Sand In My Shoes

Murder On Sunrise Highway

You’ll never look at Route 27 the same way again

Peter Blauner sees dead women.

He sees four decades of murdered women from the grimy shores of Rockaway across Nassau and Suffolk out to the East End, all scattered along Sunrise Highway, which is the title of his engrossing, must-read new novel published by Minotaur Books this week.

Blauner, an Edgar Award nominee for his TV writing on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Blue Bloods,” dons again his celebrated novelist’s hat in this impeccably researched tale of serial killings, corrupt politicians, innocent men framed, and an obsessed Latina city cop named Lourdes Robles hot on the trail of a psycho killer cop villain named Joey Tolliver, who is more evil, memorable, and plausible than Hannibal Lecter.

The novel has received raves from The New York Times, Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and has been lauded by dean of darkness Stephen King.

No one who has driven along Sunrise Highway will ever again view it the same way after reading Blauner’s transformation of this spine of safe suburban tree-lined streets shading immaculate sidewalks and crew cut lawns of Long Island into the terrifying road to perdition. On Blauner’s Route 27, Joey Tolliver uses his flashing police light and cop shield to pull over women driving alone at night to satisfy his insatiable sexual and blood lust.

Asked about the genesis of this story, Blauner says that while writing for two New York City based TV shows he realized that there was a whole other world of crime beyond the city limits that he could explore.

“The safe, clean suburbs as a giant crime scene intrigued me,” says Blauner. “I was interested in the Gilgo Beach slayings. There have also been cops in Brooklyn and across the country accused of framing innocent people or pulling female drivers over and raping and killing them. As I was writing this, the Golden State Killer was arrested and he turns out to be a retired cop who framed people for his crimes.”

But Blauner says that while he did research to make all characters and crimes plausible, Sunrise Highway is strictly a work of his imagination.

“I have this knack for writing novels that mirror real life by pure coincidence,” he says. “I invented a character named Darryl King in one of my books and received a fan letter from a prisoner in Kentucky named Darryl King. When I asked another friend if he could introduce me to someone who had done a lot of time in prison for a character in Sunrise Highway, he introduced me to a second guy named Darryl King. Eerie.”

Sunrise Highway starts with a woman with a handcuff dangling from her wrist banging madly on a lone man’s door in Rockaway during Superstorm Sandy. “Last week I was reading a story about a guy who answered a door during a storm in Texas to find a woman with a handcuff dangling from her wrist,” says Blauner. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a cool opening for a story.’ Then I realized I’d already written the same thing from my imagination.”

Blauner says he’d gone 11 years between novels before publishing a new one in 2016 called Proving Ground that also featured the Lourdes Robles character. “I love writing for TV,” says Blauner. “Love being out in Coney Island at midnight with the actors, directors, teamsters, and grips filming words I’ve written. But after 11 years, I was eager to go and spend time doing research with cops, reporters, people affected by real crime.”

Blauner says that when he’s writing novels, he starts working first thing in the morning. “As close to the dream state as possible,” he says. “Before I think about paying bills, checking the West Coast scores, or anything else that can interfere.”

Blauner writes his novel first drafts in longhand. “Because it slows me down, keeps me off the internet, and forces me to concentrate,” he says. “I follow Hemingway’s dictum about writing at least three pages every day, because if you quit after three good pages, you’ve got a good place to pick it up the next day. But just as important: If you’re stinking up the joint, you can recover from three pages without wanting to slit your wrists.”

Then he types up the previous day’s work, editing as he goes.

“It took me about 14 months to write this book, which is by far the fastest I’ve ever done a novel,” says Blauner. “The others have ranged anywhere from two years of writing and research to 12 years — for a book that still isn’t finished. The reason this one came so quickly is that for once I was coming back to a character I’d written about in another novel. So, I knew some of her back story, and had a sense of what else I wanted to flesh out, and I was interested in what she was going to do next.”

He says after the constraints of one-hour dramatic TV, the freedom of 350 pages instead of 50 was a joy. “I also get to play writer, director, set designer, costume designer, cameraman, and actor, which is what a novelist does,” says Blauner. “I tried to make Proving Ground as novelistic and probing and non-cinematic as possible.”

That novel was so well received that he signed with Minotaur Books to do Sunrise Highway featuring Lourdes Robles again.

“My boss at ‘Blue Bloods’ gave me the first six months of last season off to go research Sunrise Highway,” says Blauner. “This time I eased up and just let it flow.”

The result is a harrowing, un-put-downable thriller blending Blauner’s literary gravitas with the pacing, vivid action, and crackling dialogue of classic screenwriting.

It’s no wonder that Sunrise Highway became the recent focus of a Hollywood bidding war. “I’m not allowed to say the name of the production company that wound up buying it yet,” says Blauner. “But it’s a major company with an impressive track record and they want to turn it into a TV series for streaming or cable. It’s too dark for network television. ”

Do yourself a favor, take a ride on Peter Blauner’s Sunrise Highway but don’t go alone at night unless you’re safe at home with the doors and windows locked.

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