This is your fourth novel about David Raker, the missing persons investigator, and it has received great praise, with critics saying it’s the best yet. Do you agree?
I suppose, ultimately, it’s for other people to judge, but I seriously doubt it’s a book I could have delivered as a debut. Writing is something I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do, let alone get paid for, but I’m not too proud to admit that it comes with a vertical learning curve! (Or, at least, it has for me.) Although I’m very proud of my first book, I think there are things in it that, given the chance, I would do differently now. That doesn’t mean I harbour regrets – not at all – and, at the end of the day, Chasing the Dead was good enough to land me a publishing deal. But, as you scale that learning curve, you become better at what you do; you refine your technique and find your voice, and I think you become more aware of how to engage with an audience. In the end, Chasing the Dead became the bedrock on which The Dead Tracks and Vanished were built, books that were – happily! – received very positively by readers and critics and, without the experience of writing it, I think it’s unlikely I’d have ever found the confidence to attempt something as ambitious as Never Coming Back.
What inspired this particular plot?
One of the things that’s important to me is that the series constantly evolves, so I decided fairly early on that I was going to do something completely different with the fourth book. The first three were all London-based, but this one is eighty per cent centred on a small south Devon fishing village, and twenty per cent set in and around – of all places – Las Vegas. The latter was a direct response to my love of American crime fiction, which I grew up reading, but it also serves the fundamentals of the plot: Never Coming Back centres on family secrets and the lengths to which we’ll go to bury them, and I liked the idea of deep-seated lies being as prevalent in an insular, rainswept seaside community as they are in the scorched, sprawling deserts of the Mojave. The book also represents a personal journey for Raker, as the village happens to be the place he grew up in, while Vegas is a town he knows well from the years before his wife died. To speak about the specifics of the plot is a bit of a tightrope walk because the parts I want to talk about most are so closely aligned to the biggest reveals! But the idea was definitely to challenge myself, and I think when you attempt that, a natural by-product is that you end up giving readers something more exciting to get their teeth into.
We love your blog. You’re so honest about the self-doubt that plagues writers when they start a new book. Are you a worrier?
Not in life generally – but definitely in my writing! I think self-doubt is something that most writers experience at some stage, and I’d be deeply suspicious of anyone who claimed writing a full-length novel was a walk in the park. I feel pressure with every book, and it’s pressure I put on myself, because when you gain a little momentum, and especially when you start to realize readers are actually quite invested in your world, you feel a responsibility to them. More fundamentally, I suppose, you don’t want to disappoint them. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog, though. I try to be honest, but I hope I also communicate the wonderful moments too: when you finish a book, when you get a positive reaction to it, when readers get in touch.
You talk about your next book, the fifth about David Raker, and how tricky it is to get it right. Is writing a series about one individual harder than writing a completely unrelated story?
To be honest, it’s a difficult one for me to judge because I’ve yet to write a standalone. I’d like to, and I’ve certainly got some clear ideas for where I might go with one, but taking on a series was a very deliberate decision. I thought, as a writer starting out, that it would help anchor things; that coming back to a central character and supporting cast I was familiar with would take some of the pressure off when it came to world-building and plot. After all, how radically can a single set of characters change? The answer, of course, was massively. Even by the time I’d finished my second book, The Dead Tracks, Raker had developed in big, interesting ways that I could never have imagined and certainly never addressed within the scope of a single book – and, of course, he continues to do so, even as I write Book Five.