Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Running Away with Harlan Coben



After reading Harlan Coben’s latest thriller Run Away my thoughts drifted back to a pivotal point in this novelist’s career – what we term his breakthrough book. I am writing about a novel that was extraordinary. It was different from what came before, and one that would launch Harlan Coben’s career as one of the World’s most engaging thriller writers, and one that changed the direction of his writing career, as well as being one (that I firmly believe) nudged the direction of the thriller genre. The book I allude to was of course TELL NO ONE, the first of his work that would be adapted for film, and curiously it would be Europe that acclaimed his talent.

But first a little context, and also a look at the surreal happenings in this reality, that at times makes one feel as if life contains the elements, reflections and occurrences that would not be out of place in a Harlan Coben novel.

I was first introduced to the work of Harlan Coben, thanks to one of my regular visits to the long-gone Murder Ink bookstore in Dawson Street, Dublin. It was in the late 1990s, and I recall sitting with Mike Gallaher, Murder Ink’s owner and as we sipped coffee, we discussed what books we’d read. Michael asked if I had read the Myron Bolitar novels penned by Harlan Coben? As I hadn’t, Michael told me about them, and about Myron Bolitar who was involved in investigating sports……and at that point I told Gallaher, sorry I’m not interested in sports, at which Gallaher told me “trust me Ali, the sports angle is just a foil. These novels by Harlan Coben are terrific, funny and exciting”. Michael also knew of my fascination with the music of Bruce Springsteen, so he added “and he’s from New Jersey, like Bruce Springsteen”.  

I trusted Michael Gallaher as I had purchased many books from him, over the years and he was rarely off target. Never one constrained by the forces of moderation, I bought all he had in the store, the first four of the Myron Bolitar novels [Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away and Back Spin].

To be totally honest, I had low expectations as they looked way too sports-orientated for my palate, but Michael Gallaher was my friend, so I placed them into the bag with some others I purchased. I put off reading them as they appeared (as what I term) ‘Spunkbubbles’ with tennis rackets, golf clubs, US footballs, baseball bats emblazoned on the covers. As a result, they languished for several months in my TBR [to-be-read] pile, as each time I looked at the covers, my heart sank, because I dislike sports, and the idea of a crime fiction novel set in the world of athletics made me feel nauseous, they made me feel ill. They appeared to me, like literary Ebola.

Then on one particularly rainy day, I sifted through my masses of books and stumbled upon those four books by Harlan Coben, the ones Michael Gallaher of Murder Ink recommended, the ones that were crime and mystery thrillers set in the world of sport.

I held my nose as I cracked the spine of DEAL BREAKER expecting to abandon it after a few pages; BUT following reading the first chapter I realised I had been an idiot. I failed that test, the adage - “never judge a book by its cover”.

The writing was exhilarating, I found myself laughing out aloud, and I also found myself thinking deeply for this novel provoked intense thought and introspection. Then I read the next three books, back-to-back and they were just so damned good, extraordinary writing, words that made me think. They contained a dry wit, a humour that made me laugh, as I turned the pages, but also the humour was useful, because they were in fact very, very dark books; all despite the amiable nature of Harlan’s protagonist (and alter-ego), Myron Bolitar.
The sports angle, the backdrop was just that – purely a backdrop, it provided a ‘frame of reference’ in which a thought-provoking narrative could unfold – it was the lens.

Though his work is dark, and when later I got to meet the writer, Harlan Coben, I understood that writers with the darkest and most troubling imaginations are the nicest and most life-affirming of people.

I was hooked, and at that time of my life, Harlan Coben joined my other favourite writers, on my bookshelves; novelists such as Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Thomas Harris, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Martina Cole, Robert Crais, Jeffery Deaver, Philip Kerr among many, many others. What is impressive about these writers is the fact that despite selling books by the bucket-load, they could easily slack off and write ‘any old biff’ – but they continue to provide great and insightful novels, narratives that make the reader think deeply.

Harlan Coben is one such writer.

