Generally, I have to work at it when plotting out a new book. I come up with the characters first, and then I try to map out an intriguing start and a rewarding ending, and hopefully some good parts in between. So far (without wishing to tempt fate), the ideas that make the book work have come to me as I write, not in a single dramatic epiphany. This is actually consistent with what King goes on to say on the subject of ideas: “Your job isn’t to find these ideas, but to recognise them when they show up.”
The Samaritan is a little different from the other novels I’ve written, because it’s the first time I started with a ‘Big Idea’ and then worked everything else out from there. The idea came to me when I was driving, appropriately enough. It was at night, on a lonely stretch of back road in the hills above the city where I live. It was a cold, clear night in early spring and I was looking forward to getting home. As I rounded a corner, I saw a car by the side of the road. As I got closer, I realised that it was a breakdown, and that another driver had already stopped to help: a ‘Good Samaritan’.
As I drove on, I started to wonder about that. A moment later, I realised that this might be a ‘Big Idea’. Like all the best ideas, it took the form of a what-if. What if the ‘Good Samaritan’ who had stopped to offer help wasn’t so good?
Picture yourself stranded in a broken-down car at night in the middle of nowhere. You don’t know what’s wrong, only that the car won’t start. It’s raining like crazy, your phone is out of charge, and you haven’t seen another driver in ages. You don’t have much option but to accept the first offer of help that comes along. What if accepting that help is the last thing you ever do? I knew immediately that it was a promising hook for a mystery.
When I got home, I opened the glove box and took out the small spiral-bound notebook I keep there. I wrote two words on the first blank page: Bad Samaritan.
In the time it had taken to drive the rest of the way to my house, the jigsaw pieces had started to fall into place. I knew who the samaritan was. I knew how he operated. And I knew that Carter Blake had a history with him.
I had the idea. All I had to do now was write the book.