When CTG met … Andy Martin writer of REACHER SAID NOTHING (and Lee Child!!)

Andy Martin is the Cambridge academic who sat behind Lee Child as he wrote the 20th Jack Reacher book – MAKE ME. Andy observed Lee’s process, his routine, and (amongst other things) the amount of cigarettes he smoked and coffees he drank. For a huge Reacher fan like me, it sounded like the perfect way to spend seven months. I wanted to know more; what was it like to be there as the story was created? How did it feel to be writing a book about the making of MAKE ME? I guess I wanted to know more about the making of the making of book – REACHER SAID NOTHING. Sure, Andy said, let’s talk. So I drove to Cambridge, and we did …

April 14th. Andy’s house. Cambridge. Afternoon.

I’m sitting at Andy’s kitchen table. Andy is making coffee – proper coffee, ground especially and everything. I have made a new friend – Waffle the dog. Waffle is super cute. The only thing is, he wants to sit on my lap, and he’s a bit large for that. Andy tells Waffle to behave. He hands me a coffee, black. It’s delicious.

In REACHER SAID NOTHING you tally up how many cups of coffee Lee Child had in a single day (19 on that occasion). What was the ratio of coffee drinking between you and Lee?

[Andy thinks a moment] About 10:1. I’d have two cups a day, Lee would have twenty. His maximum is about thirty cups though, but he doesn’t drink that many very often. In fact, the chapter with the tally [of words, coffees and cigarettes] was written by Lee – it’s Chapter 57. It was one of the rare days that he started writing early in the day, so he did the tally himself.

Very cool that he wrote a chapter in the book. Did you plan for that to happen?

No, I didn’t plan. I copied Lee’s ‘it might work out’ approach to writing REACHER SAID NOTHING – like he does with his novels. Neither of us had an idea whether the books would work out. In a way I was being Lee, but with longer sentences. It was completely aleatory – we developed the rules as we went along. Just went with it. Like Lee, I didn’t go back and ‘fix’ it – I mimicked Lee’s ‘it’s the only draft’ approach.

So how was it, getting to sit behind Lee as he wrote MAKE ME?

Well, you can see from the emails at the start of REACHER SAID NOTHING [where Andy and Lee discuss the idea of Andy watching Lee write the book] that I’m all excited, and Lee’s replies are short and terse. At that point it was all hypothetical then, when he said yes, it was like, ‘Oh blimey! I’d better do it.’

I didn’t have any idea about how it would be. It depended on him, on how much time he’d allow me to be there. As it was, it worked as I tended to drop in and drop out – there’s a line in the book where I quote Lee as saying that I managed to leave before he felt physically oppressed. [Later in the day, Lee himself says that Andy always let himself out before he felt the need to hit him!]. The amount of time that was varied; sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. Then we’d meet later for coffee or something.

andy1

credit (this and above photos): Jessica Lehrman

In REACHER SAID NOTHING you talk about being a ‘participant observer’ of the making of MAKE ME, tell me more about the participant part of that.

Me being there did influence Lee in a variety of obscure ways, like certain words, and a name – the name Wittgenstein. It’s spoken by Reacher and is a nod towards me [see REACHER SAID NOTHING Chapter 62 to find out how]. I reference Wittgenstein often. It’s Lee’s code word for me.

He’s also very open to external influences. On the one hand he remembers a lot of stuff – he’s got a Velcro mind – and he also uses the things around him and puts them into his writing; like ‘bucket’ appearing on the page in MAKE ME while the cleaner is in the apartment Lee’s writing in, and ‘nail’ appearing on the page when the sound of construction nearby is audible.

When you think, why are the books so popular? I think it’s because he manages to include the experience of everyone in them. He taps into the universal in some way. You know, Lee wouldn’t like this, but I think there’s something a bit mystical about it.

Oh yes?

Well, I went to interview the real Lydia Lair [Lydia Lair is the name of a key supporting character in MAKE ME. The real Lydia Lair had won a charity auction to get her name in a Reacher novel.] Lee didn’t know her. All he had was her name. But when she read MAKE ME she was amazed – in the book, the character Lydia Lair is married to Evan Lair, a doctor. The real Lydia Lair’s first love was called Evan and was training to be a doctor, but he died in a car accident. Even though Lee had been shut away in his apartment, he’d somehow tapped into the collective unconsciousness and unknowingly included these references [for ‘collective unconscious’ see Jung’s theory]. How did he do it? There’s a mystery at the core!