Harlan Coben’s work acts as a prism from which we can inspect our own lives, for his work makes us think, and that is what makes a novelist I consider to be ‘extraordinary’.

Just before Michael Gallaher closed down his shop Murder ink, we sat for a final coffee, and I thanked him for introducing me to the work of Harlan Coben.

We laughed at my initial reticence in cracking the spine of Deal Breaker, with all that Sports backdrop that had put me off. Michael amused me with an anecdote, which I will share –

“Do you remember when I told you about the work of Harlan Coben all those years ago? And as I knew the sports angle didn’t appeal to you, so I told you that Harlan Coben was from New Jersey, the same state as Bruce Springsteen?

I nodded.

“Well his guitarist Nils Lofgren was in the shop yesterday. He’s playing with Springsteen in Dublin tomorrow, and as he’s a big reader of Crime Fiction he was in the shop yesterday - and just like you, he asked for a recommendation, so I told him about Harlan Coben. Just like you, those many years ago, Nils Lofgren had never read a Harlan Coben novel before. He was intrigued due to the link to New Jersey, so he bought a few of his books here in Dublin.”

It was not long after that I noticed on Harlan Coben’s old website, before it became the ultra-slick www.harlancoben.com that there was a photo of Harlan backstage with the E-Street Band, and that a friendship developed with Nils Lofgren

But coming full circle, it would not be one of the first seven Myron Bolitar series thrillers that changed everything for me. it would be his standalone novel TELL NO ONE that would become the breakout, the novel that readers outside the confines of the crime, mystery, thriller genre would pick up, and the first that made it to film, the one that the French saw merit, and later Sky TV and Netflix would follow suit.  


When I read TELL NO ONE, I was very excited to meet Harlan Coben, and bought multiple copies of that hardcover (the one with that distinctive purple cover). Soon I found myself in a queue at the fondly remembered Crime-in-Store bookshop in London’s Covent Garden to get those books signed. For it was that year that many of my friends would receive signed copies of TELL NO ONE as gifts. It was also in that signing queue (just after the millennium) that I would first bump into Shots Blogger Ayo Onatade. I was in awe as Ayo had copies of those very rare paperbacks of Harlan’s early books Play Dead and Miracle Cure for signing.
Then over the years I would bump into Harlan at many book launches, award ceremonies as well as his appearances at Conventions such as Bouchercon, Theakstons’ Crime Writing Festival – and I applauded until my hands were red, when Harlan brought back Myron Bolitar a decade ago, as well as seeing his foray into YA fiction.

So, what were my thoughts on Harlan’s latest RUN AWAY?

Renowned for his twisty, serpentine plots, we often overlook just how great a novelist and narrative stylist Harlan Coben truly is. His latest, Run Away is a thriller but also a novel that makes you think deeply as the pages race, not unlike protagonist Simon Greene’s journey to save his daughter, and ultimately his family.

Simon and his wife Ingrid Greene maybe suffering middle-class guilt, in failing their daughter Paige who has slipped through the cracks within their picture-perfect suburban life. The three children, Sam, Anya, and Paige have all the opportunities afforded by their parents, New York professionals in paediatric medicine, and with PPG Wealth Management in the financial sector.

But something goes wrong.

Read the full review from Shots Magazine HERE because like TELL NO ONE, Harlan’s latest, decades on is extraordinary, very special.

So as Harlan launches his new thriller, as well as an upcoming visit to England as a guest of Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival 2019, In Harrogate, he kindly agreed to answering a few questions for Shots Magazine.

Ali:         Welcome back to Shots Magazine Harlan, so how exhausted are you after penning the breathless Run Away?

Harlan:      Ha!  Never! I feel more energized than ever!  (This is a lie)

Ali:        And again you mine the lives of normal families to create an extraordinary story, so what is it about the mysteries concealed in suburban life that interests you?

Harlan:          Well, the Greene’s live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan so it’s very much city rather than suburban life. Family fascinates me – the ties and bonds of blood. That was a good place to start. Throw in some of the new genealogy websites, a cult, a few killers, a drug problem….

