by A.D. Garrett
Road trip – had to be a winner, right? As a kid growing up in the narrow streets of northern England, I knew America as surely as I knew the grey concrete of my own back yard. For years, I had a recurring dream; I was driving along a winding coast road – steep rocky hills to the right, clear skies above – and dropping away to the left, grassy slopes and a sea so blue it would break your heart. It was California – no question in my mind. The hardboiled language and differences in culture portrayed in film adaptations of Raymond Chandler’s and Dashiell Hammett’s novels
fascinated me: guns and cars and whisky-drinking women, the paradox of claustrophobic cities and vast empty landscapes. They influenced my first attempts at writing, and because
Humphrey Bogart played both Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, he spoke the words in my head.
At that time, British crime fiction was penned by a wealthy, privately-educated elite and aimed at an aspiring middle class. Murder was a polite affair, conducted off-stage and with the minimum of blood, to present a pleasing puzzle to readers. Poor, working-class folk featured only as servants, “actresses” of questionable virtue, and dodgy characters set to enliven a scene. In my teens I read some, enjoyed a few, but felt alienated by most of what I read. I was drawn to the mysteries and thrillers on my father’s bedside table – Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald and the hard, uncompromising world of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. The thrill of all that unencumbered dialogue! For me, dialogue is like music – it has a rhythm and tone, a pace and lyricism which is unique to each place. Writers like Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard, Thomas Harris and that master of forensic thrillers, Jeffery Deaver, have superseded those early influences, but American fiction remains key to my own work, so when my agent suggested setting a novel in the United States, I was up for the challenge. Forensic expert Prof. Fennimore, one half of my fictional detective duo, travels the world as a consultant, so it was easy to move him Stateside for a month or two.
The Midwest, rather than California, but I readily swapped Marlowe’s 1938 Plymouth for a Jeep Grand Cherokee, already dreaming of dusty roads and rodeos.
Nothing can prepare a small islander for the scale of the U.S. Heading to a meeting with a DA in the rural town of Tahlequah, we drove through a wide, flat expanse that could fit England’s Great Cheshire Plain in its back pocket. Red and black Aberdeen Angus cattle wallowed in farm ‘ponds’ so big we Brits would call them boating lakes.
In early May it felt almost arid; temperatures were in the 80s, and wheat was already ripening in the fields, while the England we had just left behind was still struggling to shake off winter frosts.
We drove through Wagoner, Cherokee County. Flat, and ferociously hot, it was totally at odds with my childhood dreams of winding coastal roads in California, with its cliff-top ocean views and cool onshore breezes.
But there were compensations. This is the landscape of True Grit – Indian Territory – with a history and individuality to rival anything the west coast could offer. There is an old saying: ‘There is no Sunday west of St Louis and no God, west of Fort Smith.’
The law has exerted its influence since the 19th century, but this former haven for desperados still has its share of ne’er do-wells: methamphetamine cookers and pot growers now skulk in the backwoods.
Face-to-face, you hear a judge telling high-falutin’ lawyers that they should address their comments ‘to the third row of the Bixby Rodeo.’; the District Attorney who explains The Cockroach Defence: ‘If you’ve got the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you’ve got the law on your side, argue the law. If you’ve got neither, crawl all over the evidence . . .’ And then there are the Team Adam consultants: retired cops, FBI agents and marshals who dedicate their retirement years to finding missing kids. All of which lends truth to a story, colouring the monochrome images (and morality) of those noir films, adding a depth which could only be guessed at by a hardboiled film fan from across the ocean.
Believe No One – just out in the US – takes UK cop/forensics duo Fennimore & Simms to the US Midwest in the hunt for a serial killer. Jeffery Deaver says, ‘Simms and Fennimore are complex, compelling, and just plain marvellous.’
The Trade Journals’ verdicts:
‘Fine attention to forensics and investigative techniques distinguishes this stellar thriller, a sequel to 2014’s Everyone Lies.’ (Publishers’ Weekly *STARRED* review); ‘Garrett evoke(s) not only the suspense of serial killings, but an emotional triangle and a tantalizingly unresolved crime that keep the pages flying.’ (Kirkus). The Library Journal recommended it to ‘readers who like their forensic thrillers dark and bloody.’