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The Unquiet

An Interview

The Unquiet
(US)
 
The Unquiet
(UK)
Can you tell us a little of what The Unquiet is about?
Parker is asked by a woman named Rebecca Clay to deal with a man who has been stalking her and asking questions about her father, a psychiatrist named Daniel Clay, who disappeared some years earlier. The man's name is Frank Merrick, and it emerges that his daughter went missing while being treated by Daniel Clay. But Merrick turns out to be more than an ordinary stalker: he's a former button man, a hired killer, and it becomes clear to Parker that Merrick is being manipulated by someone who is working through a sinister old lawyer down in Massachusetts. At one point in the novel, someone tells Parker that "everybody lies" and, on one level, the book is an examination of the truth, or otherwise, of that statement.

What inspired it?
I'm not sure that anything in particular inspired it, in the sense that the heart of the book might owe something to a particular incident or situation that I encountered. I do remember going to an exhibition at museum of the Maine Historical Society in Portland. It was a collection of all sorts of odd items from the state's history that had been kept in a kind of glorified junkyard, and was now being put on display for the first time. Among the exhibits were the possessions of a man named Dave "the Guesser" Glovsky, who used to work a concession stand at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. His pitch was that he would guess your weight, or the car that you drove, or your job, and if he failed you'd get a little prize and the knowledge that you'd beaten the Guesser. I just found him absolutely fascinating, and it set me to wondering what might have happened had the Guesser met someone whom he knew to be dangerous, even evil, just by examining his hands, his face, his clothes. That was the beginning of the book, and it just took off from there.

So dave 'the guesser' was a real person?
Yes, and I didn't change his name for the book because I thought there was something about him that was worth celebrating, and remembering. He's dead now, but he was a part of the state's cultural heritage. It would have been unfair to take all of his traits to create a character and not even commemorate him in passing. I'm sorry that I didn't get to meet him. He sounded like an interesting man.

Does The Unquiet differ from your earlier novels?
I suppose it does, in some ways. I wanted to write a variation on the classic PI novel where the detective is approached, usually by a woman, to deal with what appears to be, superficially at least, a very simple matter, but that rapidly becomes something much more difficult and complex. I also wanted to pare things back a little. Some of the earlier books have been very complicated, with a lot of characters, but I very deliberately set out with this book to streamline the plotting. At its heart, I wanted it to be a complex book that wasn't confusing to read, which is a lot harder to do than one might think.

What about parker? Do we learn more about him?
It's a more self-contained book than some of the others, so while it refers back to earlier books it does so only in passing, except in the case of one important character. There is a revelation of sorts, though, right at the end, that people might not be expecting.

There's also a sense of hope to it, though. I think it marks the end of a stage in Parker's life. He comes to an understanding about himself, and about the nature of his grief.

Did the novel involve a lot of research?
They all seem to involve a lot of research, and the research gets harder and harder, in part because I know I'm going to miss something, or get something wrong, no matter how much work I put into what I'm doing, and that's very frustrating. I was very fortunate, though, in that a number of professionals, particularly those dealing with troubled children, were incredibly kind and helpful to me. I learned an awful lot from them, and they certainly changed the way I looked at some of the issues raised in the book. I just hope I did justice to them.

It seems like quite an angry novel at times.
Well, that's partly to do with its subject matter, although I don't want to go too deeply into that here. I think other issues arose in it that were also important to me, among them the treatment of certain sections of the prison population in the United States. Winston Churchill once said that you could tell the character of a nation by the way that it treats its prisoners, and that's something that's touched upon in the book.

Did you begin writing it immediately after The Book of Lost Things, and how did that book affect the writing of this one?
Actually, I began writing The Unquiet before The Book of Lost Things, but then put the former to one side in order to work on the latter. I really wanted to write The Book of Lost Things, and it was the right time to do it. I think The Unquiet is a better book for having been set aside for a year. To be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of it done when I stopped working on it, but when I returned to it I felt really energised and anxious to write it. I knew what I wanted to do with it. As a result, I think The Unquiet and The Book of Lost Things are the two best books that I've written.

Speaking of The Book of Lost Things, looking back, now that the novel has been in print for seven months, how do you feel about it?
I'm very proud of it. It's probably the most personal book that I've written, and there's very little about it that I would change if I had to go back to it. I've also been very gratified by the responses of readers and critics to it. It's certainly the book of mine that has prompted the most email and letters. It was kind of reassuring to know that so many people responded to it in the way that I had hoped they would. I think they filtered it through their own experiences of stories and reading and, in some cases, of grief and loss. I found that I wasn't alone in viewing the world through the prism of books.

Did the fact that, superficially at least, it might appear to be a book aimed at children create problems?
If it did, I don't think they were huge problems. One or two booksellers and chains were a bit perturbed as to where they might file the book, and it's ended up in fantasy, literature, Irish fiction and crime, depending upon the stores involved. I don't think many places put it in their children's section, though. I think there was a realisation that it was primarily an adult book that children could read, rather than vice versa, although I was fascinated by the reaction of younger readers to it. They were so perceptive, and so appreciative of it.

