More From This

Works in Progress
Bishop Rider Lives
An Anthology of Retribution
(June 4, 2024 by Down & Out Books)

Coming June 3rd!

Novel: Counted With the Dead
Release Date: June 3rd, 2024
Available for Preorder, or add it to your wishlist!
About the Author:Counted With the Dead is Peter O’Keefe’s first published novel. Peter started out writing for George Romero’sTales From the Darkside and has since worked as a Hollywood screenwriter, optioned numerous original screenplays, and written TV movies for German networks.

His narrative short films have screened at a variety of film festivals and Peter’s documentary about visual artists in the Midwest,Dreaming In Public, Making Art In the Real World was awarded a Chicago Regional Emmy. His short stories and essays have appeared in various literary and online journals.

From Screenwriter to Novelist: The Journey of Peter O’Keefe

Join us as we dive into the creative world of Peter O’Keefe, a seasoned screenwriter turned novelist, who unveils the dark layers of his latest novel, “Counted With the Dead”.

Set against the gritty backdrop of 1990s Detroit, the story revolves around Jack Killeen, a disenchanted Mafia hitman entangled with a monstrous creation—a chilling echo of his own violent past. Through Peter’s candid discussion, we explore the profound themes of guilt, absolution, and redemption that pulse through the novel.

Drawing from personal experiences during a tumultuous period in his life, including the poignant loss of his brother, Peter crafts a narrative that is as much about seeking forgiveness as it is a gripping tale of suspense and moral reckoning. This interview not only offers a glimpse into Peter’s artistic process but also sets the stage for the thematic explorations in his work, making it a compelling start to our series.

Q & A

What is a killer who tires of killing?

This is your debut novel, and we’re all excited to hear about it.
Tell us a little about Counted With the Dead?

Set in late 90s Detroit, Counted With the Dead is the story of Jack Killeen, a Mafia hitman who has grown disgusted with killing and wants out. Unfortunately for him, it’s too late—a mad surgeon has created a monster from the bodies of his victims and the creature is animated by the damaged brain of Jack’s final kill, Victor Moravian.

Now the Mob wants him dead, the cops want a piece of him, and his hard-nosed parish priest refuses to grant him absolution until he atones for his crimes. Complicating matters, Jack is in love with Marlene, Victor’s widow, who wants him to use his particular set of skills to find her “missing” husband.

The hitman is forced to navigate an urban mosaic of racial and ethnic fiefdoms as he tracks the beast through the ghostly ruins of skyscrapers and factories. He struggles to protect his family and destroy the monster while at the same time searching for some means of achieving absolution for his crimes. 

Sometimes writing lets us process feelings that are just too big to get out in the moment.

Every writer has an origin story that paved the way for their first novel. What was yours?

Counted With the Dead was originally written as a screenplay during a very dark time in my life. One of my older brothers—a gay man and the closest to me of my seven siblings—was dying of AIDS.

At the time, I was playing around with the concept of a hitman forced to confront a Frankenstein-like beast created from the bodies of his victims. I was intrigued by the idea of just how far a person can go and still be capable of achieving some sort of forgiveness for their crimes. I attempted to deal with my brother’s illness by immersing myself in this fictional world. When I finally raised my head from my computer screen a few months after my brother’s passing, I had completed Counted With the Dead almost in a haze.

The original screenplay earned me writing assignments and was optioned numerous times but was never made. And that’s a good thing. I never felt that I could capture the complexities of the characters, much less the complex organism that is the city of Detroit, in a screenplay—so I reimagined the story as a novel. That was clearly the right decision.

Coming of age in Detroit, a complex but never boring experience.

Can you share a personal experience that influenced the dark and complex world of Counted With the Dead?

I grew up in the city of Detroit. It was a place where factories, corporate world headquarters and universities existed shoulder to shoulder with ethnic enclaves, hooker bars, food co-ops, and storefront churches. It was a world of inter-racial friendships and romances. And it was a world of racial tension and, sometimes, violence. It was, in short, a confusing, ferocious, and fascinating place to come of age.

In my 20s I smoked dope and drank flaming ouzo shots with off-duty Detroit cops. And I had childhood friends who were roughed up and harassed by the police, possibly some of those same officers. There were streets and bars where I knew that I, as a white person, was not welcome. And there were streets and bars where my Black friends knew they were not welcome. On the other hand, if you looked hard enough you could find those places—churches, diners, pubs, jazz clubs, underground rock clubs, performance spaces, Transvestite show bars (yes, those were a thing), artist squats, and coffee houses—where everyone was welcome and people from every race, gender and creed rubbed shoulders.

Detroit was a complex, at times welcoming, often disorienting, sometimes dangerous, but never boring place to come of age. I tried to replicate that in Counted With the Dead.