In 2019, one year BC [Before Covid], Robert Goddard was awarded the Crime Writers Association’s highest accolade, The Diamond Dagger in London. His acceptance speech was most amusing and video footage can be accessed HERE
Many of us applauded when Robert’s literary output veered toward [what we term] thriller fiction, but retained the trademarks of his devious plotting, evocative characters and memorable backdrops that framed his narratives.
His latest, is no exception -
When reading The Fine Art of Invisible Detection under lock-down in your house, you will not require either anti-viral hand-gel, an N-95 face-mask or a book-mark - as Goddard’s latest is a one-sitting read, filled with vicarious thrills and a killer dénouement.
There is one unanswered question, to the master of the stand-alone mystery-thriller, and it relates to Umika Wada, the invisible detective. You’ll understand the question if you crack the spine of this book.
Read the review from Shots HERE
So, after an early read of his latest thriller, Shots Magazine tracked down Robert Goddard, to discuss his work -
Ali Karim: So Robert, before we get into The Fine Art of Invisible Detection, how have you been keeping in these weird days of Plague and Economic Anxiety?
Robert Goddard: On a day-to-day basis, I suppose writers’ lives have changed less than most people since this all started. And at least now we who imagine many kinds of disaster can’t be accused of exaggerating the things that can go wrong in the world. Research trips have gone the way of plotting sessions in the pub, though, which undeniably sucks a lot of fun out of life. But I’m surviving!
Ali: What mental strategies have you found help cope with the ubiquity of Covid?
Robert: The best distraction I can suggest from the all-enveloping topic of the virus is fiction - the writing as well as the reading of it. Never was escapism more sorely needed. A daily walk - even in the rain - also helps.
Ali: So, tell us why this widowed middle-aged Japanese female detective? Where did she spring from?
Robert: Where do characters come from? I really don’t know. But apparently, somewhere deep within my soul, there is a widowed middle-aged Japanese woman who asks nothing more of life than to be left alone by it but who, inevitably, isn’t going to be. I find her view of the world bracingly pragmatic and her stubbornness - which is fundamentally what drives her pursuit of the truth - very endearing.
Ali: And would I be correct thinking there’s a pinch of Dame Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple somewhere in this fiendish thriller?
Robert: I don’t think of Wada in Marple-ish terms. I don’t even think of her as a detective. Nor does she think of herself as one, though that’s what she ends up becoming. She somehow just is - and was so from the moment she entered my imagination.
Ali: Am I right in thinking you seem to be enjoying yourself with this change in pace in terms of writing style?
Robert: Is it a change of pace? Or is it an evolution? I feel as if I’m just coming into my prime as a writer. I don’t envy mathematicians or tennis players whose best years are over by the time they hit their mid-thirties. Writing over the long term turns out to be rather exhilarating. I’m certainly enjoying it.
Ali: I was reminded of the novel YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, while engrossed in The Fine Art of Invisible Detection. Fleming once defined a Thriller novel as a narrative structured that “…one must simply keep turning the pages…” Do you consider your work to have evolved from historical, complex crime novels to more of what Fleming alluded to?
Robert: I don’t really distinguish in my mind between crime, history, mystery or thriller. The story is the story. How to tell it - how to structure it - is what takes us into particular genre areas. And this also creates momentum. My belief is that if I want to keep turning the pages, so will the reader.
Ali: Your work [and The Fine Art of Invisible Detection being no exception] seems to feature the fascination of history, or rather what was hidden? Would you care to comment?
Robert: There’s no doubt that secrets from the past play an important role in many of my novels. That’s partly a reflection of the way my imagination works. But it also reflects a fundamental truth: that what we do and why we do it is embedded in our pasts. And in many cases, there are secrets hiding there.
Ali: The character Umika Wada is fascinating, but I’d also like to state, your ability to craft secondary, tertiary and quaternary characters that stand-up on the page, with just a few flourishes of the pen, adroit. So, how do you manage a large cast of characters during the writing process?
Robert: I love my subsidiary characters. I give them all the rights enjoyed by the major characters, which I don’t always feel is the case in some novels I read. They’re not there just to move the story along. They must be true to themselves. Take George Guptill in The Fine Art of Invisible Detection. The man presented himself in the story fully-formed and halfway through an intrusive question. He’s everything in a fellow passenger on a long flight Wada would want to avoid. But there’s no avoiding George! And in the end you can’t help liking him.
Ali: The ending of The Fine Art of Invisible Detection [as well as execution] made me believe we may see more from Wada’s world, and Japan?
Robert: It’s possible we’ll hear more of Wada. We’ll have to wait and see what comes up. I would undoubtedly enjoy posing another set of fiendishly complex problems for her attention, though to stay on the right side of her I’d apologise in advance. She appreciates courtesy.
Ali: Like many International Thriller Novels / Films, there is often a conspiracy at the core. What do you make of the appeal of conspiracy theories and those who become attracted to them?
Robert: Well, there are conspiracies and then there are conspiracy theories and those who admit the possibility of the former can’t in all logic dismiss the latter without examining them. Covid has already spawned many conspiracy theories. I think we all crave certainty about events that sometimes arise from entirely chaotic circumstances. Then again, those of us old enough to remember where we were when Kennedy was shot know that nothing has ever been quite the same since. If the official version of events makes no logical sense, it’s inevitable that some will speculate about where the truth might lie.
Ali: And the appeal of Cults, especially those that involve death?
Robert: Now, I’m as happy as the next man to indulge in elaborate theorising about unexplained events (see above), but cults? There I have to hold up my hand and admit that I cannot comprehend the ability of the human mind to convince itself that obedience to irrational commands is the key that will unlock the doors of happiness and spiritual fulfilment. But many do just that. And then, beyond that, the engagement in murderous activity, as with the Aum Shinrikyo cult? Reality leaves us novelists behind at times. All we can do is try our very best to keep up.
Ali: Just before the world went all weird and Covid; you were awarded the , so do you feel any acceptance as being labelled a ‘crime writer’ OR are genre boundaries irrelevant to a writer?
Robert: I really never set out to write crime novels or thrillers or historical fiction. I just wanted to write the kinds of stories that excited my imagination, which generally involved quite a few crimes, psychological tension and historical themes. I’m not sure exactly what you’d call them, but I was delighted the CWA wanted to recognise my work in the way they did.
Ali: And what about your reading?
Robert: My reading’s almost all research-driven, although that can be quite far-ranging. Impulse buys haven’t happened as much as they used to when I could browse in bookshops - a really good cover tends to lure me in. As a result, I’m missing bookshops almost as much as I’m missing pubs.
Ali: And what’s next for you professionally?
Robert: Another book is happening and it seems to be going well. But I can’t say much about it at the moment.
Ali: Thank you for your time.
Robert: Thank you for the questions.
We would suggest you mark your diaries accordingly as is released on March 18th 2021, including on eBook and Audible platforms.
Shots Magazine would like to thank Patsy Irwin of Penguin Random House for organizing this conversation for our readers