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Author of the Month

Name: Michael Robotham

First Novel: The Suspect

Most Recent Book: Shatter

'Michael Robotham really stands out from the crowd...'

Synopsis:
Joe O’Loughlin is seconded to talk a woman down from jumping off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The woman is naked and wears only red high heel shoes. All the while Joe is talking to her the woman is speaking to someone on a mobile phone. Soon the woman jumps to her death and Joe feels deflated with failure. Days later the woman’s daughter turns up on Joe’s doorstep. She refuses to believe that her mother would jump from the bridge - especially as she was petrified of heights.

Then another woman is found dead, a mobile phone found at the body’s feet. Again, the victim is wearing a pair of very expensive footwear. Finally, the police start to take Joe’s theories seriously that there is a man out there who is tampering with these women’s minds – making them do things, bending them to his will without going anywhere near them or touching them. He is a ghost of a killer. Soon Joe is personally caught up in a madman’s scheme and he has to find out what happened in the past to help him deal with what is happening in the present.

Review:
Michael Robotham really stands out from the crowd as having launched a glittering, and highly original, crime-writing career with all guns blazing. First there was The Suspect - also starring Joe O’Loughlin - then the magnificent The Drowning Man (or Lost as it was originally published before the hit TV show...) and then The Night Ferry. All three previous novels had the feel of a writer who had been creating crime fiction for years. So, does Robotham continue this chain of fantastic reads with Shatter? The answer is yes, he most decidedly does.

The characters that populate Shatter are well drawn and it is pleasing to see Vincent Ruiz taking a front seat in this novel after being relegated to a minor role in The Night Ferry. Robotham is a writer who, after only his fourth book is already pushing at the boundaries of crime fiction. Certainly with Shatter he does just that. It is a frightening premise that someone can kill without being close to the victim, but that is exactly what happens. The success of the novel is that in Robotham’s capable hands it appears totally credible. We are shown the deviant side of a killer’s mind, and the way it works to its own ends...

Shatter is a highly contemporary, yet strangely gothic story that grips you and keeps you super-glued to those rapidly turning pages. Robotham is not merely a name to watch out for in the future, he is a dazzling and established name to look for right now. I urge you to read him and enjoy the stomach churning, thrilling ride that is Shatter.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
Crime Fiction has become an enormously broad church with incredible diversity in terms of sub-genres and literary quality. This is partly due to the popularity of the genre but also because writers are willing to push the boundaries into other areas. The only rule is that there are no rules.

In the past few years we’ve had literary novelists such as William Boyd (Restless) and John Banville (his Benjamin Black novels) releasing crime novels, which is a form of flattery when you consider the snobbish attitudes that have surround popular fiction in some circles.

Publishers and book sellers love putting labels on writers. My books are called psychological thrillers, which doesn’t bother me because the psychological elements of crime fascinate me more than the acts themselves. I’m not interested in the minutia of stab wounds, blood traces and ballistics. I want to know what went through the killer’s mind at the moment he took someone’s life. What did he feel?
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I was once famously misquoted by a newspaper interviewer as only having read one crime novel. It is a quote that has followed me around the world with interviewers always keen to ask me, ‘Which one?’ They assume it had to be either the BEST or the WORST crime book ever written.

In fact what I told the interviewer is that I’d only ever read ‘one of each’ One Cornwall. One Grisham. One Rankin etc… There were too many books I want to read – in every genre - and I want to try every dish on the buffet table before I lose my appetite.
3) Shatter deals with the power of suggestion and mind-games in the hands of a ruthless individual. What inspired this aspect of the story?
The central premise of SHATTER – the hook that draws the reader in – were inspired by two true events on different sides of the world. The first occurred more than a decade ago. It involved a malicious phone caller operating in the north of England – a man who raped women’s mind rather than their bodies.

He would target victims by trawling local newspapers, looking for stories about teenage girls, who had been selected to play hockey, or netball, or tennis. Then he would wait for these girls to be at school and phone their mothers, knowing just enough information to convince them that he had kidnapped their daughters.

This case haunted me for many years because I could imagine the psychological scarring it caused to the victims. The caller would make these mothers take off their clothes, walk out of their houses and drive to remote locations. This is where the police would find them, half-frozen, terrified and convinced they were saving their daughters lives.

I live in Australia now - on Sydney’s northern beaches - and it was here that I came across an almost identical case to the one in Britain.

The MO was the same - using local newspapers to gather details about teenage girls and then calling their mothers. In the Sydney case, police believe as many as a thousand women over a six-year period were left mentally scarred by the caller.

Although neither of these cases is referred to in SHATTER, they did help inspire the story. And of all my novels this one is perhaps the purest psychological thriller. It isn’t about body counts or bloody mayhem. It’s about what we perceive is happening. The imagination is capable of conjuring up far more terrifying fates than any horror writer or Hollywood filmmaker can produce.
4) The main protagonist, is Joseph O’Loughlin, who we last saw in The Suspect. What made you bring him back for this story?
Joe O’Loughlin is a great character but after I wrote The Suspect I had no intention of bringing him back. Instead, I enjoyed taking smaller characters from each novel and making them the star of the next one. In this case, the idea for the novel was perfect for Joe. He has to pit his wits against someone who is equally clever and capable of unspeakable things.
5) Joseph is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Why did you decide to add this plot-twist?
When I first wrote the character of Joe O’Loughlin in The Suspect I gave him early onset Parkinson’s because I liked the idea that here was a man with a brilliant mind whose body was slowly abandoning him. It seemed very cruel to many readers, but it also made him a vulnerable figure who couldn’t fight his way out of trouble. Bringing him back was easy, although I obviously had to make his Parkinson’s a little worse than before.
6) You have linked your four books with one main protagonist, Vincent, yet he is not necessarily central to the plots in each. What made you use this device?
The only character to have appeared in every novel has been Vincent Ruiz, although he narrates only one of them - The Drowning Man. I choose to change my main characters because it allows me to look at the world through a new set of eyes. The novels are told in the first person, which means getting inside my character’s head, capturing their voice, writing their words, feelings, fears… In The Night Ferry I wrote from the viewpoint of a 29 year old policewoman, Alisha Barba, which was a wonderful challenge.
7) You have written several non-fiction books. Does this experience inform your novels?
Absolutely. I was a ghostwriter for nearly ten years, working with celebrities and others to pen their autobiographies. This process relies on the ghostwriter capturing the voice of the subject so perfectly that not even their best friend or spouse can see the writer’s fingerprints. I tackle my novels much the same way. My characters are as real to me as anyone I have ever worked with. Joe O’Loughlin lives and breathes in my head. He talks to me…he talks through me. I’m just his ghostwriter.
8) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
When it comes to film there’s no question…no contest. The Usual Suspects.

When it comes to books, my first novel The Suspect has a great twist, which a number of reviewers likened to The Usual Suspects because none of them picked it, despite the clues.
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Tough question this one. I’ll name two. I think Clint Eastwood did a wonderful job on Denis Lehane’s Mystic River and LA Confidential certainly did justice to James Elroy’s novel.
10) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I don’t read a great deal of crime fiction. I don’t want to be influenced and there are too many other great books I want to read. One of my reading rules is to try something new, push back the boundaries, read something I wouldn’t normally pick up…

What crime writers do I admire? Don Winslow. George Pelecanos. James Lee Burke. Peter Temple... to name just a few.
11) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’ by Peter Hoeg. Shame about the ending but the rest of the book is too brilliant too ignore.