Thursday 5 January 2023

James Buckler on his inspiration for The Simple Truth

I was at work one day, day dreaming of new ways to kill people, as you do. It struck me that one of the big problems with writing crime novels is that all the best killing methods have already been used. Shooting, stabbing, strangling. All are too well used to have any profound impact anymore. I knew that I needed something brand new to kick start my second novel, The Simple Truth, in order to give the reader a real jolt in the opening pages. 

During my lunch hour that day, I was idly scrolling through a news site when my eyes were drawn to a story from the East Coast of America. A series of unusual deaths had occurred that had shocked the public. I can’t tell you exactly what the news report entailed in any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the narrative of The Simple Truth. Suffice to say, the story was really unusual in quite a disturbing way. This was something I hadn’t ever come across before, and believe me, as a crime writer I read about a lot of murder and death.

Secondly, I needed a hero. I had forbidden myself from creating a main character who was a police officer. I really like police procedurals but inherent in choosing to write about this world, a certain set of limitations are immediately placed on a book’s structure that restrict the choices the characters can make. Procedure has to take priority for the police officers’ actions to be believable. Hey, even maverick cops have to obey the rules sometimes. 

Instead, I decided that my hero was going to be a lawyer. This would grant the character an ability to investigate and probe the circumstances of any case, but still be able to improvise. I really like legal thrillers such as The Firm and The Lincoln Lawyer. I love the way they reveal people at their most vulnerable and unguarded whilst also showing the shady tactics that people employ to secure wealth and power. This allows the reader an insight into the motivations of a whole host of different characters from all walks of life. My wife is a lawyer, as are most of her friends, and subsequently I spend a lot of time around them, listening to their legal conversations, picking up juicy snippets of information I can use in my writing. One such topic of conversation was the current campaign against the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements. These confidentiality clauses are increasingly seen as an unfair tool that the rich and powerful use to protect themselves. I researched the misuse of NDAs and a story started to take shape in my mind and with it some more characters began to emerge in my imagination.

Now I needed a reason for at least one of the characters in the story to kill another. Bloodthirsty, I know, but without this any crime novel ends up being a bit limp. A crime story without a murder is like a football match without a ball – just a lot of pointless running around. So I needed a backdrop to the entire novel, an activity where the stakes are a matter of life and death. Something that people care about to such a degree that they would kill for it. Again, my salvation lay in reading newspapers. 

My interest had long been piqued by environmental issues and I was keeping tabs on the volatility in the international energy markets. This was back in 2019, way before the current craziness in the price of energy had made its way onto people’s actual household bills. It was apparent that a battle was going to be fought between fossil fuel companies and green energy developers. The financial stakes in this battle are frightening. Hundreds of billions of pounds will be won and lost in the struggle over how our future energy needs will be met. Lives will be changed in unimaginable ways. Technology that seems to come straight from science fiction will soon be mainstream. One of these new technologies is hydrogen energy. I began reading about the amazingly simple chemical process that turns water into hydrogen gas, a gas that can be used for almost anything. Hydrogen energy looks like the future – one that fossil fuel companies will do practically anything to stop becoming a reality. Would they even kill for it, I asked myself? With this, the story of The Simple Truth had fully emerged into the light.

The Simple Truth by James Buckler (Transworld Publishers) Out Now

A young woman is dead. A very wealthy client needs a favour. You're newly qualified as a lawyer and this could be your big break, so you jump at the chance. The case is about to be closed. All you have to do is talk to a family, ask them to sign some papers. How difficult could it be? Their daughter was found dead at a beauty spot on the outskirts of London in what you're told was a tragic suicide. Only you can uncover what really happened. But the truth is never that simple. And this case could cost you your life...

More information can be found on his website. James Buckler can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @Jamesbuckwriter

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