WILL DEAN: Claustrophobic thrillers

Written by Will Dean

Will Dean

I’m obsessed with small towns.

In Dark Pines Tuva Moodyson introduces you to the Swedish town of Gavrik. It’s isolated, marginal, and full of secrets. Two main employers - Gavrik Liquorice, and the local pulp mill - dominate the place. In Tuva’s opinion… it’s a bit shit.

My thrillers are claustrophobic. I don’t let you out of Gavrik and the surrounding elk forests. There are a few innate small-town dynamics that help me build that sense of being trapped:

1. Secrets and myths. All small towns have these. I grew up near market towns in the East Midlands. Lots of myths and rumours and urban legends. Now I live 30 minutes from a small Swedish town. There’s gossip. Net curtains twitching. People sharing news at the local bus station.

2. The weather. In Red Snow (Tuva 2), the town and surrounding villages are cut off by a February blizzard. The temperatures drop to -25C. The phone lines go down. Roads are impassable. If there’s a killer in town, then he or she is there to stay.

3. Landmarks. In the Tuva Moodyson thrillers you’ll revisit Gavrik landmarks. Benny Bjornmossen’s gun store, the ICA Maxi supermarket, Tuva’s Gavrik Posten newspaper office. I’m a huge Stephen King fan and love his books set in and around Castle Rock. The way he refers to Shawshank prison in multiple novels, sometimes just fleeting mentions, reinforces the sense of place. The sense of reality. I expect you’ll bump into a key character from Dark Pines in the queue at the bank somewhere in book 6. That’s the reality of small towns. You get to know everyone whether you want to or not. You bump into them. There is no anonymity.

4. Relationships. You live in London and get dumped. No big deal. It’s quite possible you’ll never see that person again in a city of 8 million. Not so in a small town. You will see them again. Over and over. Rumours spread like wildfire and everyone knows your news. If Tuva writes a disparaging piece in the Posten about Bertil the bee man, then she knows she’ll have to park next to him at Ica, walk past him to reach Tammy’s food van, queue behind him at the Systembolaget liquor store. There is no escape.

5. Characters. I like to focus my stories on the people who aren’t in the spotlight. I’m not so interested in writing about wealthy or powerful people. I’d rather delve deep into the life of a paramedic or a taxi driver or a shopkeeper. Everyday people with everyday wants, needs and fears. You and me. My neighbours in the forest. The people I grew up around. They’re the kinds of lives I find fascinating. And in a small town, the interesting or eccentric locals are more visible. Everyone knows everyone’s story. At least they think they do.

6. A killer walks among us. In Red Snow there’s a sense that a killer is on the loose and they could strike again at any time. People change their door lock combinations, and locals stock up on ammunition. Parents try to persuade their kids not to go to parties, or at least not to trudge back home alone through the frozen darkness. In a big city the odds are more in your favour. If there’s a killer on the loose it might be 10 million to 1. In Gavrik the odds could be as terrifying as 10 thousand to 1. The vulnerability is real. And that’s assuming there’s only 1 killer.

7. Limited options. If there’s only one or two restaurants in a fictional town, readers start to know them, feel them. If there’s one hotel and one gun store it makes the place all the more visceral. As a reader I love to feel immersed in a place and time. Sucked into the story. So that’s what I try to write. I want you to feel like you know the streets of Gavrik.

The truth is that most small towns in Sweden, and across the world, are safe and pleasant. But … what if? Most days of the year Gavrik ticks along gently like everywhere else. But not this February. Not when the blizzards move in. Not when the Ferryman killer strikes fear into the heart of the town. And in Red Snow, for 400 pages at least, there is no escape.

RED SNOW by Will Dean

Published by Point Blank, an imprint of Oneworld,  10 January, hardback, £14.99

Photo © Ali Karim 2018

Will Dean

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