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Talking Location With author Zoë Sharp – New Jersey
1st October 2019
TalkingLocationWith…. author Zoë Sharp, author of BAD TURN: a Charlie Fox thriller set in New Jersey
New Jersey may be the sixth smallest state in the US but it certainly punches above its weight when it comes to a reputation for corruption and crime. After all, it was home to Tony Soprano, and while I acknowledge that the Soprano family home on Stag Trail Road was fictional, North Caldwell NJ was not. What better state to locate my own international arms dealer with possible ties to the darker side of the trade?
Before I got out and started exploring, all I had really seen of the place was the inside of Newark Airport, parts of Jersey City, and the train ride under the Hudson to Penn Station. I admit that these areas were probably not really New Jersey’s best side, although the view across the river from Jersey City to Manhattan Island was quite something.
It was a pleasure, therefore, to rent a car and drive out west from Newark into the rural farmland that makes up so much of the state. I passed signs for places that I’m used to seeing at home in the UK—Bedminster, Tewksbury, Bloomsbury and Hampton—just not in that order.
Once I got off the main 78 highway, I found myself on winding roads bordered by woods and fields. The traffic thinned almost to nothing. And my mind, as it tends to do, turned to thoughts of…ambushes.
What better place, I thought, to stage an ambush than on a road with little nearby occupation and few vehicles? It was then that the opening scene for the new Charlie Fox book, BAD TURN, really started to take shape.
At the end of the previous book in the series, FOX HUNTER, Charlie is still based right in the heart of Manhattan. But by the time BAD TURN starts she has had a change of circumstance and is house-sitting in a New Jersey farmhouse. Somewhere close to New York City and yet far enough out of the way to provoke a sense of isolation was what I was after. The west of New Jersey fitted perfectly.
One of the reasons for my car journey was to visit a fellow author and MurderIsEverywhere blogmate, Jeffrey Siger, who has a farm out in the wilds of New Jersey. His place is quite a distance from the road, through woods noted for the presence of very large bears. Much as she needs some solitude at this point in her life, I guessed that Charlie would not be happy to be alone somewhere like that without her usual access to firearms. Taking away her backup and making her more self-reliant was one of the things I wanted to bring out in this book. The location helped me to do that.
Besides, as soon as I came across a picture of an arched steel railway bridge across the Delaware River that runs along the state line between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I thought it would look terrific on the cover of the book. There’s something moody and tense about it that evokes the feel of the story. Charlie is on strange territory and although things may look fairly tranquil on the surface, you know they’re not going to stay that way for long.
Although the action of BAD TURN moves from New Jersey to Italy and France before swinging back again during the course of the story, it takes place almost exclusively in rural locations. I was always a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and couldn’t help remembering a quote from THE ADVENTURE OF THE COPPER BEECHES: “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
This area of New Jersey is known as horse country, so it was appropriate that the woman Charlie is called upon to protect in BAD TURN should be interested in horse riding and have her own stables. She is both pleased and disappointed that Charlie is able to accompany her when she goes riding across the 200-acre estate on her palomino mare, Sunrise. This is not the first time Charlie’s equestrian skills have been put to use. But at least, this time, she didn’t have to use a horse as an improvised weapon!
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