As a Cambridge academic, how did writing REACHER SAID NOTHING differ from writing academic research papers?

[Andy thinks a moment. He gets up to give Waffle the dog his dinner. As Waffle eats, a cat comes to the window and peers through. It looks first at the dog, then me. It looks angry.] It reminded me of writing about Napoleon. Or surfers. Or Brigitte Bardot. It’s true, there is some literary snobbery about ‘airport books’ but I think there’s something miracle-like about best sellers. Lee’s default setting is ‘rock star’ – his books might not be Beethoven, but they are The Beatles! I was fascinated by the mystery of what he does, and how he does it.

I had a really fun experience writing REACHER SAID NOTHING versus academic papers. It’s been a broadly collaborative experience. There’s a definite benefit of being associated with Lee, which I very much appreciate – I’m kind of borrowing his readers. Or some of them! I’m hoping the book is what Reacher would do if he wrote literary criticism. I think it’s the difference between Lee and me that makes it interesting – the dialogue going on, and us each getting a glimpse into the other’s world. Maybe pulling a bit of each other’s style into each other’s work.

REACHER SAID NOTHING is all about the writing side of it. I’m now tracing the reader responses to MAKE ME.

So, you’re writing another book?

Yes, it’s about Lee Child and the readers of Jack Reacher, and is a write up of different readers’ experiences of the book and character. He means different things to different readers. Each one comes to the book from very different places, but it satisfies their very different demands. [Cue some musing from me and Andy about what needs the Reacher books satisfy for us].

credit: Dan O'Hara

credit: Dan O’Hara

I know that you’re a big Reacher fan. Have you gone back and read any of the books since writing REACHER SAID NOTHING and, if so, has the experience of watching Lee writing MAKE ME changed the way you read Reacher books?

Yes, I do go back and re-read them. I was particularly interested in re-reading WORTH DYING FOR because that’s the book set in an isolated farming community in Nebraska; it seemed the closest to MAKE ME in location – the same kind of cut-off micro-environment. [At this point we went off topic a bit, talking about the swimming scene in PERSUADER, and I learnt that Lee had been a champion distance swimmer in his youth.]

I can read the books in different ways – either looking for some specific technique, or reading them like I’m diving into the pool and letting it wash over me. I’m a bit nerdy, like a rock band fan. I know the obscure facts but I can still enjoy it. I still have the pleasure of the text. And, like every other reader, I’m thinking when’s the next one out!

Me too!

And with both of us looking forward to reading the next Jack Reacher book – NIGHT SCHOOL – out later this year, the interview was over. But the day was not. Andy and Lee were doing an event together that evening as part of Cambridge Literary Festival (Twitter @camlitfest) and before the event Andy introduced me to Lee. The three of us, along with the lovely Dan O’Hara, strolled through Cambridge (including taking a short cut through the gorgeous King’s College) to the venue, and then I got to chat with them for a bit in the green room. As you can imagine, for an uber Reacher fan like me, it was an amazing treat – in fact, I think I’m still on a high from the whole experience!

REACHER SAID NOTHING by Andy Martin is out now. It’s a fascinating book, and a real must-read for Reacher fans and aspiring thriller writers alike. Here’s the blurb: “On 1 September 1994, Lee Child went out to buy the paper to start writing his first novel, in pencil. The result was KILLING FLOOR, which introduced his hero Jack Reacher. Twenty years later, on 1 September 2014, he began writing MAKE ME, the twentieth novel in his number-one-bestselling Reacher series. Same day, same writer, same hero. The difference, this time, was that he had someone looking over his shoulder. Andy Martin, uber Reacher fan, Cambridge academic, expert on existentialism and dedicated surfer, sat behind Lee Child in his office and watched him as he wrote. While Lee was writing his Reacher book, Andy was writing about the making of MAKE ME. REACHER SAID NOTHING is a book about a guy writing a book. An instant meta-book. It crosses genres, by bringing a high-level critical approach to a popular text, and gives a fascinating insight into the art of writing a thriller, showing the process in real time. It may well be the first of its kind.”

