Unlikely Salinger detective spent decade on trail

September 2, 2013 • Entertainment

This undated image provided by The Story Factory shows a letter from J.D. Salinger to Jean Miller, a woman who as a teen in the 1950s formed an intense bond with J.D. Salinger and was a model for the title character in his story “For Esme _ With Love and Squalor.” Miller spoke at length about their relationship and provided letters Salinger sent to her. Shane Salerno, a screenwriter, has taken on a surprising and news-making identity: the latest, and, apparently, greatest seeker of clues about J.D. Salinger. (AP Photo/The Story Factory, Jean Miller)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shane Salerno’s phone never stops ringing.

Known until now as a screenwriter for “Armageddon” and “Savages,” working by day on a sequel to “Avatar,” he has taken on a surprising and news-making identity: the latest, and, apparently, greatest seeker of clues about J.D. Salinger.

Salerno is finally opening up about a private quest he worked on for a decade, spending $2 million of his own money. Stating that he has found more than even he had imagined, including what the author might have written over the last half century of his life, Salerno is presenting his case in “Salinger,” a unique, 3-way project: A 700-page book, co-authored with David Shields; a theatrical release distributed by the Weinstein Company; and a TV documentary that will air on PBS in January as the 200th installment of “American Masters.”

Earnest and energetic with sharp, narrow blue eyes and dark, brushed-back hair that could qualify him as an honorary Baldwin brother, the 40-year-old Salerno seems an unlikely candidate for breaking Salinger ground. He is not an experienced biographer, a trained academic or investigative journalist. He is, instead, a lifelong Salinger fan, a believer and a go-getter who has often succeeded simply by refusing to quit.

“When I get something in my head, I go after it with extreme passion and I went after this for a decade with extreme passion,” Salerno, who reportedly negotiated 7-figure deals for each edition of “Salinger,” said during a recent weekend interview.

Salerno has come as close as anyone to giving the public a peek into the safe in Cornish, N.H., where Salinger allegedly stashed his unreleased manuscripts. Citing two independent sources, he has alleged that several more Salinger books are on the way, including new material on Holden Caulfield and on the Glass family that Salinger featured in “Franny and Zooey” and other books. No one, so far, has disputed Salerno. Salinger’s longtime publisher, Little, Brown and Company, has declined comment. So has Salinger’s son, Matthew.

The results of his work can be found, in part, in a 4-room office Login to read more

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