Hot Air: Murder, He Wrote

After seeing several of his novels optioned (Hollywood-speak for a producer paying for the privilege of considering making a movie based on the book for a finite period of time, usually a year), Bloomington’s own New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta at last appears to be the film world’s next big thing. His list-topper, Those Who Wish Me Dead, is headed for the big screen with megastars Angelina Jolie and Tyler Perry recently inked to starring roles. Brit actor Nicholas Hoult, who has appeared twice as The Beast in the blockbuster Avengers franchise, is signed to play one of the crime novel’s vicious killers.

A consortium of producers as well as director Taylor Sheridan remain mum about which roles Jolie and Perry will fill. The film has been set to begin production next month. The movie’s being bankrolled by Creative Wealth Media and producers include Steve Zaillian, Garrett Basch, Aaron L. Gilbert, and Jason Cloth. Sheridan has written the screenplay.

It’s not unusual for a successful author to have several works out on option. Interested parties take the year to try to find enough money to make the picture and recruit top stars to play in it. In a perfect example of Catch-22, the money people love to see big stars signed up before they commit their dollars while the big stars want to see if there’s real money behind the project before they sign contracts. Apparently, the producers have successfully juggled those seemingly contradictory tasks in this case.

TWWMD was released in 2014. It’s the story of a 14-year-old boy who witnesses a savage murder. The killers have been hunting down and killing anybody who might implicate them so the kid has to go into hiding. Noted New York Times book reviewer Janet Maslin described the book as “a lean, propulsive action-adventure thriller with a raging forest fire as its backdrop and with much more finesse than that description might suggest.” She adds: “The ingenious tricks and conversational wit of Those Who Wish Me Dead don’t usually come with this territory.”


Michael Koryta appeared on Big Talk May 24th last year. He worked as a police beat reporter for the Herald Times while a student at Indiana University. After graduation, he supplemented his income by working as a private investigator even as he was already churning out popular tomes. In a movie-like turn of fate, Koryta was out on a drive with his parents and sister one summer evening when they passed a man standing near a stream, looking forlornly this way and that. It turned out the man was the father of Jill Behrman, an IU freshman who’d disappeared several days before and was eventually found murdered. A couple of years later three woman confessed to the murder but investigators later claimed they were lying. Four years after that, a man named John Myers told relatives he was afraid he might be blamed for Behrman’s murder. He was tried and convicted for the murder. Many people to this day believe Myers did not do the deed and, in fact, Behrman may have been hit by a car as she rode her bike the morning she disappeared. This theory holds that the person or people who hit her (maybe even the three woman who’d confessed) panicked, stashed Jill body in their car, and took her somewhere to be shot in the head (she was found with a shotgun wound in the skull). Koryta has strong opinions on the case but, professional investigator he is, he won’t allow me to reveal them publicly.

In any case, the Behrman murder and his chance sighting of her father inspired Koryta to write the novel How It Happened. It’s not at all a fictionalized version of the Berhman murder but it does entail a person falsely confessing to killing someone. HIH was released last year. Koryta’s latest, If She Wakes from Little, Brown & Co., is due out May 14th.

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