Author of the Month

Name: Will Dean

First Novel: Dark Pines

Most Recent Book: The Last Thing To Burn

'This tale will twist every emotion inside you.'

Synopsis:
He is her husband. She is his captive. Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn't like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting.

Review:
There is something dark and menacing in Will Dean’s writing. He perfectly describes the tiny world of ‘Jane’, a prisoner in a home she never wanted. Her outlook on the life she has is not the one she dreamed about, nor the one promised. The Fen landscape reflects her own life: bleak, barren, mile after mile of nothing. Her ‘husband’, Lenn keeps a close eye on ‘Jane’. Nothing is private. I admit, there were times during this book that I had to put it down. Some of it makes for uncomfortable reading.

There is repetition here, but Dean is showing the repetition of her life – how she cooks the same meals on the same day, how they drink lime juice with every meal, how Lenn inspects and comments if she hasn’t bleached the kitchen sink properly that day like his mother, the original Jane, used to on a daily basis! How she sits on the floor every night with Lenn in the chair as he plays with her hair as they watch the TV which is locked away in a cupboard during the day. This constant repetition, of things being done by the clock is enough to make anyone scream!

Dean is clever as Lenn is one of the most menacing horrors I have read about for a long time. Besides one time, Lenn has not been physically violent towards ‘Jane’. It is all mental control, the burning of her things when she has been ‘bad’ shows Lenn to be nothing but a cruel, controlling bully. It is this controlling of another human being that was most shocking to me.

An unexpected event brings ‘Jane’ to the point where she knows she has to break free. Events have got out of hand with Lenn taking risks. Escape is her plan, but even ‘Jane’ could never begin to imagine the scale of the subterfuge that has been her life for the past nine years. Towards the end I was literally on the edge of my seat, scared for all those who had been caught up in this despicable drama. Dean delivers shock after shock as this horrendous drama gains momentum towards its desperate end.

Pardon the pun, but this book is a slow burn, but that innocuous, lonely house on that desolate Fenland with ‘Jane’ inside with her invisible chains will stay with you for a long time after. This tale will twist every emotion inside you. Breath-taking.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) 'The Last Thing to Burn' is a completely different novel from your previous three. What decided you to write such a radically different novel?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision (I wish I had that much control over my process). The idea came to me back in 2016. Really, it was just an image. An aerial view of a small fenland cottage at the centre of a vast fenland farm. In my mind’s eye I saw a woman walking around the house but she never ventured very far. I came to understand that she couldn’t leave. I knew I needed to find out why, and tell her story.
2) You exchange the Swedish countryside for the flat bleakness of the Lincolnshire Fens. Did the change of landscape change the tone of your latest book to the previous three? How do you feel they differ due to the landscape?
I’m fascinated by landscape, and how it shapes our lives. The Tuva books are set in true wilderness: Nordic forests and cut-off towns. They have a more extreme vibe in some ways: chance encounters with moose or wolves, harsh winters where the temperatures plummet to -25C. In The Last Thing to Burn the landscape and domestic setting is relatable. The menace is more subtle in some ways. Instead of the dangers of extreme weather and wildlife, my protagonist is in constant danger from a person. Tuva battles with nature. Thanh battles with a farmer called Lenn.
3) We are introduced to Jane (My name isn’t Jane) which you put after every time Lenn calls her that. Was this to confirm her true identity?
Yes. The story is told from Thanh’s point of view. As you say, Lenn calls her Jane (the name of his late mother). Stripping her of her name is one key way he controls her. Lenn systematically erodes her identity. He films her, her dictates what food she eats, he won’t let her speak her own language. And he refuses to call her by her real name.
It’s interesting to me how she manages to hang on to her humanity. The extent to which strength and hope can be tested. Thanh is an immensely resilient character.
4) 'The Last Thing to Burn' is about people trafficking which has been big in the news, especially when 39 people died in a lorry in Essex. What was the nucleus of your new book?
The idea came from that simple image. A small farmhouse and a woman who couldn’t leave. I came to understand she was Vietnamese. I came to learn about her backstory and her hopes and dreams. The story involved human trafficking and modern-day slavery on one level: contemporary crimes that are horrific in their nature and in their prevalence. But the scale of the book is small. It’s one woman’s story.
5) You describe and deliver a sense of the claustrophobic sense of Jane’s life in the house, miles from anywhere, cameras in every room and not allowed to close any doors. Did you do any research to tap into the right vibe of someone virtually living as a prisoner where leaving wasn’t an option?
I researched many aspects of the book before (and after) writing the first draft. I needed to understand more about working conditions and the myriad ways innocent people are exploited. I learned about addiction and the effects of certain drugs on the body and mind over time. I visited the fens on multiple occasions to observe the skies and the horizon; to try to see what Thanh might see from her cottage. I researched which crops a farmer would plant and harvest at various times of the year.
6) What do you plan for your next novel? Are you heading back to Swedish shores?
Tuva Moodyson book 4 will be published later this year. It’s set around Halloween and sees Tuva working in a new role in a new town. I love writing her. Each year I get to return to Gavrik and Utgard forest, to revisit locations and eccentric characters. I like exploring Tuva’s friendship with Tammy, and her (sometimes strained) relationship with the local police. She’s much funnier than I am, and a joy to spend time with. Once again, Tuva 4 will have some of that Twin Peaks or Stephen King small town vibe.

And then my next standalone novel is set in New York. It’s a wild story of sibling relationships, identity and revenge.
7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
Read.

Reading really is the key. You need to sacrifice other things to read more. Carve out time away from the TV or phone. We didn’t have a TV for four years so I could read more. Read widely, across genres. Read books written a hundred years ago, and books written by authors of diverse backgrounds. It is the most important thing.

Also: don’t give up. Keep trying. You’ll need to develop a thick skin, and be patient. It took a long time for my manuscript to be discovered in an agent’s slushpile. You’re on your own path. Being a writer isn’t like training to be a carpenter or a lawyer or a teacher. There is no set plan. There’s no standard way to become proficient. You need to find your own way. Do not compare yourself to others. Keep reading, keep working on it, keep learning, keep trying.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like if you stranded on a desert island?
I’m a huge fan of crime fiction, as well as all other kinds of fiction. I love stories – it’s that simple.

1. The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

2. No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy

3. (plus the book I’m currently reading - fun to have something new on a desert island, and this is superb so far) I Know What I Saw - Imran Mahmood