You can buy REACHER SAID NOTHING from Waterstones here and from Amazon here

To find out more about Andy Martin, pop over to his website at http://www.andymartinink.com and follow him on Twitter @andymartinink

You can read more about Andy Martin’s experience of writing REACHER SAID NOTHING over on The Conversation here http://theconversation.com/the-man-with-no-plot-how-i-watched-lee-child-write-a-jack-reacher-novel-51220

And watch Andy and Lee Child in action last month at the Centre For Fiction Master Class here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bF5wDt_D9g

On June 20th Andy will be talking in London at the Prospect Magazine Book Club. Find out more and get tickets here http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/events/bookclub-andymartin

 

 

CTG Reviews: #REACHER SAID NOTHING by Andy Martin

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What the blurb says: “On 1 September 1994, Lee Child went out to buy the paper to start writing his first novel, in pencil. The result was KILLING FLOOR, which introduced his hero Jack Reacher. Twenty years later, on 1 September 2014, he began writing MAKE ME, the twentieth novel in his number-one-bestselling Reacher series. Same day, same writer, same hero. The difference, this time, was that he had someone looking over his shoulder. Andy Martin, uber Reacher fan, Cambridge academic, expert on existentialism and dedicated surfer, sat behind Lee Child in his office and watched him as he wrote. While Lee was writing his Reacher book, Andy was writing about the making of MAKE ME. REACHER SAID NOTHING is a book about a guy writing a book. An instant meta-book. It crosses genres, by bringing a high-level critical approach to a popular text, and gives a fascinating insight into the art of writing a thriller, showing the process in real time. It may well be the first of its kind.”

I don’t usually read non-fiction, so this book was rather a departure for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect – would it be an academic analysis of the creation of a Reacher novel? Would it be a ‘fly on the wall’ style documentary of Lee Child’s life as he wrote the 20th book? Would it be the literary equivalent of a series of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’? The answer was: yes, yes, and hell no! (come on, the Kardashians – really??). As a massive Jack Reacher fan I knew it was a book I wanted to read. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how illuminating and thought provoking it would be for me as a writer too.

Lee Child often says in interviews that he’s not a plotter – that the story unfolds organically as he writes. In REACHER SAID NOTHING the reader gets a front row seat seeing how this method looks and feels when things are going well, and when they’re going less well. It charts the flow of ideas, the blocks and decisions, and the light bulb moments when the plot strands start to come together, in real time.

It also shows the nuances of the writing; the importance of the rhythm of the narrative, how specific words are selected, and why commas are put in (or omitted). It’s a brave choice on Lee Child’s part – to invite someone in to analyse his process and his writing – and to have them shadowing him for the best part of a year all the while knowing that they will be writing about what he’s doing. But, if you were going to trust anyone to do that, Andy Martin is the perfect person to pick. I found that, for me, some of the most thought-provoking sections of the book came when Lee and Andy discuss the choices Lee is making about MAKE ME and the thinking behind them.

The result is a captivating snapshot of the life and process of Lee Child during the writing of MAKE ME – illuminating how his life and his writing feed into each other. As a writer, it made me consider my own process – the similarities, and the differences – and was inspiring, reassuring and educational.

It’s a lesson in thriller writing – the Lee Child equivalent of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ – distilled through the expert observations and analysis of Andy Martin. It’s an honest, access-all-areas study of a writer at the top of their game, and it’s also a damn entertaining read.

REACHER SAID NOTHING is the documentary about the making of MAKE ME. It’s the special features of the DVD box set of the novel – the behind the scenes sneaky peep.

An absolute must read for Reacher fans, and essential reading for aspiring writers too. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers this is a book you’re not going to want to miss.

 

You can buy REACHER SAID NOTHING from Waterstones here and from Amazon here

To find out more about Andy Martin, pop over to his website at http://www.andymartinink.com and follow him on Twitter @andymartinink

On June 20th Andy will be talking in London at the Prospect Magazine Book Club. Find out more and get tickets here http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/events/bookclub-andymartin

 

The INTO THE FIRE blog tour: CTG interviews Manda Scott – plus a fab #IntoTheFireComp

INTO THE FIRE cover image

INTO THE FIRE cover image

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Manda Scott to the CTG blog as part of the INTO THE FIRE blog tour. Manda is the author of four critically acclaimed novels about Boudica and, writing as MC Scott, four novels set in Ancient Rome featuring assassin and spy Sebastos Pantera. She is founder and Chair of the Historical Writer’s Association, the Historical Publishers’ Group, Chair of the HWA Debut Crown and of the programming panel for the Harrogate History Festival.

