In my new pseudonymous incarnation as ‘Saul Black’, the question I keep getting asked is: Why a serial killer thriller? I got asked a similar question (as ‘Glen Duncan’) when I wrote the The Last Werewolf : Why werewolves? (In fact the question was posed with incredulous emphasis and tacit censure, as in: Why werewolves, for fuck’s sake?) When I published I, Lucifer, the query was: So, why the Devil? And before that, for Death of an Ordinary Man: Why a dead guy?
I’m not sure what kind of novel one has to write to avoid some version of this question. Writing fiction, is, for me, a way of discovering what I think and feel about various things. Foster put it succinctly: ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’ Over twenty years and ten novels (The Killing Lessons makes it eleven) my thematic preoccupations have remained constant: Love and sex, death and loss, cruelty and compassion, betrayal and forgiveness. These are my abstract obsessions, and the maddening thing about abstract obsessions is that they find their way into whatever you write, whether it’s werewolves or ghosts or demons or serial killers. Moreover, given the extent to which my previous books have dealt with violence (rape, child murder, sadism, extraordinary rendition and torture) the question really ought to be: How come it’s taken you so long to write about serial killers?
That said, The Killing Lessons hasn’t quite been business as usual. ‘Glen Duncan’ has not, if we’re being honest, been known for ‘plot’. The books have been digressive, ironic, oblique, parenthetical, and, if the feedback is to be trusted, have won such readers as they have more by voice than by racking-up cause-and-effect jollies. Clearly, for a thriller, that wouldn’t do. The clue, after all, is in the name: Thriller.
I knew that if I was going to attempt to thrill readers I’d have to fashion a more economical style and ram in enough action and suspense to keep the pages turning. A meditative or reflective thriller is practically a contradiction in terms. (Susanna Moore’s brilliant novel, In the Cut, is an awe-inspiring exception.) Which is how ‘Saul Black’ came into being. I decided to give myself a new identity, to pretend to myself that I was a different kind of writer and see if that helped. Psychologically, it did. Of course the boundary between two writerly selves is permeable: Granted ‘Saul Black’ has no patience with essayistic asides, jokes and literary allusions, but for all that ‘Glen Duncan’ doesn’t quite manage keep his trap shut. Time will tell if readers see the marriage as a happy one…
Killing Lessons by Saul Black is published by Orion