Ali:        I felt Run Away to be perhaps your most personal book, in terms of the backdrop of Simon Greene’s wife being a Physician and having three children? The Lanford College; am I right?

Harlan:          All the books are personal, but here’s something funny. When my four kids read RUN AWAY, they all started trying to guess which one of them was supposed to be Paige, Simon’s most troubled daughter. (Answer: None – I’m remarkably lucky)

Ali:         So, tell me, was there a spark that ignited the story behind Run Away, or was it just your work ethic of needing to get your derriere onto your chair and releasing your imagination into the dark-side?

Harlan:  It’s always both. I had a few things I wanted to write about – family, religion, drugs, DNA – but nothing came together until, like Simon on the opening page, I was sitting on a bench in Central Park listening to street musician mangling out a John Lennon tune. That was the spark I needed.

Ali:         And I see you are back at Theakston’s Harrogate Crime Festival, so tell us what is it about Europe that you consider appeals to readers of your work, as Run Away, like much of your work is heavily set in America?

Harlan:          Oh, I don’t know. From what I’m told, the European reader really values thrillers with heart. I hope that’s what the appeal is, but whatever, I’m so grateful.

Ali:         I see that you are in conversation with Ian Rankin while a guest of Theakstons’ Crime Writing Festival, so what are we likely to expect?

Harlan:          A very serious, weighty, mono-toned, dry discourse that will put the audience to sleep. Or maybe the opposite. I’m not sure.

Ali:         The last time we met, was at Bouchercon New Orleans back in 2016 a wonderful party managed by Heather Graham and her team, so tell us about that time in Louisiana?

Harlan:          It was magical. Being guest of honor at a conference I first came to as a total unknown… well, wow, that was a pretty heady. Heather Graham is the best too. She’s just a great person in so many ways. I adore her.


Ali:        I hear that it was during a military assignment that Heather asked you about being one of Bouchercon’s GoH, so tell us about that assignment?

Harlan:          I traveled with Heather and several other crime writers – F Paul Wilson, Phillip Margolin, Kathleen Antrim – on a USO Tour to entertain (more like, hang with) the troops serving in Kuwait, UK, Germany and at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. It was an incredible and poignant experience.
  
Ali:       Back to Run Away, I noticed a few subtle nods to previous work, such as Lanford College [from Six Years] being where Paige Greene’s problems may have started. So, are these references just part of the writing process, or written for fans of your work, and also nerds like me to uncover?

Harlan:  A little bit of both. I love what I think is commonly called Easter eggs in both books and TV. On the tv show THE FIVE, for example, savvy viewers/readers picked up that we named Pru’s medical clinic after Win from my Myron books. But I also do to show that I’m often working in the same world when I write my books. For that reason, overlap ends up being natural.

Ali:         And is it true that your own memories of Amherst College became fictionalised in your work and is it also true that while a student there, you met not only your wife, but an aspiring writer entitled Dan Brown? And what ever happened to that Dan Brown bloke?

Harlan:           Certainly, there are similarities between Amherst College and Lanford, but that’s true of many things, if not most things, I write about. Yes, I met my wife at Amherst College. And yes, I met Dan Brown there too. Dan and I remain friends, but meeting my wife was better. I think Dan would agree.

Ali                Can you tell us a little of what is happening to cinematic and TV adaptations of your work?

Harlan:          I just came back from Manchester where we started filming THE STRANGER, an eight-episode crime drama based off my book, starring Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Stephen Rea, Jennifer Saunders (yes, THE Jennifer Saunders – her first dramatic role), Hannah Kamen-John, Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Kaye, Shaun Dooley… it’s a dream group.
  
Ali:      Thanks Harlan for your time, we loved Run Away, and so what’s next?

Harlan:  Oh I never talk about the next book. It takes away some of the energy. To put it another way, I would LOVE to tell you about the next book, but the only way I get that satisfaction is to WRITE it. And thanks. I really can’t wait to hear people’s reaction to RUN AWAY. It’s one of my personal favorites – but who cares what I think??

