Today’s guest blog is by author Rachel Abbott. A former Managing Director of an interactive media company she now spends her time partly in Italy and Alderney.
How easy would it be to commit murder? Could you do it? Could I? Could one of us kill somebody in cold blood? In a way, I have done it, if only through my characters –– people who take actions that, to me at least, seem reasonable and in whom I believe wholeheartedly.
In my books the victim is not always the body on the bed. The true victim is sometimes the perpetrator of the crime – the woman ready to inject a syringe full of poison into a femoral vein, a relatively peaceful way to kill somebody – selected because I know I could never put a knife into somebody’s heart.
While I’m writing, I am that woman.
Planning the perfect murder isn’t the difficult bit, though. That’s a logical exercise. With plenty of research and a slightly warped brain it can be figured out. The difficult bit is in understanding why somebody would take another life, and getting inside their heads so that, in telling their story, they can be treated with at least some degree of understanding and possibly even sympathy.
My first novel, Only the Innocent began life as a classic murder mystery, but as I became embroiled in the story of my murderess it ended up being a book about relationships. Not just the relationship between the murderess and her victim, but between all the main characters – both alive and dead. The victim’s relationship with his parents, his ex wife, his daughter, his secretary – and each of these impacted on the reason he had to die. It forced me to think about the connections between people, how fragile they could be and how easily ripped apart.
After the success of Only the Innocent, I realised that I wanted to continue to write thrillers about people who – at least on the surface – appear to be normal. But what does normal mean? There is no doubt that had I been faced with the same circumstances as my first murderess, I might very well have made the decisions she did. I was that woman when I was writing. Does that mean that I could kill? Are killers born, or somewhere deep inside do we all have it in us?
In each of my books, at least one character has a flaw that is invisible to the world at large, or maybe he or she makes some error of judgment that runs out of control. They begin life as commonplace flaws and mistakes that we might all see around us – because who amongst us can say that we are perfect? The man who is possessive about his wife – how far does he let that go? Or the woman who feels slighted by a man and can’t stop hoping for or maybe planning his downfall.
It’s all a matter of degree. But ultimately it’s all about relationships. The key for me is in finding the lie that was told or mistake that was made years ago, or might even be happening right now, and considering how something apparently containable could run out of control and end in murder.
Take the woman who is considering an affair. She goes to meet her potential lover one night when her husband is away – she thinks it’s safe. The next day she hears that there was a terrible accident and she was in the vicinity. She might have passed the driver of the hit and run vehicle. What does she do? Admit where she was, or fool herself into believing that she didn’t see anything at all. How far would she go, and what would she risk, to avoid revealing her own truth? The Back Road was based on a group of such people, all with small, everyday lies that cumulatively had a devastating impact on one young girl’s life.
Or what about the man who becomes obsessed with a girl at university? He has to have her. She is all he wants. And when he gets her, he has to keep her. What does he do to make sure she can’t escape, and how does that escalate over time? Sleep Tight explores the ultimate threat of a man so desperate to keep his wife that he believes there is only one thing he can do to guarantee she never leaves him.
My latest novel, Stranger Child, has some obvious bad guys – the sort of people not many of us are likely to encounter in our lives. But they are just the background characters. The main flaw lives in one character – and I won’t say which. He is ultimately exposed for making a shocking mistake some years ago that has had such an appalling impact on the life of one young girl, that it’s hard – if not impossible – to forgive. One error of judgment that has led to catastrophic results.
These, to me, are the real threats in life. I’m not interested in carved up bodies, blood and guts. Those murders feel like gruesome one-off events – which hopefully are unlikely to happen to me. I’m more interested in the insidious demolition of trust – something that erodes a relationship over time and that could be happening, unseen and unheard, to people around me – until some trigger, some catalyst, drives the good person in the story – the real victim – to take action.
Stranger Child is published by Black Dot, £7.99