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Thriller set in Liverpool – and interview with author, Mark Roberts

26th May 2016

Dead Silent by Mark Roberts – thriller set in Liverpool.

Dead Silent is a violent, macabre, and disturbing thriller – firmly set in the Liverpool of the near future.

thriller set in LiverpoolRetired elderly academic, Leonard Lawson lives with his more than grown up daughter, Louise, near Sefton Park in Liverpool. One night Leonard is murdered with great brutality and his dismembered and ritually transfixed body is discovered by Louise. She runs from the house and collapses on the street to be found by passers by and assisted by the police. She cries out loud and clear ‘he’s been slaughtered’. DCI Eve Clay follows up and leads the investigation, but is frustrated by Louise’s inability / unwillingness to help as much as she feels she could… What is she hiding and / or what is she afraid of?

Clues lead Eve to the belief that two very evil killers are involved in the murder – the ‘First Born’ and the ‘Angel of Destruction’ – but who are the perpetrators behind the masks? And what do their acts have to do with three medieval religious paintings – The Tower of Babel and The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel, and The Last Judgment by Hieronymus Bosch? What dark secrets are there in Leonard’s past? Will Eve’s religious upbringing by nuns help her solve the mystery?

The action moves from pathology lab, to the university, to both the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals as Eve and her team get closer to the killers. The reader thinks the story culminates in a thrilling hunt through the bell tower and roof of the Anglican cathedral – but there is still one more revelation to come. The final twist is clever and unexpected as all is revealed and explained…

Dead Silent is a brilliant book for TripFiction. There is a map at the beginning of the locations that feature and it is easy to follow where the action is happening… Liverpool comes through loud and clear. I do, though, have to express a personal interest at this stage – Liverpool is the city in which I was born and grew up, and reading Dead Silent was a bit like heading down memory lane (though I don’t recall such a brutal murder in my youth!).

No doubt that Mark Roberts is a really good thriller writer, and that in Eve Clay he has created a complex and determined detective. Dead Silent is the second book in the Eve series – I am sure there will be more.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

Now over to our conversation with Mark…

TF: In Dead Silent you have written a particularly macabre and disturbing thriller.  How do you feel as you write about such subject matter, and how do you switch off when you have finished a day’s writing?

MR: When I write disturbing scenes, or even less disturbing scenes, I am so engrossed in what I am doing that I don’t feel unbalanced by the process.  After the event, when I go back and read over what I’ve written, then I think, that’s disturbing.  But by this time, I’m working on the next chapter or sequence and so don’t have time to worry about it.

I don’t always write in the day because I have a full time teaching job working with teenagers with severe and profound and multiple learning difficulties.  For me, the daily writing window is between 4pm and 8pm or later if necessary.  I work days during weekends, holidays and half-terms.  I wind down with watching football on TV, swimming, reading and arts documentaries.

TFDo you have an interest in art history – or did you research the two works by Pieter Bruegel, and the one by Hieronymus Bosch, specifically for the book?

MR: I’ve always been interested in art and art history.  I grew up close to Sudley House and, when I was a kid, I used to go running up there all the time to look at the Turners, the Gainsborough and, of course, the Pre-Raphaelites.  I loved William Dyce’s Gethsemane and learned the lesson early on that you don’t have to be a massively well-known artist to be a brilliant one who can pin-down profound loneliness in a canvas around the same size as an Everton programme.  Bruegel and Bosch are long-standing massive favourites of mine and I knew The Tower of Babel, The Last Judgement and The Triumph of Death pretty well but did make sure that I understood them in some greater detail because they are so essential to the story and image system of Dead Silent.

TFIn Eve you have created a feisty and determined detective.  Is she based on anyone you know, or does she come entirely from your imagination?

MR: I set up a fairly detailed back story about Eve’s childhood which is crucial to the unfolding stories and a lot of what she is comes from the logic of The girl is the mother of the woman.  I’d like to think she was entirely the product of my imagination and, while I’m not aware I’ve taken bits and pieces of people I know, the process of creating and developing characters involves the subconscious.

TFReligion, if at times somewhat warped, plays a big part in the book.  Why is this?

MR: I’m interested in all religions.  The religion you belong to is dictated by the time and place into which you are born, an accident of birth.  Me.  Liverpool.  1961.  So I grew up in a Roman Catholic family and, going to mass  all the time, which was still in Latin when I was still in infant school, I was surrounded by theatrical rituals, statues of Jesus dying on the cross and Mary crushing the serpent under her bare feet, and the concepts of heaven and hell sold as pure facts.  When I got older and started crunching it all down for what it really meant to me I came to a massive conclusion about human beings, what they do and what they don’t do.  The first major piece of writing I did was a stage play Manson, about Charlie.  The dramatic premise was that it doesn’t matter what the stone cold truth is, what people believe is the thing that really drives the bus.  This is what I like to explore in my novels.  People, in crisis, good versus evil, levels of distorted and different consciousness, the power of belief to crank up the horrific way that people treat each other.

TFYou clearly know South Liverpool (from Ullet Road, through Sefton Park, and on to Aigburth and Otterspool) extremely well.  Is this an area of particular significance for you?

MR: It surely is.  I’ve only ever lived outside of Liverpool for fifteen months when I got my first teaching job back in 1983-1984.  I just love living in Liverpool.  (The pool of life as Jung famously said).  I know the streets pretty well.  But I grew up in Aigburth and spent my formative years living in the house Eve lives in, with her husband Thomas and son Philip, in Mersey Road.  Otterspool Promenade was my playground.

TFDo you plan the plot in detail before you start a book?  Or do you sketch the outline, and then let the plot and characters develop as you write?

MR: I usually write a paragraph, this turns into a three-four page treatment which I promptly stick at the bottom of a drawer and never look at again.  I take a starting point and just go from there allowing the plot and characters to develop.

TFWhat are you currently working on?

MR: Provisionally entitled, The Day of the Dead it is the next of the Eve Clay novels, the follow-up to Dead Silent, it is set in Liverpool and it is not a romantic comedy.

A big thank you to Mark for answering our questions so fully…

You can follow Mark on Twitter, Facebook and via his website

And do come and connect with Team TripFiction via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction)… and now YouTube

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