Shots Magazine would like to thank Charlotte Bush of PenguinRandomHouse for her help in organising this interview


Click HERE for video and an insightful interview feature between Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly recorded at Bouchercon 2016, New Orleans

If you’ve not read Harlan Coben, then RUN AWAY is a great place to start, more information from www.harlancoben.com

Photos © 1997 – 2019 A Karim



Tuesday, 19 March 2019

A Friend You Haven’t Met Yet by Peter Swanson

One of the themes I wanted to explore in my new novel, Before She Knew Him, was the idea of friendship. Not those long, impervious friendships—the ones that begin in childhood and stretch through the years—but those friendships that start late in life. And in particular, I was interested in the couple friendship.

Making friends as an adult is hard. If you happen to be part of a couple, then making couple friends can be doubly hard. Everyone needs to get along. Inevitably, such relationships can become fraught with tension—who doesn’t like whom, or, worse, does someone like someone else too much?

The opening scene of my book depicts a neighbourhood block party in a suburb west of Boston. Hen, the main protagonist, an artist with a history of mental health issues, is reluctant to go, even though they are new to the neighbourhood. Lloyd, her husband, convinces her. Of course, if he hadn’t managed to get her to attend, the rest of the novel wouldn’t happen. At this party, Hen and Lloyd meet their neighbours, Matthew and Mira, and after a dinner party with the four of them, Hen becomes convinced that her new neighbour is a murderer.

What interested me in writing this book wasn’t exploring the idea of whether Hen was imagining things, or if her neighbour is really the killer. It’s not a spoiler alert to say that Matthew Dolamore is a killer. The reader is told this at the beginning of chapter two. What interested me in writing this book was that Hen and Matthew ultimately form a relationship, one actually based on a strong, if twisted, bond.

After Hen becomes convinced that Matthew has killed someone named Dustin Miller, a former student of his, two years earlier, she shares her suspicions with both her husband and with a homicide detective. But because of Hen’s past, including a time in college when she falsely accused a fellow freshman of attempted murder, she is, understandably, an unreliable witness. And because she is such an unreliable witness, it provides an opening for Matthew, once he learns that she knows the truth. He can tell her anything, because she is powerless to turn around and repeat what he has said. No one will believe her. Most importantly, he can tell her the truth.

In a strange way, Hen gets something from Matthew, as well. When the two talk, it’s not just that he can confess to her what he’s done, he is also the only person who actually believes her, who knows that she’s not crazy. If that’s not the basis for some sort of friendship, I don’t know what is. 

I love these kinds of relationships in thrillers. There’s the relationship between Guy and Bruno in Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. There’s Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs. And my absolute favourite part of the recent TV series Luther, starring Idris Elba, was Luther’s relationship with the killer, Alice Morgan, played by the always brilliant Ruth Wilson. I have to say I lost a little interest when she disappeared from the show.

Strangers are scary, and sometimes friends are, as well. We never know what’s really in someone’s heart, and I think that’s a good basis for a thriller. It’s possible that my book is one long cautionary tale about attending neighbourhood block parties, but it’s also about putting yourself out there, getting to know people. Strangers are just friends we haven’t met. Or friends we wish we had never met.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
When Hen and Lloyd move into their new house in West Dartford, Mass., they’re relieved to meet, at their first block party, the only other seemingly-childless couple in their neighbourhood, Matthew and Mira Dolamore. Turns out they live in the Dutch Colonial immediately next door.  When they’re invited over for dinner, however, things take a sinister turn when Hen thinks she sees something suspicious in Matthew’s study. Could this charming, mild-mannered College Professor really be hiding a dark secret, one that only Hen, whose been battling her own problems with depression and medication, could know about? Lloyd certainly doesn’t seem to believe her, and so, forced together, Hen and Matthew start to form an unlikely bond. But who, if anyone, is really in danger?

More information about the author can be found on his website.  He can also be found on Facebook and follower him on Twitter @PeterSwanson3

Monday, 18 March 2019

Watching the Detectives



So, as we greet another adventure featuring the surreal detectives from the pen of Chris Fowler in the upcoming “The Lonely Hour”, Shots asked the author a little about these two iconic characters.

