Since 1996, in just eight years, Denver pathologist Dr. Robert Greer has written and published six novels and is working on his seventh. At the same time, Greer has continued his full-time work as a researcher in molecular biology at the University of Colorado Center for Health Sciences, studying cancers of the head and neck. In his spare time, the good doctor raises Black Baldy cattle on his ranch in Steamboat Springs.
But Greer the author is far more than a hobbyist. His mystery and medical thriller novels have been so popular and critically acclaimed that this fall, his first book, The Devil's Hatband, was rereleased in a paperback edition with a glowing foreword penned by mystery master John Dunning, also of Denver.
Asked how he manages to do it all, Greer pauses and gives a characteristically humble and methodical answer.
"If I had to answer that question in a few words, I'd say I'm very disciplined and I pay little attention to what society says you should do." The author-doctor shuns golf and Bronco games, choosing instead to spend his time away from work writing books.
"In reality, it's no different from most people, but I've assigned myself tasks that interest me," said Greer.
The Devil's Hatband introduced readers to Greer's best-known character, African-American bail bondsman CJ Floyd, a soul food-loving Denverite who drives a '57 Bel Air, pursuing a series of fascinating criminals across the American West, many of them greedy opportunists taking advantage of modern science for their own purposes. In The Devil's Hatband, Floyd is in pursuit of the daughter of a federal judge, now an eco-terrorist bent on wiping out the cattle industry in the West by introducing a deadly virus into the cattle's food supply.
Floyd, says Greer, is a character invented to show what it's like to be a complicated modern-day African-American man in America.
"I wanted a very strong character, an African-American character," said Greer. "To be honest, I'm sick of anti-heroes, those guys with a hip-hop style who go around beating up people. [When I wrote CJ Floyd, I said] I'm gonna write somebody who's a hero to my way of thinking.
"I wanted him to be principled, someone who has seen war, who's calculating, who's not afraid of anything, who's experienced, a loner, but also vulnerable to some extent, who has a problem because of how he was raised -- abandoned by his mother -- [who's] standoffish when it comes to women. He also has the flaw of having been in a war (the Vietnam War) and carrying that baggage with him all the time, and the problem of going through life as a black person, forever looking in his rearview mirror."
Greer counts himself among the CJ Floyds of the world.
"It's difficult to convey to people," he said. "People say to me, 'Hey, man you're a PhD, you've been to dental school, to medical school, you're a published author, you were married to a glamorous woman who used to be a model.' But I can tell you that as an African-American driving around Denver, I am still always looking in my rearview mirror, expecting to be pulled over. It doesn't matter who you are in our society."
Greer's signature, in addition to mixing medicine with detective work, is his vivid description of specific Western places, ranging from Denver's Five Points neighborhood to rural Rocky Mountain locales.
"I use a sense of place as if it's a character," he said, purposely driving that aspect of his books to draw in readers who might not necessarily be mystery fans.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
The Devil's Hatband by Robert Greer (North Atlantic Books: Berkeley) $13.95/paperback
Robert Greer will sign the newly released edition of The Devil's Hatband and his other books
The Book Sleuth, 2501 W. Colorado Ave.
Saturday, Dec. 4, noon to 2 p.m.