So, to the interview …

Your latest book INTO THE FIRE is out in hardback this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a dual time line thriller – the contemporary thread is set in 2014 and there’s a historical thread in 1429, when a young girl, who claimed to be a peasant, turned up at Chinon and told the king she had been sent to free France from English rule (I paraphrase, but that was the gist).

In 2014, Inès Picaut is a police chief in Orléans, called to the site of a fire at a hotel, that is clearly arson. It’s the third such fire in as many weeks, but the first in which there is a body – and so she is now leading a murder hunt. The dead man in this case has been burned beyond recognition, but for the fact that he swallowed a USB drive before he died, and it contains three enciphered files which may help Picaut and her team to identify him – a task which becomes ever more pressing as further fires erupt, and more people die.  

In 1429, Tod Rustbeard, a man of French and English nationality, fights on the English side as the self-styled Maid of Orléans breaks the siege of Orléans. As the English defences crumble, he is sent behind enemy lines with an explicit task: to find the truth behind this girl who cannot be what she says she is – and then to use that truth to destroy her.  As he grows ever closer to his quarry, he has to question not only her identity, but his own. 

The two timelines weave together, each informing the other, so that the central question WHO WAS SHE? drives both forward.  I am absolutely convinced that she wasn’t an illiterate peasant girl, but we can talk about that more in the next question.   Beyond that, any good thriller is driven by a mix of anticipation and uncertainty, and each thread has to have its own threats, rhythms, internal questions that make the two together greater than the sum of their parts.

What was it that sparked your idea for writing INTO THE FIRE?

I’d always had an interest in Joan of Arc’s reputation as a woman warrior – having written about Boudica, it at least made sense to take a look at  the next most famous woman warrior – but I always got stuck on the notion that she was a peasant girl who turned up out of nowhere, got on a warhorse and led the troops into battle. Either she was a cipher, a flag-carrier and nothing more… or she had to be trained. If she was the former, I wasn’t interested. If she was the latter, I couldn’t see how it was possible.  Then I read an article that pointed me in the direction of who she could have been and the more I read about it, the more sense it made – until in the end, it seemed to me she couldn’t have been anyone else.  The question of why she had to spin her own lies in the beginning also makes so much more sense once everything falls into place.

Then I learned that the man who proposed this theory first was thrown out of France and even now, is immensely bitter about it – and it seemed to me that this, the current way of looking at her, was the most important.  She has been mis-represented for 600 years, and even now, she’s being held up as an icon of ‘perfect womanhood’ (virginal, godly, republican) by the far right in France.  So iI really wanted to explore how the political movements of the twenty first century hijack the myths of the past – and how they’ll kill to keep that myth intact. I believe absolutely in the maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing, so that meant that if I wanted to do what I thought was possible, it had to be through the vehicle of a dual time line narrative – that I had to *show* who she was in the past, in order for us to understand more deeply the projections and patho-mythologies of the present..  It’s a lot harder to write, but if the author gets it right, it’s immensely satisfying to read.

How would you describe your writing process – do you plot the story out in advance or jump right in and see where it takes you?

I never plot in advance, although if there is a historical thread to the book, then I need to make sure I know the history of who was where, doing what and when – and that I have all the ancillary data correct: the things that bring history alive. But for me to write a book, it needs to live inside me, which means the characters have to have their own freedom and they have to have the power to surprise me. I’d grow bored otherwise, and if I’m bored, then the reader is going to be bored too…

INTO THE FIRE features both an investigation taking place in present day Orleans and a historical timeline featuring Joan of Arc in 1429 – how did you go about researching them?

First, I got on the EuroStar and went to Orléans – that was really key to understanding the dynamics of both past and present.  In anything I write, the characters matter most, their identities and inner integrities and the charisma of the situation, but always, the place shapes its people and Orléans was key to both threads.  Having been there, I spent a very large amount of time reading everything I could about Joan of Arc (and there’s a lot), particularly the transcripts of the two trials – her trial by the English and the ‘rehabilitation trial’ by the French 30 years later that endeavoured to prove she wasn’t really a heretic after all – eye witness statements at the latter were crucial to understanding what actually happened, although of course we have to remember that human memory is flawed and undoubtedly coloured by time.  But still, having got my head around her, the modern day narrative of Picaut and Patrice, her computeroid cyber-brain assistant was fast and furious and most of it just rolled out almost unaided. I’m very wary of people who say that books write themselves, because they never do, but some are less effort than others and this bit flowed particularly sweetly – I revelled in the cyber-crime aspects, and the breaking of ciphers.  I’d written a series of spy thrillers just before and the cadences of that were still working their way through.

