Suspense novel has roots in small-town Kansas

Two seemingly unrelated encounters in a tiny north central Kansas berg inspired the twisted plot of Larry Uri's "Devil May Care."

As the Concordia attorney and Kansas University alumnus drove through Miltonvale several years ago, killing time before an appointment, he happened past the campus of an old Bible college. The smattering of buildings lay long empty except for a grand, barn-style revival hall where, much to Uri's surprise, a hellfire-and-brimstone gathering was unfolding just as he passed.

"You could hear the voice of a preacher at the podium," he recalls. "There was this old gentleman sitting in one of the back pews. He was dressed like somebody that would have watched the Scopes trial, and he was sitting there fanning himself with a program, kind of rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the sermon."

Uri filed away the anachronistic image.

Later, as he flipped through the newspaper that serves the town of 500, he noticed several classified ads placed by couples seeking to adopt newborns.

The seeds were planted.

Uri let his fiction-crafting mind go to work, and by the end of his first novel he had managed to connect the revival scene to the adoption inquiries -- albeit in a manner morbid enough that he felt more comfortable publishing the book under a pen name.

"Devil May Care," by Uri's alter ego Riley Evans, opens with Kansas State Police field agent Nikki O'Keefe uncovering a horrifying crime scene: six infant skulls, none much larger than an orange, crudely buried at a campsite in fictional Pawnee Bend, Kan. Within days, another skeleton -- this one the remains of a teenage girl -- is discovered in a pasture outside town.

Soon, the industrious O'Keefe begins to question why the Rev. Jack Jackson, a televangelist and iron-pumping promoter of Christian fitness centers, is showing up in all the wrong places. While investigating his possible connection to the homicides, O'Keefe encounters an adoption ring and a satanic cult.

Uri's heroine is ambitious, the author says, "and that drive tends to lead her to put herself into situations ... where she doesn't have backup and she's kind of out on her own. So she walks into trouble and then has to get herself out of it fairly often."

Uri self-published the novel through Storywright Books, the imprint he co-owns with his wife, Therese, who also writes. The two met in the '90s while taking workshops in Salina with noted author and writing instructor Leonard Bishop.

"Leonard changed me from someone who wrote to someone who thinks of himself as a writer," Uri says. "Also, that's where I met my wife, so it was a pretty handy arrangement."

Uri, who has a law degree from KU and an English degree from Benedictine College in Atchison, runs a private law practice in Concordia. These days, he focuses mostly on civil law, which keeps him deskbound. But he spent his early legal career defending criminals.

He's planning to release a second O'Keefe-centered novel next year. For now, he doesn't hesitate to recommend "Devil May Care" to readers who like "a good story."

But perhaps the most convincing endorsement for fans of the suspense genre is Uri's admission that, although he always knew what was coming, he frightened even himself while penning his first novel.

"While I was writing that I really kind of spooked myself out," he says of a chapter about a satanic ritual. "I decided to go out for lunch."

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