About ten years ago, I read three thrillers in quick succession that immediately cemented my desire to write one of my own. ‘Every Dead Thing’ by John Connolly, ‘The Poet’ by Michael Connelly and ‘A Simple Plan’ by Scott Smith were an incredible grounding in the genre, weaving cheesewire-tight plots and fantastic writing; each very different but each making such an impression on me that my ambition to write a book – a desire that was always out there on the peripherary of my thoughts somewhere, from when I was still in my teens – quickly became much more than that.
At the time, I’d been reading a lot about missing persons cases. What fascinated me was how so many people – literally hundreds of thousands every year in the UK – could simply disappear into thin air. A lot returned home, but some remained out there, either because they wanted to, because they had no choice, or because something terrible had happened to them. It was particularly affecting reading accounts of how thousands of children became victims, desperately trying to escape their homes, before quickly drifting into lives that robbed them of their innocence and identity. As I studied the statistics and researched the stories of the missing, I started to wonder how a person could vanish without trace, and continue to remain that way, in a world of forensic science, 24-hour news coverage and CCTV cameras on every street.
Chasing The Dead approaches this question by asking another: what are you willing to believe? At the heart of the novel is investigator David Raker, whose life is built around a need to find the missing and – after the death of his own wife – a need to bring answers to their families. At the beginning of the novel, David is asked to look into the case of Alex Towne, a young man who disappeared for five years before finally turning up dead. But, as David discovers, the real hook isn’t why Alex went missing, where he ended up, or how he got himself killed; the real hook is why Alex’s mother Mary thinks she passed her dead son in the street three months before.
I realised early on that the uncertainty surrounding the mother’s account of what happened could be used to propel the mystery and keep the reader guessing. Because Alex either really was alive, and David had to find out how and why – or his mother was lying and David also had to find out how and why. Ultimately it returned the plot to the key question: what was David prepared to believe?
In the end, David believes enough, and thinks he sees enough of his own grief in Mary, to take on the case – but, just as in the novels that first propelled me into writing Chasing The Dead, seemingly innocuous decisions can sometimes be the most dangerous… and, for David, taking on the disappearance of Alex Towne, and entering the world of the missing, will be the worst decision of his life.
Chasing The Dead is published by Penguin paperback on 25th February 2010.