Murderer wins prize for Best Murder Mystery manuscript

Alaric Hunt is a 44-year-old man who recently won an award for a murder-mystery manuscript he wrote and submitted to a contest run by Minotaur Books (a St. Martins imprint). But, when an editor went to contact Hunt to inform him of his prize for Cuts Through Bone, she was informed that he was in an institution and hadn't been a free man since he was 19.

Hunt and his brother set two fires in the late '80s to divert attention from their planned jewelry heist near Clemson's campus. A graduate student died of smoke inhalation in one of the fires. Now, Hunt is serving a minimum of 30 years of a life sentence in prison, but that doesn't prohibit him from publishing.

So, when he stumbled across Minotaur's post for submissions, he went to work on a crime novel set in New York city.

He took five months to write the first draft of his book, titled “Cuts Through Bone,” in longhand (and another four months for a rewrite), carving out bits of writing time between the morning, noon and night counts. He sketched out a story set in New York City, a place he had never visited, and he dreamed up an odd-couple dynamic between Rachel Vasquez, a street-smart teenage operative working for a middle-aged, middle-class detective named Clayton Guthrie. The manuscript’s main case centers on the murder of a college woman whose boyfriend, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is wrongfully accused of the crime.

He assembled the other elements of his novel from piecemeal glances of the outside world. He took cues for his version of New York, for example, from “Law and Order” episodes; a photocopy of a 1916 map of the boroughs; Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York”; and novels he read set in the city. For research on detective fiction, he read “The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler, as well as some crime novels by Ed McBain. He later told me he considers Michael Connelly to be the “best crime writer working today.” He discovered and read “The Maltese Falcon,” by Dashiell Hammett, only last year

To read more about Hunt, Cuts Through Bone, and how his editors corresponded with him almost entirely through the prison mail system, check out the full profile from The New York Times Magazine.