My third book, VANISHED, is set in and around the London Underground, right down to its central hook: a man gets onto a Tube train – and never gets off again. I’d been turning over that idea and wondering about the possibilities for a while, trying to construct a compelling way to explain it, and to have it play out, and by the time I’d finished my second book, THE DEAD TRACKS, the vaguest outline of a story was emerging and I was pretty excited about it.
Parallel to that, in a good piece of timing, I’d been reading a series of books on the history of the Underground, on subterranean London in general, and I became very interested in the world that existed beneath the pavements of the city. What equally interested me, though, was what was going on above ground. Not only was the Tube network home to these amazing, decaying ghost stations, cut off from the main lines and slowly, over time, going to waste, but there – in plain sight – in the middle of a city with over seven million people in it, were these incredible overground stations; old lines and buildings that – in some cases – were beautifully, almost ethereally, being claimed back by nature. By the time I started winding down my research in preparation for the writing of the book, it became less a question of whether I should push forward with my ideas for a thriller set in and around the Underground, and more a question of what exactly I left out. As with any commercial novel, it’s a fine balance with research: too little or too much, and the whole thing falls down.
Like my previous books, the hero at the heart of the novel is David Raker, a missing persons investigator – and like my previous books there was a certain amount of struggle involved in constructing and delivering the manuscript. Maybe I just haven’t got an easy-to-write novel in me! There were certainly lots of drafts, lots of rewrites, lots of deleting, headaches, frustration and doubt, but the fact that it’s out on shelves now, tells you I got there eventually. I won’t talk too much about the story, because I’m keen for people to read it without any preconceptions or idea of where the plot might go, but what was interesting to me was how I used the research very differently to how I’d applied research in CHASING THE DEAD and THE DEAD TRACKS. For the first time, I placed my research front and centre of the book, instead of using it to colour and add texture to the novel retrospectively. With THE DEAD TRACKS, a book where I conducted so many interviews with so many detectives, the word ‘transcription’ still sends shivers down my spine, I used my research to bolster what was already there; peppered every scene with enough to make it authentic and believable, but without sacrificing tension and pace. With VANISHED, I did it the other way around, building the entire novel on the research, principally because the world of the Tube, and its rich, amazing history, were fundamental to the novel, right from the moment the character of Sam Wren – the man David Raker is tasked with finding – goes missing inside a Circle line carriage. In the end, I was so taken with the world of the London Underground, VANISHED came in 20,000 words too long. The editing process resulted in a whole additional storyline – set entirely in and around Westminster station – being dropped. I think it was the right decision. Myself, my editor and my agent talked about it for a long time, but there were already two storylines in the book running parallel to one another, and to have a third would probably have been a step too far. With it in, there was the danger of confusion, of affecting the pace of the book, and of downplaying the importance of the other two plotlines. Without it, VANISHED remains lean and efficient, but with enough room for the story of Sam Wren, and David Raker’s search for him, to play out in full.