The spark for The Kind Worth Killing happened over thirty years ago. I was probably twelve years old, and my parents were having friends over. As always, my sister and I were expected to hang around for about twenty minutes before being shuffled off out of sight. But during that first drink, one of my parents’ friends, a businessman who travelled the world, told a story. He had just flown home, and had been seated next to a woman, who, over the course of the long flight, told him every detail of her life. She might have been drinking. I can’t remember the specifics, but I remember this friend of my parents saying how people will tell you anything on a plane.
It stuck with me, this story (more of an observation really), the way some stories stick, and, eventually, years later, it evolved into an idea for the first chapter of a book. I could picture this man and a woman on a plane, a pair of strangers who suddenly feel safe enough to tell each other all their secrets. But what if their secrets were not the run-of-the-mill secrets we all have? What if they were murderers, or wannabe murderers? What if their meeting set off a chain of events that might never have happened had they not encouraged each other?
All of this sounded great in my own head, but it also sounded familiar. Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite filmmaker is Alfred Hitchcock, and one of his essential films is, of course, 1951’s Strangers on a Train, based on the debut novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. The plot of Strangers on a Train (and it’s simply one of the greatest thriller plots ever) is that two men meet on a train, where one of the men suggests that they switch murders—I’ll kill your wife if you kill my father and no one will suspect us because they’ll never know we ever met. Strangers on a Train was an inspiration for the story that was forming in my mind, but also a hindrance. There’s a fine line between homage and theft and I wanted to make sure that I fell on the right side of it. Then I realized that Highsmith’s story was about coercion, about a stalker, really, and that the story of Lily and Ted, my couple that get to know one another on a transatlantic flight, was more about kismet—that these two were destined to meet, and change one another’s lives forever.
I do like to think that The Kind Worth Killing has a little bit of Highsmith’s moral queasiness. The characters in this novel tend to think of murder not so much as a cardinal sin, but as just one of those tools that helps you get through life. But I also hope that the book has a little of Hitchcock’s style. In other words, some glamour and some humor to help the poison go down.
THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson is published on 5th February, £14.99 (Faber & Faber)