Synopsis and Review of THE 37th HOUR:
The 37th Hour by Jodi Compton
Delacorte Press ISBN: 0385337132
Minnestota Detective Sarah Pribek has worked a lot of
missing persons cases, but is still unprepared when the unthinkable happens.
Her own husband of only two months, Mike who is also a cop, has gone missing.
He was to start training for the FBI and never showed up, leaving those he left
behind bewildered and frightened. Not knowing if his disappearance is
intentional, or if something horrible happened, Sarah must now research the man
she thought she knew, all the way to his beginnings, is she is to ever know the
In this remarkable and assured debut, Jodi Compton easily hits all the
right notes, and the final result is everything one would want in a suspense
novel, and more. The suspense steadily grows page by page, and these
three-dimensional characters supply depth and appeal to a plot that explores
such themes as love, loyalty, friendship, and trust. Needless to say, this
author is assured success, and we eagerly look forward to the next outing
featuring the genuine and indomitable heroine, Sarah Pribek.
Q. You've written a very dark and disturbing novel;
why this route for your first time out?
A. I love horror fiction and movies, so I guess I was
just born with a love of shadows. Sunlit, suburban
mysteries where the protagonist comes home from a day
of crime investigation and grills a steak and goes to
his or her kid's dance recital ... it might be a
pleasant lifestyle, and it's even pretty
representative of how a lot of people in law
enforcement live, but I don't want to read about it.
Q. Where did the idea for a plot concerning missing
persons come from?
A. So many crime novels are about murders, so I
thought missing persons was an underharvested area.
And while murder is viewed as the most serious of
crimes, there's even more tension surrounding a
disappearance than a death. Once someone is dead,
there's not a lot you can do for them.
Q. Sarah has intense strength and occasional bouts of
weakness. What was the inspiration for her character?
A. I feel the way a lot of writers do about their
characters: I didn't invent her, choosing traits like
you pick shades of paint and wallpaper at the hardware
store. She was always going to be a certain sort of
character, and she evolved into that very quickly and
naturally in my mind.
Having said that, what I like about her is that Sarah
isn't a cerebral person, nor as a particularly
emotionally balanced, insightful person. She's a
physical person, a risk-taker, comfortable in action
rather than analysis. Those are qualities we
mistakenly call 'masculine,' considering women to be
naturally more verbal, cautious, and risk-averse. But
those qualities are learned behaviors; we're not born
Sarah is a woman who has a lot of the qualities we
think of as masculine, but she's not necessarily macho
and ultra-competent. She jumps into the Mississippi
River after a suicidal kid, but she's not an adept
swimmer. I didn't want her to be a flawless heroine. I
wanted people to wince a little, watching Sarah in
action. I want people to worry about her.
Q. Advice for authors is often 'write what you know'.
How does this apply to your novel?
A. It's an adage that people take, way, way too
seriously. Shakespeare set his plays in places he'd
never been; he had a cheerful disregard for the facts.
Dickens had a convict jump off a ship with a
ball-and-chain and swim to shore. Really! Now, four
hundred years later, readers actually complain that
because a writer had pine trees growing in a part of
Texas that doesn't have pine trees, a book was
'ruined' for them. They've been trained to take this
princess-and-the-pea attitude toward fiction: no
matter how fully-fleshed-out the characters are and
how good a prose stylist the writer is, if you can
spot one small fact error, game over, it's a bad book.
It's really unfortunate.
How this applies to my own writing, I guess, is that
I do try to get things right, but I will take dramatic
license when I feel the story needs it. Dramatic
license is to crime writing what fat is in cooking:
everyone says they're turned off by it and they don't
want any, thank you ... but you can't really satisfy
anyone without it.
Q. It seemed as Sarah is tracking Shiloh, her
motivation is more of a job to be done than from any
deeply-rooted love. Why was this?
A. Several readers have commented on this; it's a
corollary to your dark-and-disturbing question,
earlier. What I've tried to do in The 37th Hour is
make people feel the intensity of the situation. If
you're looking closely, you'll see the ways she reacts
to his disappearance. The day she realizes he's
missing, she doesn't eat anything the whole day. At
the morgue, her knees are shaking. In New Mexico,
where she finds Shiloh's sister, she has a really
disturbing nightmare. I prefer those signifiers to
shortcuts like having Sarah cry or stare wistfully at
a wedding photo.