What was it that first attracted you to writing crime fiction?

I read Val McDermid’s Lyndsey Gordon series back in the 90s and fell in love with the genre. I wrote HEN’S TEETH in the late 90s because I thought I needed the exigencies of plot to help me complete a novel and then I joined the CWA and learned the actual rules of crime writing, as opposed to the ones I had invented for myself, and found that it was a fascinating structure within which to explore the things that matter most to people – I hate the kinds of novels that look at our masks. I am most interested in what happens when we drop those masks and we do so in the presence of death and danger – so crime writing, and thriller writing in particular – is the obvious medium. I consider my historical novels to be thrillers too, they’re just written in a different milieu.

For those writers aspiring to publication, what advice would you give?

I’d say what Fay Weldon said to me on my first writing course, which was ‘Find your own voice’, and then what Terry Pratchett (one of the greats, so sadly missed) said on the second writing course which was, ‘just keep writing.’  And then last, from me: Read.  Read everything.  Read books you love and books you loathe and books you don’t really care about – and work out what you love and why you love it and how it was done, and what the good bits are and what works and what doesn’t.  Reading is the apprenticeship for writing so read and read and read.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

I’m 3/4 of the way through a sort-of sequel to INTO THE FIRE called ACCIDENTAL GODS so I have to finish that, and then we seem to be about to sell the TV rights to Into the Fire and the company wants me to write the screenplay which is both an enormous honour and an enormous privilege, so I’ll crack on with that.   I’ll be at Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July in Harrogate and then back up again for the History Festival in October. I’m Chair of that for the third and final time this year and so it’ll be all-out to make it the best yet.  I’m handing over Chair of the Historical Writers’ Association to the brilliant historical crime writer Imogen Robertson also in October and Andrew Taylor, multiple winner of the Historical Dagger will take over Chair of the HWA Debut Crown, so between now and October, I’ll be flat out, but I’ll have a rest in November. Perhaps.  I suspect something else will have come up by then.

A massive thank you to Manda Scott for talking to us today on the CTG blog.

To find out more about Manda and her books hop on over to her website at www.mandascott.co.uk and be sure to follow her on Twitter @hare_wood

 

*** COMPETITION ALERT ***

 I’m thrilled that those lovely folks at Bantam Press have given me a copy of INTO THE FIRE to giveaway to one lucky winner! To be in with a chance to win all you need to do is tweet the link to this post (using the Twitter button below) OR retweet one of the CTG tweets about the giveaway – making sure to include the hashtag #IntoTheFireComp. You’ll also need to follow us on Twitter so we can send you a direct message should you win.

Rules: (1) One entry per reader (2) UK residents only – due to postage costs – sorry! (3) We will draw the winner at random (4) No cash alternative (5) The competition closes for entries at 9pm GMT on Monday 29th June 2015 (6) The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

 

Also, make sure you check out all the other fabulous stops along the INTO THE FIRE blog tour …

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CTG Reviews: Personal by Lee Child

Personal cover image

Personal cover image

What the blurb says: “Someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president but failed to kill him. The suspected sniper has serious skills and is a hard man to find. Reacher tracked him down once and put him in jail. Now he’s asked to hunt him again, and put him away permanently.
Tracking the shooter will take Reacher from France to England after a killer with a treacherous vendetta. He’ll need to uncover who did the hiring and what’s behind the assassination attempt before executing his orders.”

As a massive fan of Lee Child’s writing, I must confess that it was a huge thrill and a privilege to get to read an advance copy of PERSONAL.

In PERSONAL – the latest novel and nineteenth in the Jack Reacher series – Reacher spots an advert in the Personals from a military colleague asking him to get in touch. He owes this guy from way back and so Reacher being Reacher, he makes the call and finds himself pulled into a high profile case that threatens international security.

There’s been an attempt to assassinate the French president. The sniper fired from a range of fourteen hundred yards, more than three-quarters of a mile. There are very few people in the world that could have made the shot, and one of them has a bad history with Reacher. Question is, was he the one who pulled the trigger? And, if he was, can Reacher track him down before he tries again at the London G8 summit?

