Actor Eriq La Salle, the Hartford native who became a star with his role on the TV show "E.R.," has been a busy guy these days, directing episodes of TV shows like "The Night Shift" and "Under the Dome," and the new series "Madam Secretary" and "Battle Creek."
But he's still managed the time to squeeze in a third career: novelist.
This month, La Salle published what is planned to be the second in a five-part series of crime novels. The first, "Laws of Depravity," from 2012, told the story of a serial killer who targeted men of the cloth who had committed crimes. The sequel, "Laws of Wrath," is about a series of ritualistic slayings.
La Salle, in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles, said his desire to be a writer dates back to his days at Weaver High.
"I grew up being creative. I'd write poetry and short stories. When I was a freshman at Weaver I joined the drama club. I wanted to write and I had an idea for writing a play," said La Salle, who just turned 52. "I thought I would see it performed and I would be be hailed as a hero.
"But when I showed up, they said yeah, yeah, yeah, we need actors," he said, laughing. "That started my acting career."
"Laws of Depravity" introduced readers to Phee Freeman and Quincy Cavanaugh, partners in the NYPD, who solved crimes while dealing with their own families, romances and demons. "Laws of Wrath" continues the Freeman-Cavanaugh story. Freeman and Cavanaugh are helped by FBI agent Janet Maclin and a host of colorful characters, including Quincy's brother Liam, a priest, and The African, a henchman for Freeman's gangster father.
La Salle said he started his plot by thinking up the crime and then the villain, and afterward the heroes came into focus. "I don't know if that's the traditional way to do it, with the killings first," he said. "But that's the way I did it."
He got his inspiration for the heroes' personal journeys from an unlikely source: "The Wizard of Oz."
"I was thinking of 'The Wizard of Oz,' but evil. The wizard is [the serial killer] Deggler. They're looking for him. But at the same time, they're dealing with the voids in their lives," La Salle said. "One has no faith. One has no forgiveness. They need to address the voids."
The first book, in addition to detailing the crime and its investigation, concentrates on Quincy's personal life, his relationship with his brother and his budding romance. The second book zeroes in on Phee's personal life, specifically his love-hate relationship with both his outlaw father and his gay brother. The third, fourth and fifth books in the series will focus on the personal lives of Maclin, Liam and The African, respectively.
"When we used to do repertory theater, one night you would play the lead in the play, and one night you would play a character that had five lines. I loved the humility of that, one night you're' the star and the next night you're backing things up," he said. "I wanted to write a series that basically allowed my characters to have their own book, their story."
To that end, the series was originally concieved as a trilogy. But he thought Liam was just too interesting to leave alone. And when The African was introduced in the second book, he fell in love with that character. "He's my Luca Brazi," La Salle said, referring to Vito Corleone's favorite hired gun in "The Godfather."
Both books were self-published, which La Salle says has limited the number of reviews he has received. However, he got a boost with his first book by getting a respectful critique by the well-read Kirkus Reviews: "A delightfully twisting roller-coaster ride through light, dark and the shades between." He got an even bigger boost with his second book, a rave book-cover blurb by suspense-thriller king James Patterson: "all thriller, no filler, a white-knuckled treat."
La Salle isn't stopping with crime fiction. He's also working on "Mama's Boys," a semi-autobiographical story about a woman raising her sons in Hartford.
"The book is already complete," he said. "I'm just editing and trying to decide when it should be released so as not to confuse the readers of the 'Laws' series.''
"LAWS OF DEPRAVITY'' and "LAWS OF WRATH'' can be bought on amazon.com.