A Conversation with Tim Weaver, Author of “Never Coming Back”
This summer the best selling British mystery writer Tim Weaver will be making his American debut. Never Coming Backfeatures David Raker, a missing persons investigator and ex-journalist.
As this is an exciting title, we decided to feature a brief Q&A with the author about his recent work. By the way, we will soon have a book giveaway of this novel so stay tuned!
First: A Brief Summary
Emily Kane arrives at her sister Carrie’s house to find the front door unlocked, dinner on the table, and the family nowhere to be found—Carrie, her husband, and two daughters have disappeared. When the police turn up no leads, Emily turns to her former boyfriend David Raker, a missing persons investigator, to track the family down. As Raker pursues the case, he discovers evidence of a sinister cover-up, decades in the making and with a long trail of bodies behind it.
Q. Where did the idea for Never Coming Back come from?
A. Well, although Never Coming Back is my debut here in the States, it’s actually the fourth book I’ve released in the UK, so its premise was really starting to take shape even before I’d got to the end of my third book, Vanished. That’s generally how I work: about three-quarters of the way through one book, especially as I get a clear sight of how it’s going to end, I’ll start to think about the next one. Of course, it makes no difference if you’re coming in as a new reader at Never Coming Back, because they all work perfectly well as standalones. In fact, in a strange, slightly selfish way, I think this is actually quite a nice place to begin, because it allowed me to fulfill a long-held dream of setting a novel (or, in this case, part of one) in the US. Since I started reading seriously as a teen, American writers have had a profound impact on my tastes, on my ambitions, and – ultimately – my style.
That said, I never once anticipated the scope or the challenge involved in setting a book in two countries – the UK and US – and maybe that was for the best. If I was the type of writer who planned everything meticulously from day one (I’m not: I just write), I might never have made it through the planning stages! Never Coming Back is geographically and historically big, which was a challenge to knit together in itself, but it’s also got a different ‘feel’ to my other novels, especially coming off Vanished, which was set in and around the London Underground. Where that was very claustrophobic, deliberately so, Never Coming Back is the total opposite: a book full of space and scale.
So it was a big, frightening, extremely exciting journey, which gave me countless sleepless nights along the way, but the reaction to it in the UK has – thankfully – been wonderful. Obviously, I hope it now manages to find an audience here in the States too.
Q. Your David Raker series is already a bestseller in England, but Never Coming Back is your American debut. How did you feel when you found out you’d be published in the US?
A.Do-a-little-jig-around-the-room excited! I’d spent a lot of time in the States during my time as a magazine journalist, love the country and the culture, and had grown up reading American crime fiction. It was basically all I read. Although my novels are all set in the UK (apart from the Vegas sections in Never Coming Back), my hope is that they share that ‘widescreen’ feel that American crime fiction does so well, the sense of being “big”, both in setting and ambition.
When you read someone like Michael Connelly, you immediately – just from Bosch being based in a city as huge, distinct and unique as L.A. – get that scope and breadth. I love that. Great American thrillers like The Poet, like Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan, like Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, were what made me want to be a writer.
Q. What about the thriller/mystery genre interests you?
A. There’s an unpredictability to it, both as a reader and a writer, which I love. As I said, I don’t plan my books (although I always have a vague sense of where they’re headed), and constructing a mystery, one that combines characters you care about, locations you can breathe in, twists, tension and scares, is like a puzzle. As a writer, you’re second guessing the reader the whole time, trying to predict where their suspicions will fall; as a reader, you’re second guessing the writer, trying to work out where they’re taking you. It’s a game that I think is uniquely suited to this particular genre.
Q. What writers have influenced you?
A. Michael Connelly, definitely. I was 16 when The Black Echo came out, and I remember being blown away by it. He did a series of books after that – The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde, The Last Coyote, Trunk Music, The Poet, Blood Work – that were just sensational, and he did them one after another. I actually think he’s a bit of a genius.
I also loved John Connolly’s early novels. Every Dead Thing through to The White Road, The Unquiet too: not only were they incredible thrillers – taut and scary, with some of the best villains in crime fiction – but he’s a wonderful writer as well; a real lyricist.