Beyond that, the Sarah-Shiloh marriage is an
unconventional one. His first words to her in the
book are, 'You dumb shit' and later she refers to him
as 'you son of a bitch.' It doesn't mean they don't
love each other. I wanted to make people feel the
strong kinship between these two characters with any
of the conventional roses-and-candlelight trappings.
Q. It's refreshing to have a novel set in the Midwest.
Why did you choose Minnesota as a setting?
A. I am Californian, but I lived in Minneapolis for
three years, while going to grad school. From Sarah's
inception, I felt that this was the setting she
belonged in. The coastal Californian towns I've lived
in -- Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Luis Obispo -- are
interesting in their own ways, but just not right for
I doubt I could ever set a story in about a place
where I was living at the time. Some people consider
writing about your hometown or current
city-of-residence to be the height of authenticity,
but I need firewalls between where I live and where my
stories are set. The places I write about are always
'semi-ficitious' in my mind, Minneapolis included.
Q. Tell us a bit about how it was getting your first
A. I think I had an easier road than most. The
classic story is of the writer who has two or three
unpublished novels in a closet before writing the one
that breaks through, but that wasn't me. Okay, I did
write a young-adult novel when I was 23. But five
years later, I when I turned to writing seriously
again, I only warmed up with some shorter pieces
before writing The 37th Hour, and when I did, I knew
it was something special. I had a good feeling about
Granted, there was a four-month period when about
fourteen literary agents turned me down, and that was
discouraging. But once I got the agent I have, I was
very confident in him, and that confidence was
justified. So, looking back, there was really only
that four-month period during which I did that classic
thing of checking the mailbox every day and trudging
back with rejection letters and trying to figure out
what I did wrong. So I was pretty lucky.
Q. When did you realize you had a novel inside you?
A. I've been living with Sarah for years now, and
there are a number of different stories I could write
about her, not all of which can see the light of day,
because they're not sequential. Many involve
different possible paths her life could have taken,
most of which contradict each other.
I chose to write The 37th Hour , and I knew it was
viable on Easter Sunday, 2001. The first draft,
finished months before then, had been 42,000 words,
barely more than a novella, and I wasn't hopeful about
it. But at the encouragement of my family, I went
back to flesh it out, adding flashbacks and so on, and
on Easter Sunday, I did a word count on that second
draft that came to a healthy 80,000 words. That was
when I knew my 'preemie' was going to live.
Q. Which authors have most inspired you?
A. Thomas Harris and James Crumley. They're polar
opposites in many ways. Harris is an Apollonian
writer, interested in art and culture, in authority
and the individual, people who live to make the world
safe for others. James Crumley is a Dionysian writer;
his protagonists are PIs and anti-authoritarians, his
writing full of road trips and barrooms and drugs.
But they're both beautiful prose stylists.
Q. What's next for Sarah?
A. Lots of lying, I'm afraid. Moral relativity,
deception, and justice-versus-compassion are the big
themes in the second book. Due to the events at the
end of The 37th Hour, Sarah is facing the unpleasant
prospect that the system that she serves is preparing
to chew her up and spit her out. She's going through
that while isolated from the people she loves, whom
she'd normally lean on for support. As a result,
Sarah gets involved with virtual strangers, and sees
in their troubles more evidence that the system
doesn't always protect those it should be protecting.
As a result, it's Sarah who is forced to cross moral
and ethical lines to help people she's come to care
The second book also gives readers a glimpse into
Sarah's 'lost years,' just after she dropped out of
college and came home to work a dead-end job on
Minnesota's Iron Range, leading up to the night she
decided to become a cop. It's a bit longer than the
first book, and it wasn't as easy to write, but I'm
pleased with how it came out.
Jodi Compton has a degree in English from the
University of California -- Berkeley and did graduate
study at the University of Minnesota -- Twin Cities.
She worked as a newspaper copy editor before writing
her first novel. She currently lives in California,
where she is writing two more books about Detective