…a new slow-motion thriller…
May 22, 2014. I have been remiss in posting a new blog.
I did intend to maintain some degree of consistency, but I have been otherwise distracted with the task of final editorial changes to the new novel for 2014, due for release on May 22nd.
I am sure, as always, that there will some tidy-up, some smoothing of corners and trimming of edges, but – to all intents and purposes – the book is finished.
As far as length, scope, subject matter and quantity of research, this novel (still untitled) has to rank alongside A Quiet Vendetta and A Simple Act of Violence. In its first draft it ran in excess of 215,000 words, but has now come down to about 185,000. Even so, it is a lengthy book, and yet I feel it has a rapidity of pace and narrative that is more in line with some of the shorter novels.
So, you might ask, what is this as yet unnamed book about?
Well, I have always wanted to deal with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some of the less wholesome historical activities of the NYPD and the CIA were covered in Saints of New York and A Simple Act of Violence, and we dealt with the Mafia in A Quiet Vendetta, but even though I had skirted around the edges of Hoover and the FBI on a number of occasions, I had never written about the FBI. Not really.
But I didn’t want to write a book that explained my views on J. Edgar and his Band of Merry Men, so – understandably and predictability – I did it in an obtuse and indirect way.
It’s the late 1950s. A young FBI man by the name of Michael Travis, all of thirty-one years of age, is despatched to a small town called Seneca Falls in Nebraska to determine whether the discovery of a dead body is a federal matter. The victim remains unidentified, but the location of the body – beneath the carousel of a travelling carnival that is touring the United States, and the manner of death – a single puncture wound upwards into the brain from the back of the man’s neck, proves interesting to Travis.
Travis is a man with his own troubled history, as is the case with the vast majority of protagonists I have written. Made a ward of the state due to the fact this his mother murdered his father when Travis was fifteen, he spent time being cared for by the Kansas State Welfare Department, and was then ‘adopted’ by the widow of his mother’s cousin. From there, Travis spent some time in the army, subsequently moving on and joining the FBI in his early twenties.
Travis is a man who lives by certain rules and regulations. It is the only way he can keep his own fears and insecurities under control. He is haunted by the idea that his father’s violence is in his blood, that he will never escape this legacy, and he has constructed a ‘reality’ within which he exists to ensure that he is always in control of his own emotions, his own reactions, his own thoughts and feelings.
But then – ever-aspiring to be the good company man – he accepts a promotion, a new assignment, and finds himself thrown into a murder investigation. He is away from his own environment, operating alone (for reasons that become clear), and has to deal with the personnel of the carnival, amongst them Edgar Doyle, Valeria Mironescu, Chester Greene, Mr. Slate, Gabor Benedek, and a quintet of identical acrobats called the Bellanca Brothers.
The carnival itself is sufficient to unsettle and disrupt every single one of Travis’s safe constructs. His viewpoints and ‘certainties’ about Man, the mind, the spiritual nature of humanity and the reasons for life are destabilised and altered irrevocably with each new revelation presented to him by circumstance and situation.
But so much more than that, Travis’s certainty in himself, his own choices, what he is doing and why, his own motivation for being part of the FBI, the identity and intention of his contemporaries and superiors, all the way up to Clyde Tolson and J. Edgar Hoover himself, are up-ended and shaken loose, and Travis finds himself confronting everything that he did not want to confront about his own life, everything he has hidden from, everything from which he has attempted to run away.
The book is set in the late 50s, and encompasses many aspects of fascinating real-life history for me – the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the tail-end of the second World War, Prohibition, the gangland wars of Chicago in the 30s and 40s, the establishment of the FBI and Hoover’s rise to power, the Eisenhower administration, Nazi collaborators in Ireland, MK Ultra, even Operations Artichoke and Chatter.
More than that, the book is about the power of the human mind, the consequences of abusing or misusing that power, the capabilities that people possess when it comes to extra-sensory perception, and how those capabilities have been intensely researched and tested by organizations and intelligence agencies with a view to their employment in wholly destructive programs. It is about the consequences of such actions, and how they can so horribly backfire on those that intend to pervert them to their own vested interests and negative ends.
And, of course, there is love and loss and redemption and salvation, and a cast of characters that I believe will stay with you for some considerable time once the last page has been read and the book set down.
And why slow-motion thriller? Because that is the term that seems to have been coined (by the French), and now adopted all over the world now for the kind of book I write. I like it. It contradicts itself, and – as anyone who knows me will all too easily testify – I can so easily be considered a man of contradictions.
So there we have it. That is what I have been doing for the past week or so, and now the manuscript has found its way onto the desks of my agent and my editor, and I turn my attention to intensive rehearsal and preparation for the album we are recording in October.
I am also enormously excited about upcoming tours – Switzerland at the start of September, USA at the end, off to France for the first part of October, Holland right at the beginning of November, then a second French tour right after that.
It is going to be a very busy autumn and winter, but that’s the way I like it. Don’t give me enough to do and I get into untold amounts of trouble.
I trust all is well with you, and we shall speak again soon, no doubt.