Mostly, though, when I’m asked this question, I think of individual books that have remained with me long after I turned the last page: A Simple Plan, as I mentioned above, which is – hands down – one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read; Marathon Man by William Goldman, a masterclass in sleight of hand; the harrowing history lesson in Mo Hayder’s The Devil of Nanking (neé TOKYO).
Stephen King’s The Green Mile, which is such a wonderful, emotional character piece… I could go on and on. There’s also a book called The Bang Bang Club, which I love. It’s the real-life account of four photo-journalists working the South African townships in the run-up to the 1994 elections, and it’s absolutely amazing. It was a major reason why I had David Raker start out life as a journalist. You’ll see a lot of The Bang Bang Club in the Raker series, especially in the early books.
Q. What was it like to draw a picture of characters who are so cold blooded and terrifying? How do you prepare, or unwind from it?
A. For me, writing is like this: I get into the head of the characters, and then – once I’ve done my work for the day – I press Save, turn off the computer, and crash in front of the TV! I wouldn’t say I ever entirely ‘switch off’ from a book, because while I’m writing one I’m thinking about it all the time, even if only peripherally – but I certainly don’t have any difficulty extracting myself from the writing process.
In fact, when it’s going badly, it’s all too easy to down tools and think, “I’ll just go and watch Game of Thrones, and come back to the book tomorrow”!
The villains in my books aren’t nice people, clearly, but I hope that they’re more than just “bad”. Motive is important, and equally important is to paint these characters as three-dimensional, as men or women with a history.
I think one of my favorite reviews of my third book Vanished, was when a reviewer said she felt enormously conflicted about the villain, about whether she was scared by him (which she said she was) or felt sorry for him (which she admitted she did). I think you can have both. In fact, that conflict is central to building a convincing world.
Q. Never Coming Back jumps from a small fishing town in England to the desert of Las Vegas. Why Las Vegas?
A. I’d set three books in London, and although it’s a fascinating place, full of history and stories – and a place Raker returns to, at least in part, in my fifth book – by Never Coming Back, I was ready for a change. The choice of a small, rain swept fishing village on England’s south coast was deliberate: suddenly, I got to talk about emptiness, about big skies and vast seas, about a place where everybody knew each other, and where the crimes couldn’t so easily be hidden.
London, like any big city, has a certain anonymity, and I used that to my advantage, especially in The Dead Tracks and Vanished. The village in Never Coming Back was different, less ambiguous, and a whole new challenge as a storyteller.
I’d been carrying around an idea for years, about a big, historical crime that crosses international borders, but it wasn’t until I started Never Coming Back that I thought seriously about juxtaposing the tiny, insular nature of the fishing village with the gaudy excess of Las Vegas. Vegas was a place I’d visited a few years before I started writing the book, and – from the moment I landed – I was completely fascinated by it.
It’s such a uniquely American construct, a city that couldn’t exist anywhere else; this exhilarating, intimidating, seedy, frightening, and – in its own way – utterly tragic monument to excess. As a boy from the English countryside, where nothing ever happens, it was like landing on another planet!
So, I combined the two, weaving them together into the plot I’d been thinking about for all those years, and the Vegas sections became my love letter to the American crime and mystery fiction I grew up reading. I enjoyed the experience so much that I’m definitely going to return to the States at some point. It just has to be for the right story.
Q. Who would be in your dream book club?
A. This is always such a tricky question, because different books mean different things to you at different stages of your life. What I thought might be more interesting is a list of 20 books that I’d consider to have had an actual, tangible influence on the David Raker series…
The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke
The Bang-Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The ODESSA File by Frederick Forsyth
The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin
Die Trying by Lee Child
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog
Q. What’s next for David Raker?
A. Next is the fifth Raker, Fall From Grace, which comes out in the UK on August 14. Where Never Coming Back is quite ‘big’ in terms of its themes and its scope, I think this is a little smaller and more intimate, though it too centers on an old crime.
I’m always incredibly conscious of keeping the series fresh, of adapting its DNA and pushing it in new directions, but at the same time it’s important to retain the building blocks that have carried the novels through to this point. However, while change is inevitable, there’s one thing you can always be certain of in a Raker book: someone, somewhere will be missing.