As with most great authors, Tim found his love for writing through reading, and so we wanted to know what (or who) it was that made him fall in love with thrillers.
In my early teens I instantly and irrevocably fell in love with thrillers. My mum was a big Wilbur Smith fan and used to talk about his writing all the time. In retrospect, I realise she had that very special relationship you get with certain authors; even though you don’t know them personally, you feel like they’re writing for you – their language strikes a chord, their world connects with you, their characters mean something.
At a time when I was wrestling with (it has to be said, fairly unsuccessfully) the likes of King Lear and Tess of the D’Urbervilles at school, When The Lion Feeds and Eagle in the Sky were an epiphany: at the age of thirteen, I never realised books could have such power; the ability to both pin you to your seat and whisk you away. Even as I gradually got a handle on Shakespeare and Hardy, I never stopped reading thrillers. Quite the opposite, in fact: I branched out instead. From Wilbur Smith, I moved on to genre classics like Ice Station Zebra and The Eagle Has Landed, until at the age of sixteen, things changed again: I picked up a novel called The Black Echo.
Michael Connelly’s debut was unlike anything I’d read before that point, and opened the door to another genre subset – crime and mystery – that would go on to have a profound effect on my own ambitions. Gone was the grand sweep of Smith’s parched Africa and the wartime machinations of Jack Higgins, and in its place was something darker, more claustrophobic, certainly more melancholy. The character of Harry Bosch, the way Connelly painted Los Angeles, its underbelly, its corruption, but also the opportunity and hope it held, immediately snagged me. There were no definitives here. No one was triumphantly heroic or irredeemably heinous – not in the way I’d come to expect my heroes and villains to be. Instead, Bosch’s world was a thoroughly modern labyrinth of moral ambiguity, and I instantly fell in love with it.
Connelly was my door into crime writing, a conduit to the work of Chandler, MacDonald and Hammett, and to modern masters like James Ellroy. But it wasn’t until I read his standalone, The Poet, that I considered trying to write something of my own. The Poet is a brilliantly clean, ultra-tight page-turner (but one blessed with the most lyrical first chapter of any mainstream crime novel I can remember) and it was one of a triumverate of mystery thrillers I read back-to-back at the tail end of 1999. The others were John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing and Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan, and while all three are very different books – although equally brilliant – they share over-arching themes: a terrible crime committed by people we should be able to trust; the families left behind in the aftermath; and the long, lonely recovery.
I’d loved writing, almost from as far back as I’d loved reading. (I was the weird kid who asked for a typewriter for his fourteenth birthday.) But, without those three books, maybe I wouldn’t have moved from thinking about writing a full-length novel to actually attempting it. Certainly, aside from fuelling my imagination, all three dealt with ideas that were very interesting to me, and about which I thought I might have something useful – and hopefully new – to say. And so, out of it, came David Raker.
He’s become so much a part of my life now, it seems amazing there was a time when he didn’t exist. My intention was always for him to be smart, brave, single-minded and perceptive; for him to understand people and be able to identify with them, be willing to take risks for the things he believes in. Yet, in Chasing the Dead, he’s so affected by the loss of his wife he’s unable to sleep in the bedroom they once shared. Over time, he’s changed, developed and moved on as a character, but – at the start – his grief was an important part of his make-up. His sense of loss shaped him and fired him, but also made him vulnerable – and, in Never Coming Back, is still, in many ways, the catalyst for what he does. Ultimately, my hope is that, in Raker, and in the books I write, I remain true to what made me fall in love with crime thrillers in the first place; that I can echo, in some small way, the complex themes and big ideas writers like Michael Connelly first hooked me with. But, mostly, that you, the reader, will feel a connection with my stories that goes way beyond the last page.