An interesting point of comparsion is Guillermo del Toro's film, Pan's Labyrinth, which was released shortly after The Book of Lost Things. It was one of my favourite films of last year, and I was really interested in the way in which it dealt with material similar to The Book of Lost Things. It's clearly an adult film with a child at its heart, and deals with fairy tales and mythology. It also doesn't shy away from the violence at the heart of some of those tales, with that violence reflecting the confusion and hurt of the adult world with which the child is being forced to deal.

Do you think the response might have been different if you hadn't already been known as the writer of a different type of fiction, i.e. mystery fiction?
I don't know. Perhaps people were more surprised by it because of what I had written before, although I can see the same themes being touched upon elsewhere in my work. Then again, there may have been others who dismissed it precisely because of my background. To be honest, I think I lost some crime readers who weren't prepared to read a novel of mine that didn't fit into the crime genre, but I gained a lot of readers who might not otherwise have come to my books. In fact, one or two seemed quite upset when they found out that I wrote crime fiction, but never mind. I'm just happy that they gave this one a chance.

It is difficult, though, to experiment with different forms of fiction if you're known, if at all, primarily for one kind. I've been very fortunate in that my publishers have been willing to publish whatever it is that I've chosen to write, whether that was a series novel, a standalone like Bad Men, or the Nocturnes collection of novellas and short stories. I see a kind of progression in my writing, with one book following on from the next, and it would be hard to imagine The Book of Lost Things being written at all had I not had a chance to do Nocturnes in particular.

Why did you write all of the additional material to go in the paperback edition of the novel?
Well, originally much of it was written for a website that was created to complement the book, but the purpose of it was still the same: I wanted to give people the opportunity to delve further, if they chose, into the background not only of the novel, but of the original fairy tales that were used to create it. They're all quite fascinating in their own way, and I've argued elsewhere that we have a tendency, particularly in adulthood, to be rather dismissive of such tales. While The Book of Lost Things makes a case for them, the notes gave me the chance to explore their origins, and their themes, more explicitly and in greater detail.

I also wanted to provide a resource for readers who found that the book had raised questions in their minds, or who wanted to discuss it with other readers. I'm interested in finding ways to expand upon the experience of reading a book. Those of us who love reading know that the experience doesn't end when we close the covers. Books linger. They plant seeds in our imaginations. That's the great joy of them. I suppose that's why I'm so enthusiastic about book groups, and much of the additional material was written with book groups in mind.

Does the idea of the book being filmed appeal to you?
I've always been a little ambivalent about the filming of my books. That's not to say that I don't want it to happen, and there are a number of film projects involving my work that are at various stages of developmen at present, but I'm quite protective of the Parker novels, which I haven't optioned for film, and I'm going to be very protective of this one. I'm due to meet a director this month who is very interested in filming it, but it's a matter of seeing if we're both on the same wavelength about it. It's odd to think that a book celebrating the act of reading might become a film, but I hope there are ways of doing it that might not divorce it entirely from its literary origins.

What about the CD that comes with the book?
Well, two years ago I put together a CD called Voices From The Dark to go with The Black Angel. That was really well received, although there was so much work involved that I vowed never to do it again. Then the fan boy in me resurfaced and I thought, you know, I really would like to do another one. And it was immensely difficult and time consuming again, but it was worth it. It wasn't the fault of the bands in any way, or their management or record companies, who were, almost without a single exception, incredibly supportive. It's just that putting together a compilation like this is a really big, expensive undertaking, and we did it over the course of what has probably been the busiest eight or nine months of my writing career so far. I was publishing two books, doing two tours, writing new material for The Book of Lost Things, writing a short story, working on a screenplay, and then there was the CD. There were times when I wanted to tear my hair out.

In the end, though, I do like the idea of mixing different media, of allowing the music to complement the book, and vice versa. I also like the idea of exposing people to bands and artists that they might not otherwise have encountered. One of the nicest things about the last CD was having readers come up to me and enthuse about one of the songs on the album. I loved hearing that, on the basis of one song, they had gone out and bought albums by the artist in question. That made it all worthwhile. I've also been fortunate enough to meet, or correspond with, a number of those who've agreed to contribute songs: Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters, Neko Case, Robert Fisher of Willard Grant Conspiracy, Neko Case, Graham Lee of The Triffids, Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts, the guys from Efterklang. It's a dream come true for a music fan like me.

And what next?
Next is The Reapers, which is a novel based around Angel & Louis. It's actually proved to be much harder to write than I'd anticipated, but then they all seem to be harder to write than I'd anticipated. In a way, I think it's a novel for those who've followed my work for a while. There's a little more about the background of minor characters like the Fulci Brothers, Willie Brew, Jackie Gardner, and we get to see Parker, as well as Angel & Louis, through someone else's eyes. It's strange to think that The Reapers will be my tenth book. It really doesn't seem that long ago since I was writing Every Dead Thing. Then again, I only have to compare my jacket photos then and now, and count the grey hairs, to realise that, actually, it was quite a while ago . . .


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