"I have always been a journalist and I've never been anything but a journalist," Jack Olsen declared during a telephone interview from Philadelphia, where he is currently on tour to promote "The Misbegotten Son." The author of more than 25 books ("I'm not sure how many; I've sort of lost track") on subjects ranging from bridge to boxing, he has always simply chosen whatever interested him to write about.
"I guess it was a little self-indulgent, but I figured if I was interested, the public would be too. The problem was," he continued, "you can't build a nucleus readership this way. People didn't know what they were going to get next."
"The Misbegotten Son," the carefully researched story of a serial killer, is the latest of Mr. Olsen's books about crime and criminals. "All through my career as a newspaperman and magazine writer, I've always gravitated back to crime," said Mr. Olsen, who is 67 years old. "I've always been interested in crime, right from the start, right from a criminality course I took at Penn State. I took it as an elective because it looked easy. Then we took a field trip to Holmesburg Prison, and I'm 19 years old and we get inside and I see all these guys who look just like me. I thought that criminals looked different. And this is what I attribute my interest in crime to.
"I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this seven or eight pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. This is my drive and my compulsion. I think a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography."
Mr. Olsen is currently working on his next book, the story of a triple murderer, in his own backyard of Washington State, where he lives on an island in Puget Sound. Researching "The Misbegotten Son" in Watertown, N.Y., near the Canadian border in the dead of winter made him determined to stay close to home next time. "I said to my wife, "I don't care if it's just a book about shoplifting, but it's going to be around Seattle."