This may come as a shock but I don’t think of the Bryant & May mysteries (seventeen and counting) as a series. They’re a chance for me to write every kind of crime novel I can imagine, and to emulate some of my hero(ine)s. So far, I’ve tackled locked-room puzzles, whydunnits, how-will-he-get-away-with-its, races against time, comic capers, Christie and Crispin homages, and a dozen other crime sub-genres. I haven’t got around to gluing little clues into the pages as Dennis Wheatley’s publishers did but it can only be a matter of time. As a result, the books work well out of sequence because each is a fresh adventure.

The latest, ‘Bryant & May: The Lonely Hour’, is a darker, somewhat grittier adventure for my senior detectives. And it’s not a whodunnit, as I let the reader know the killer’s identity from the start, but there are questions about how and why, so there are still surprises to the very last page.

Each book feels like a new beginning, except that I get to use the same characters, and it really is like greeting old friends who have become so real to me over time, perhaps because each one is based at least in part on someone I know.

The new novel is about a man who knows what people fear most, and always strikes at 4:00am, the loneliest hour of the night, when we are all at our most vulnerable. To catch him Arthur Bryant changes his unit’s shifts to night-time, causing all kinds of havoc. It gave me a chance to explore the city at night and investigate murder, arson, kidnap, blackmail, bats and the psychological effects of loneliness on city-dwellers.

My research required me to chat to strangers hanging around in the street at 4:00am, many of whom didn’t make much sense. It’s a time when all the normal rules are upended, which only made the writing more interesting!

More information about these surreal detectives is available HERE



Friday, 15 March 2019

Hilda's Crime Countdown



Dear Partners In Crime,

A reminder that the early booking deal for this year's Crime Fiction Weekend closes on 31 March.

Our theme this year is 'Gamechangers: writers who have transformed the genre'and you can view the full line-up of authors and speakers, plus the weekend schedule here

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

BRAD PARKS: The reality of modern money laundering

Photo Credit: Sara Harris
The seedy strip mall with the potholed parking lot.

The dimly lit warehouse, weeds proliferating out front.

The restaurant that stays open even though no one eats there—and always seems to have a lot of guys with crooked noses coming in and out.

In the popular imagination, these are the places we think of when someone says the words “money laundering.”

In reality, chances are excellent the most notorious money launderer in your neighborhood is the gleaming, solidly constructed, scrupulously landscaped office of a large, international bank.

My latest standalone thriller, The Last Act, is inspired by the malfeasance of one such financial institution.

The action of the novel centers around Tommy Jump, an out-of-work actor who is approached by the FBI and offered the role of a lifetime: He must go to prison and befriend a disgraced former banker who knows the location of documents related to money laundering that can be used to bring down a ruthless Mexican drug cartel.

It’s all loosely based on the real-life case of Wachovia. During the mid-2000s—when, coincidentally, I was a Wachovia customer—the bank had a relationship with currency exchange houses in Mexico wherein anyone could walk in off the street with a wad of cash and, for a small fee, change it into American greenbacks that were then shunted into an account at Wachovia.

It was practically an invitation to launder money and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, several Mexican drug cartels happily availed themselves of it.

The DEA discovered this arrangement after it had already been bumping along for a few years, and only when Mexican authorities seized a DC-9 plane, owned by the Sinaloa cartel, that was laden with $100 million worth of cocaine. The DEA started following the money—how did a criminal syndicate manage to buy a commercial airliner?— and soon found Sinaloa had done it the same way I was buying my breakfast cereal at the time.

With an account from Wachovia.

Wachovia, which has since been taken over by Wells Fargo, later agreed to pay a $160 million fine for failing to apply proper anti-money laundering controls on $378 billion worth of transfers between itself and the currency exchange houses.

Let’s write that again: $378 billion. As in more than a third of a trillion dollars. 

A lot of it was surely legitimate guest workers sending money back to their families, that sort of thing. But some of it? Apparently not so much.