Partnering up with young agent Casey Nice, Reacher follows the trail, taking him from the US to Paris, on to London and back to the US. But with half-truths and bureaucracy at every turn, the inter-agency team remains a step behind their person of interest. With the time ticking away, Reacher takes matters into his own hands – in a way that only he can.

This is a fabulously fast paced, action packed story, with all the twists and turns you’d expect from a Reacher novel. Reacher himself is as witty and smart as ever, and a strong mentor for Casey on her first operational mission on overseas soil. And it’s great to see Reacher making a trip across to Europe. I particularly loved the London scenes, and picturing this great character in locations that I know.

Cinematic and slick, this heart-thumping, page-turning read is a must for all thriller fans.

Highly recommended.

 

PERSONAL is out in paperback on the 23rd April.

[with huge thanks to Transworld Books/Bantam for my copy of PERSONAL]

CTG Reviews: Personal by Lee Child

Personal by Lee Child cover image

Personal by Lee Child cover image

What the blurb says: Someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president but failed to kill him. The suspected sniper has serious skills and is a hard man to find. Reacher tracked him down once and put him in jail. Now he’s asked to hunt him again, and put him away permanently.
Tracking the shooter will take Reacher from France to England after a killer with a treacherous vendetta. He’ll need to uncover who did the hiring and what’s behind the assassination attempt before executing his orders.”

As a massive fan of Lee Child’s writing, I must confess that it was a huge thrill and a privilege to get to read an advance copy of PERSONAL.

In PERSONAL – the latest novel and nineteenth in the Jack Reacher series – Reacher spots an advert in the Personals from a military colleague asking him to get in touch. He owes this guy from way back and so Reacher being Reacher, he makes the call and finds himself pulled into a high profile case that threatens international security.

There’s been an attempt to assassinate the French president. The sniper fired from a range of fourteen hundred yards, more than three-quarters of a mile. There are very few people in the world that could have made the shot, and one of them has a bad history with Reacher. Question is, was he the one who pulled the trigger? And, if he was, can Reacher track him down before he tries again at the London G8 summit?

Partnering up with young agent Casey Nice, Reacher follows the trail, taking him from the US to Paris, on to London and back to the US. But with half-truths and bureaucracy at every turn, the inter-agency team remains a step behind their person of interest. With the time ticking away, Reacher takes matters into his own hands – in a way that only he can.

This is a fast paced, action packed story, with all the twists and turns you’d expect from a Reacher novel. Reacher himself is as witty and smart as ever, and a strong mentor for Casey on her first operational mission on overseas soil. And it’s great to see Reacher making a trip across to Europe. I particularly loved the London scenes, and picturing this great anti-hero in locations that I know.

Cinematic and slick, this heart-thumping, page-turning read is a must for all thriller fans.

Highly recommended.

 

PERSONAL is out today in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and on September 2nd in the US and Canada.

[with big thanks to Random House – Bantam Dell for my copy of PERSONAL]

CTG Reviews: SKINJOB by Bruce McCabe

SKINJOB cover image

SKINJOB cover image

What the blurb says: “A bomb goes off in downtown San Francisco. Twelve people are dead. But this is no ordinary target. This target exists on the fault line where sex and money meet. Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a badge, a gun and the Bureau’s latest technological weapon. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber – before he strikes again. In order to understand what is at stake, Madsen must plunge into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual, and the dead hand of corruption reaches all the way to the top. There’s too much money involved for this investigation to stay private …”

Bruce McCabe has created a darkly fascinating future world. It’s similar to the world as we know it, but with many elements taken to technology-enabled extremes. Like the hand-held lie detectors that allow FBI ‘plotters’ to determine the truth of a crime at faster rates than ever before, and the new, utterly lifelike sex dolls – ‘skinjobs’ – that look, feel and act like real people (although, spookily, can’t speak), and the dramatic rise in politically active religions lobbying against their use. It’s a world where secrets are outlawed, and good law officers can lose their jobs at the beep of a device. And, as a result of this new technology, careers and fortunes can be made and lost at an increasingly rapid rate.

