction. He did a great job of finding the best stuff and giving it to me to read. I’ve always gone back to mysteries. I read history and biography and political science. You can always go back to mysteries as just a good story structure and a compelling kind of read.

Would you go through all the Elmore Leonard or John D. MacDonald and read them all?

For years I would just look for the latest Elmore Leonard book to come out. He was a hero of mine. Tony Hillerman I really like. They’re set in the southwest and he has Indian reservation policeman. It involves a lot of the landscape and the customs of the Indians. Tony Hillerman died two years ago and his daughter Anne kept on the series, which really excited me. OK, I got my old friends back. She ended up doing a blurb for the front cover of the book. She liked the fact that it incorporated humor. One of the things I took from Tony Hillerman and now Anne Hillerman is I really like involving the setting deeply in the plot. I like reading about the various places, not just the terrain but the people and their culture. I try to do that, too.

That segues into my next question. Why did you base the novel in Asheville?

I really like Asheville. I’ve had so much fun up there. I think it’s interesting historically. I think it’s an interesting place. My son lives up there so I end up getting up there quite a bit to visit him and my little granddaughter. I think it’s got a really cool vibe to it and it’s getting to where people really know it. It’s a got a reputation as being a progressive, artistic kind of place.

How did you come up with Ira Segal and Dinah “Dinosaur” Rudisill?

Oh gosh. I started by imagining the main detective as getting over an injury, and he would need a more athletic person. The character of Dinah Rudisill, I remember seeing that name, kids on the swim team named Rudisill. It was a name I’d never heard before outside this area. Physically, she’s based on a trainer at a gym I used to go to. She was just a very athletic, small lady and you could just tell by the way she moved she had the self-confidence of an excellent athlete. I did hear that she used to be a drill sergeant in the Army so that was kind of the kernel for that and why I had her as the helper for the main detective.

Did the story start with the detectives or did it start with this great crow character, Richard, and the whole Creatures 2.0 enterprise?

It started in two places. There is in my neighborhood a group of crows — I guess you call it a murder of crows — and in my normal routine, I get up, and write a little bit. About 10 or 11 I take the dog for a walk and it would always be one of the things I’d look for in the neighborhood. Where are the crows today? What are they doing? It was just a point of interest to me. And I could spot the leader sometimes and for some reason I started thinking of him as Richard. And then the other sort of genesis point for the plot (was) I went to a talk by a guy named Peter Bergen. He wrote a book about hunting down bin Laden. It’s called Manhunt. They thought they had traced bin Laden to this compound but they weren’t sure. When they did the actual raid, they still weren’t sure. And that just got me brainstorming that there must be some way they could have confirmed it. So I put 2 and 2 together. You could have a really intelligent, well-trained crow fly around and do it with a camera. That was his mission.

What is your writing day like?

I get up first thing in the morning. That’s when I have the energy to do it. If I don’t do it then, that’s when I get sidetracked by the rest of my life and don’t get my words done that day.

Does that flow easily?

I wouldn’t use the word flow for writing at all. It’s more like hacking through the jungle or something. If I’m in the middle of a scene and I know where I’m going, that’s a pretty easy day. There’s more difficult days when I don’t know and I have to make myself sit down and figure something out. I do jump around in the story for that reason. If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, that’s one of my ways out, to still get something done that day, is to write another scene that happens later in the book. I may not even know exactly where I’m going to put it.

How long did it take to write As the Crow Dies?

Probably got the first draft done in a couple of years, (followed by) extensive revision and editing. I spent a lot of time looking for a literary agent. It takes forever to do that because each agent wants something a little bit different. Then you send them a sample of the book, a description. I did end up getting an agent. I actually was fortunate enough to get two offers to publish the book. I took Pace Press and I’m really glad I did. They’ve been really good to work with.

So how’s the reaction been from your publisher and other authors?

I’m getting really feedback on it so far, knock on wood.

I’m knocking on wood as I pose this question. It seems quite cinematic to me. Any interest along those lines?

Not yet. Of course it’s not released yet. But I agree with you, I think it would be a good movie. If the book does well, if the story is already well known, that’s one of the things that attracts movie makers, for sure.

Any chance that detectives Segal and Rudisill will have a reason to visit Hendersonville?

Sure. I think in the prequel at least some of it will be set in Hendersonville.

What’s next for Ken Butcher, the author?

I think the prequel is coming along pretty nicely. I got about 33,000 words so far. I would guess that’s going to be the next one. I also started one that takes place in an ice cream and chocolate shop in a small Southern town. So we’ll see if that one gets done.

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Butcher hosts a podcast called “The Middle of the Air” in which he interviews local authors. Find it at middleoftheair.com.