And Wachovia is far from alone. Not long after its malfeasance was uncovered, UK-based HSBC paid a $1.9 billion fine for its role in laundering drug money. French-based BNP-Paribas and, most recently, Dutch-based Danske Bank had also paid huge fines.

It turns out criminals today are just like everyone else: They want to be able to move their money easily, with the touch of a button. And they have found willing partners in these banks, which collect large fees for their services as they remain willfully blind about the griminess of the money they’re handling.

Oh, sure, the banks say they have cleaned up their acts. But I can almost guarantee that even if they have, some other bank out there hasn’t.

Why? Because as of this writing—after having laundered many untold billions of dollars for these criminal syndicates—not a single executive from any of these banks has served so much as a day in prison.

They haven’t even faced criminal charges.
            
All of the banks have received what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement. Basically, it’s the government slapping them on the wrist and saying, “Now you cut this out! Or else!

That’s where my novel—in which the banker gets tossed in jail—diverges from reality.

Because otherwise who could believe anything so preposterous?

The Last Act by Brad Parks
Former Broadway star Tommy Jump isn’t getting the roles he once did. As his final run as Sancho Ponza draws to a close, Tommy is getting ready to give up the stage, find a steady paycheck, and settle down with his fiancĂ©e.  Cue Special Agent Danny Ruiz. An old school friend of Tommy’s, now with the FBI, Ruiz makes Tommy an offer that sounds too good to refuse. All Tommy has to do is spend six months in prison, acting as failed bank robber ’Pete Goodrich’.  Inside, he must find and befriend Mitchell Dupree, who has hidden a secret cache of documents incriminating enough to take down New Colima, one of Mexico’s largest drug cartels. If Tommy can get Dupree and reveal where the documents are hidden, the FBI will give him $300,000, more than enough to jumpstart a new life. But does he have what it takes to pull off this one final role?

International bestseller Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His UK debut, Say Nothing, was Sunday TimesThriller of the Month. The Last Actreleases from Faber & Faber on March 12. For more, visit www.BradParksBooks.com.

Monday, 11 March 2019

'The Never Game': An Evening with Jeffery Deaver at Heffers

Number one bestselling author Jeffery Deaver returns with a stunning new thriller – the first in an exciting series featuring enigmatic investigator Colter Shaw. Join Jeffery at Heffers, as he talks about THE NEVER GAME and life as 'the best psychological thriller writer around'.


The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver (Published by HarperCollins Publisher)
You wake up all alone, in the middle of a forest, miles from anywhere. Beside you lie five objects – a lighter, grease, picture-frame wire, a piece of silk, a bottle of water – which you will need to use if you want to survive.

You’ve been taken by the Whispering Man and there is no escape. He makes the rules and nobody ever gets out alive. Enigmatic investigator Colter Shaw is fighting to stop the murders. But another victim has been snatched from her family and he’s running out of time. In the darkest corner of Silicon Valley, a new breed of killer is emerging: someone with a deadly obsession, whose twisted game is spiralling out of control.

More information about the event and tickets can be found here.

Go behind the scenes of Grantchester! Competition


We have a pair of tickets to giveaway to one lucky Shots reader for an event with author James Runcie (The Grantchester Mysteries) this Wednesday 13th March!  


Led by TV personality Reverend Richard Coles (BBC One The Big Painting Challenge, QI, Have I Got News For You?), the author behind ITV’s hit series will be in conversation with lead scriptwriter Daisy Coulam, to dive behind the scenes of the popular TV show.

James and Daisy will discuss the inspiration behind the stories, the challenges of adapting to screen and key moments from the last four series: From the bromance between Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and Geordie Keating (Robson Green), to tackling homosexuality and the church, and introducing the new vicar William Davenport (Tom Brittney).  

Attendees will also be treated to a preview of James’ new novel - The Road to Grantchester - a captivating prequel published by Bloomsbury on 21st March.

