Personal Effects: Dark Art, a book and multimedia entertainment, offers readers clues in photographs, telephone numbers, business cards and the Internet, where they can Google character names for special book-related Web sites.
"This is a case that the reader can find him- or herself as the protagonist of the story," said J.C. Hutchins, who co-created Personal Effects with game designer Jordan Weisman, in an exclusive interview. "Unlocking some of the story hinges on their personal cleverness. The end of the book may be different if they pursue different avenues, and they may learn something about the book that the hero of the story may never learn."
The story centers on an art therapist, Zach Taylor, who works at the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital, where he's helping a blind serial killer named Martin Grace. Taylor's mother is dead, and his father is a bull-headed district attorney. There's something supernatural going on, too.
"The supernatural stuff was always there from the beginning, but we want it always based in a sense of reality," Hutchins said. "We want to think of [the TV show] House as far as the investigative procedural stuff, along with The X-Files, [yet] always have a rational explanation along with the meta-natural explanation. So, yeah, there's a kind of Mulder-and-Scully thing, where one person can see it as a purely rational explanation while the other may have a conspiracy theory and go out and look for his tin-foil hat."
Hutchins calls the clues provided in the book's extra materials "an out-of-book experience."
The 34-year-old writer said that he hopes the multimedia piece will compel audiences to cross over to new media: People who wouldn't normally go online will be sent to the Web, while those who usually stick to online entertainment may find themselves opening a book. "I know many people in their 20s, 30s and up who don't crack open a book, but this may trick or tickle them into it because of the story narrative," Hutchins said. "There are a lot of online-savvy people who may be teased into reading books."
The Personal Effects package includes realistic "old" photographs and a business card, whose phone numbers lead to the voices of characters on answering machines. Web sites, meanwhile, offer other clues to the story. Hutchins said he is assured by the publishers at St. Martin's Press that the ancillary phone numbers and Web sites will remain active for a long time.
"It's amazing how much you can learn when you look through someone's wallet, and this is sort of like that," Hutchins said. "You can see where they went shopping from receipts left in there, if they have children by the photos, all sorts of things."
Personal Effects: Dark Art is being released in early June.