‘Plotter’ Daniel Madsen is part of the new world. He’s hard-working to the point of extreme, super-smart, and determined to find the truth and get justice in all the cases he works. When he’s called in to work with the local cops after a bomb goes off in one of the ‘dollhouses’ – a place men can go to have sex with dolls – he approaches the case as he would any other. But this one is different. The forensic evidence doesn’t tie up with the CCTV footage. Under increasing pressure to generate leads and suspects, Daniel works around the clock trying to unravel the truth. But there is more to this case that first appears, and some very powerful people whose reputations (and fortunes) will rise or fall on the outcome.

But the story isn’t just about technology. As well as Daniel’s quest for the truth, what makes the story even more human is the internal conflict of Shari Sanayei, local PD Viddy Ops specialist (video surveillance), who is in charge of analysing the CCTV footage, and has to watch the police officer she was having a secret affair with enter the building where the bomb detonated just moments before it happened. If she declares the relationship, she’ll be removed from the case, and she doesn’t want that. Not only is she the best at viddy ops, she’s also determined to bring her lover’s killer to justice. Even if withholding their affair costs her the job she loves.

This is one of the best techno-thrillers I’ve read. Filled with intrigue and high on action it pulls you into an artfully crafted future world and has you follow Daniel Madsen as he searches for the person responsible for the bombing. With a cast of interesting characters, and the puzzle of evidence that doesn’t make sense, it had me trying to guess the killer’s identity all the way through and still managed to pack a great twist at the end.

Reminiscent of the great Michael Crichton, this is a techno-thriller with heart. A great read, a cracking high-adrenalin story, and a future world to make you think a little more about just where technology might lead us.

Highly recommended.

[Many thanks to Bantam Press for my copy of SKINJOB]

 

CTG Interviews: Bruce McCabe, author of SKINJOB

SKINJOB cover image

SKINJOB cover image

Today I’m joined by Bruce McCabe whose debut novel – SKINJOB – is coming out with Bantam Press this month.

Welcome to the CTG blog, Bruce.

Your debut novel – SKINJOB – is out this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Skinjob is a thriller set in the boardrooms, brothels, churches and alleyways of the near future. It follows the fortunes of Daniel Madsen, a cop trained to deliver rapid results in high-pressure cases where lives are on the line, and Shari Sanayei, an SFPD surveillance officer. The action takes place over just six days. Underneath the surface, the novel takes a provocative look at a series of looming social challenges.

You chose to set the story in the near future, what attracted you to this time period?

I love exploring the big “what if?” and the way we are challenged and changed by technology. Plus I’m privileged, due to my professional background, to talk to the scientists and innovators creating our future in their labs. I find the combination irresistible!

Technology is obviously something you’re very knowledgeable about. Did you need to do any specific research for SKINJOB, and if so how did you go about it?

Most of the research was already done – the book was inspired by a technology demonstrated to me that I found profoundly disturbing, and which stayed with me for years. While writing I spent time in San Francisco and other cities, walking the streets, getting everything just right. I conducted a few interviews too — a special agent I was introduced to was particularly helpful in understanding FBI internal affairs and inter-agency politics!

Bruce McCabe

Bruce McCabe

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

A mixture. I start with a big “What if?”. After I get a very high level sketch in my head (what I want to say, the characters, the kind of ending I want to arrive at), I dive in and start writing. After two or three chapters I pause and do a basic outline, then it’s back to writing. Over the course of the novel I return and rework that outline perhaps two or three times, each time adding structure and more detail. The plot is always in flux, right up until the last page.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?

To me, good crime writing is about the ‘slow reveal’: keep the revelations coming, but don’t give away too much and don’t be in too much of a hurry! Get that pace just right and your readers are bursting by the time they get to whodunit. On writing generally: read and write a lot, and understand that all first drafts look awful; everything good was re-written and polished many times over before it saw the light of day.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

Completing my second novel. It’s getting very close now and I’m both exhausted and excited! Then some downtime and some travel – during which I’ll probably scout locations for the next one!

Sounds great. Many thanks for dropping by the CTG blog and answering our questions.

To find out more about Bruce McCabe, pop over to his website at http://www.brucemccabe.com

SKINJOB is out now, and we’ll be posting our review shortly. In the meantime, here’s what the blurb says: “A bomb goes off in down town San Francisco. Twelve people are dead. But this was no ordinary target. This target exists on the fault line where sex and money meet. Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a badge, a gun and a handheld lie detector. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber – and before he strikes again. In order to understand what is at stake, Madsen must plunge into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual, and the dead hand of corruption reaches all the way to the top. There’s too much money involved for this investigation to stay private …”