To be in with a chance send your names by 5:00pm to grantchestercompetition@fmcm.co.uk 

The winner will be notified.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

All Falls Down Behind the Book By Sheena Kamal

The places that leave an impression on my imagination are not usually the ones I’d expect. They’re not your average vacation hot spots, all-inclusive resorts with endless buffets or even famed cities steeped in history. They’re not necessarily the places I want to return to (though I’d never turn my nose up at a free trip, either.)

Detroit is one of those cities that caught my attention for no particularly good reason. I know as well as anyone else it’s not a city that you’d expect or desire to be moved by. However, my first time driving through Detroit some years ago, on my way to a concert, there it was. Like a feather passed along my nerve endings, a jolt of awareness. There’s something for me here, I thought. At the time, I didn’t quite know what, but I filed the impression away and knew I’d somehow come back to it. 

It took a few years, though. In the meantime, I’d moved from Toronto to Vancouver to write a suspense novel (Eyes Like Mine) about a damaged but very resilient woman named Nora Watts. When Nora’s story began to take shape as a series, I knew that for the second book I wanted her to hunt down the clues to her past in an American city. That’s when I remembered Detroit. It was perfect. I have strong feelings about it, firstly, and it also has an incredible music scene. Nora has a powerful connection with music, so it seemed like the ideal location. It’s also very different from Vancouver and I thought that juxtaposition would be interesting to examine.

The events of this sequel would take place over a relatively short period of time, and I knew I had to approach it differently from how I write Vancouver. I wanted my Detroit experience to be short and immersive, a shock to my system and Nora’s, so I planned five days there and contacted a private investigator to show me the ropes. 

There was a snag almost immediately. 

The private investigator was so busy he foisted me off on his friend. Given Detroit’s reputation, I was suspicious of this “friend,” but it was coming down to the wire and I needed someone. I said, what the hell, and agreed to let a stranger pick me up from the bus station when I arrived in from Toronto. 

I’m quite impulsive when it comes to travel, but even I had reservations about the wisdom of this plan. 

However, luck was on my side. My private investigator was not a murderous psychopath, as I’d feared. He was an active police investigator named Ira Todd who genuinely enjoyed talking to writers. (I promise I’m not making this up!) 

When he picked me up, he said, “My task force just broke a 2-year old case and I’ve got to get back to headquarters to interview a witness. Want to come along?

Did I ever! Instead of depositing me at reception, which is what I’d expected, he took me to meet the other members of the homicide task force and allowed me to watch the interview take place on a live feed. It was incredible to see this seasoned interviewer talk to a witness just as a case was breaking. I’d never seen anything like it.  

I spent five days with Ira, riding in his undercover vehicle, getting to know this city he’d lived in his entire life, the streets he’d patrolled and worked his butt off to keep safe. I learned how, when the city crumbled and became the punchline of a nasty joke, the people who could leave did and everyone else was left to pick up the pieces. I talked to everyone I could. Some people loved this broken city and others hated it. No matter what their views were, just about everybody had a strong opinion they were eager to share—and share at length. 

At the end of my brief trip, I said goodbye to my guardian angel Ira, who’d gone out of his way to show me that Detroit isn’t good or bad. Like everywhere else, it’s a bit of both, and everything in between. It’s the perfect city for this part of Nora’s journey because you can’t go there without feeling something. I hope I was able to put some of that feeling into the book. If it didn’t come through, it’s entirely my fault. The city of Detroit, as always, gave me one hell of a ride. 

It All Falls Down by Sheena Kamal (Published by Zaffre Books)
Nora Watts is being hunted . . . When Nora Watts is approached by a man claiming to know her late father, she is thrown into turmoil. Struggling with the imminent death, from cancer, of her friend and mentor Sebastian Crow, she is unprepared for the memories that this encounter brings back. What happened to her father that made him kill himself and abandon Nora and her sister? Heading to Detroit to try and find some answers about his life there, Nora expects to discover a reason behind his suicide. Instead, she finds more questions than answers. But trouble always follows Nora, and it's found her in Detroit, a city that is as broken as she is.

More  information about the author and her books can be found on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @sheena_kamal.   You can also find her on Facebook.