23rd April 2017
Gallows Drop by Mari Hannah, crime thriller set in Northumberland (“a real hanging suspense”) ...
Intrusion by Mary McCluskey, novel set in Los Angeles and Sussex.
Another book that snuck in under our radar, described as “a stunning, heart-wrenching psychological drama“. And indeed it is. The narrative has a crystal clear clarity to it that is unusual in these days when creative writing courses often encourage the more floral, Baroque approach to writing.
Kat and Scott have suffered the unimaginable death of their 17 year old son, exactly how becomes apparent as the story progresses. Each partner is dealing with their grief in a different way, Scott is immersed in his work as a company lawyer and Kat is falling apart at the seams. Maybe a job would help her, maybe not, a drink of wine or two numbs the pain… The more she struggles with the grief, the less emotionally available she finds her husband.
By chance, Sarah, an old school friend of Kat materialises as a potential and very wealthy client for Scott. Kat’s sister Maggie has a very chequered view of this woman, and still feels raw at the havoc she caused in their school years. Kat, however, is inclined to be more forgiving, and is seduced by Sarah’s charming – yet at some level manipulative – ways. Here is a friend who seems to “get” her state of mind, a powerhouse of energy who just sweeps up those around her. Kat finds herself in thrall to this woman, someone with whom she spent quite some time in her childhood at Landsdowne, owned by Sarah’s aunt. Strangely, it seems, Sarah is recreating elements from her childhood house now, in her various properties scattered around the Los Angeles area. But in her grief, Kat just accepts this as eccentric behaviour, a need to maintain ties to a former, impecunious life. Maggie just cannot let the past drop, as Sarah – when they were all students together – snaffled Kat’s boyfriend from under her very nose… and Kat in her current befuddled state follows the path of least resistance and lets herself be seduced into reacquaintance through Sarah’s fulsome support of her.
And yet, in her dazed state of mourning, Kat struggles to equate the woman now with the woman then, a woman who’s generosity is large, her glamour pronounced, her charisma alluring. In her, she essentially sees no threat. And yet….
This is a well scripted book that reflects the profound tragedy of loss and the unquantifiable trajectory of the mourning process. Interwoven around this fragile couple relationship is a psychological dimension that builds relentlessly as the story comes to its conclusion. Definitely a book to choose for those who have liked Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.
Tina for the TripFiction Team.
Over to Mary who has kindly agreed to answer our questions
TF: You depict a heart rending and well studied portrait of a marriage with an enormously deep loss at the heart of it. It is very common that partners mourn in different ways, Scott takes to his work, Kat is at home, rudderless… It must have been very hard getting alongside that grief and bringing it to tangible life for the reader?
MMcC: It wasn’t hard to understand the grief, I have lost a child and know too well how it feels, but at times it was hard to write about it. I had to take breaks, walk around, make a cup of tea. Occasionally, I took longer breaks to allow the material to ferment a little and become fiction rather just than a factual telling.
TF: Without giving too much away, Kat’s old friend from England appears on the scene, with an agenda of her own that will penetrate the frail marriage. There are a huge amount of books at the moment with a psychological focus and a female protagonist (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train). What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
MMcC: I think we’ve become fascinated by flawed, difficult women! My own antagonist, Sarah Cherrington, was a challenge to write in many ways. She had to be charming and convincing to a degree but I wanted the reader to distrust her from the offset – while allowing Kat, her grieving friend, to be drawn in. I love fiction that subverts expectations, where the woman is the bad guy. And yes, I’ve known a few women with dubious agendas! I had to research her particular psychology but Sarah was enormous fun to write.
TF: The psychological element to this novel feels really sound. How did you go about exposing the inner workings of a grieving mind and of a mind with warped-thinking….?
MMcC: I didn’t have to research the psychological of grief too extensively: I had a personal understanding of that. I did talk to a number of members of Compassionate Friends, the support group for parents who have lost children. Sarah’s complicated, manipulative personality required research. Her past informs a lot of her behaviour, of course, and that needed to be seeded through the novel. I didn’t want her to come across as a psychopath. She’s not. She’s controlling and manipulative but also needy. It’s a dangerous mix!
TF: The book is set in LA/California. Is this an area of the USA that you know well, and if so, do you have top tips for visitors?
MMcC: I lived in LA, married and had children there, so I consider it as much a home as the UK where I was born and live now. California is beautiful. So many places to visit – in Northern California, San Francisco is an essential stop. Also, Big Sur and Carmel. In Southern California, the beach areas heading towards San Diego are fun: try Laguna Beach or La Jolla. And then there’s the dessert: Palm Springs, Indian Wells. In and around LA – Hollywood, of course, the Getty Museum, shopping on Melrose Avenue and in Beverly Hill. So much to see. You need a car!
TF: What is next for you both in terms of travel and writing?
MMcC: I’m working on a new novel, Deception. It deals with deception on all its levels and it’s rather dark. On the travel front: I’ll be back in California in early winter but I hope to take a short break in a city with lots of art galleries soon. Paris or Florence, maybe. I find that galleries calm, restore a sense of equilibrium
TF: When you write do you tend to plan out how the novel will develop or do you let your creative thoughts have free reign?
MMcC: I begin with a stark outline and the major plot points mapped out but the rest is learn as you go stuff. Characters tend to wander off, or do something unexpected and surprise me. I like when that happens!
Thank you so much to Mary for answering our questions. You can connect with her via her website