Monday, March 26, 2007

The Dark Side of Mooney

New England novelist Chris Mooney debuted in 2000 with the violent thriller Deviant Ways, and followed that a year later with World Without End. But the real treat was his third novel, the Edgar Award-nominated Remembering Sarah, which made January Magazine’s favorite books of 2004 list. Now, Mooney (shown at left with yours truly) is back with a wonderfully dark serial-killer opus called The Missing, which was just released in the States and is due out in Britain next month.

I first bumped into Mooney at Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas--a meeting that led quickly to a rather drunken evening spent at The Peppermill in company with Irish writer Ken Bruen and novelist (now San Francisco Chronicle books critic) Eddie Muller. (See proof here.) Later, I conducted an interview with Mooney for Shots, which cast some light onto this interesting writer and the genesis of the deeply disturbing Remembering Sarah. Here’s an excerpt from that exchange:

Ali Karim: Remembering Sarah is a real departure in terms of subject matter and style, but I believe it was a story that predates your two earlier thrillers. Would you care to tell us about it?

Chris Mooney: Funny you should mention that. Remembering Sarah was the first book I wanted to write--I knew how it started, I knew the characters’ names, how it would end, all of it. But given the book’s emotional scope, I knew at the time that I didn’t have the talent to pull it off the way I wanted to. That, along with the fact that I had this character, Malcolm Fletcher, sort of drawing me into his circle, I went ahead and wrote what became Deviant Ways. I’m glad I waited, because I’m really happy with the way Remembering Sarah turned out. I learned a lot writing that one, and the early response on it has been real encouraging.

AK: I really enjoyed Remembering Sarah, but, being a father myself, it was a hard read at times. But I also noticed that Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben, and John Connolly have heaped praise on the book. How tough was it to write?

CM: There’s no way to write a story about a missing child without it being emotionally draining on both you and the reader. It was hard to put myself in [protagonist] Mike Sullivan’s shoes every day for almost two years, and there were certainly times when I felt like walking away from it. A lot of my energy went into making sure the book wasn’t exploitative in any way, but an honest account of how this father who made a big mistake goes about his life trying to find a way to redeem himself. That’s the tough part of the book because, as a parent myself, we’ve all been in that place where you turn your head for just a second and your child falls down and almost splits their head open on the edge of a glass coffee table or something. The other tough part is dealing with this idea of hope--how long do you hang on to hope? When do you give it up, and can you give it up? Because the second Mike gives up hope, his daughter’s gone. That’s what I think makes the book interesting and, at the same time, makes it tough to read. You connect with Mike because he’s real, he’s like a guy you know or a close friend, and he made some of the same mistakes you’ve probably made as a parent. He’s a good guy and you’re just on his side from day one, rooting for him.

* * *

Then, last month, I attended Penguin UK’s crime-fiction dinner in London, and who should appear but Chris Mooney. We managed to carve out some time for a beer together and to catch up. Mooney let me know more about The Missing, which Penguin seems to be pushing hard in the UK, if this link is any indication. I’m very pleased to see Mooney’s work making a splash again in Britain.

So, what is The Missing all about?

Well, it’s a terrifying serial-killer yarn that features a hunt across time and across the United States, as searches are made for a score of women who have been abducted and whose names have gone onto the FBI’s missing persons list.

The key with Mooney is how he brings characterization into play as a plot device. Enter a young teenager named Darby McCormick and her two friends Melanie and Stacey, all of whom witness what they believe to be a murder in the woods. But the killer also sees them. A hunt ensures, and Darby becomes traumatized by seeing what happens to her friends after the killer tracks them down. However, she survives (and the reasons for her survival are only revealed in the book’s sucker-punch ending).

Darby goes on to become an FBI investigator. Then a case lands on her desk that has the familiar hallmarks of the one that so traumatized her in childhood. Abductions continue, but nothing seems to link the missing women, and there is a lack of clues; but Darby thinks there must be a link to her own past. Red herrings abound, with a white supremacist being favored as the abductor. Darby, though, thinks this case could involve a number of other connected killers--people with fractured pasts, people with disassociated minds, people who lurk amidst the blackness of psychosis. This portion of the novel sent real chills through my body, as did the banality of evil Mooney portrays in this bullet-train thriller.

The Missing is a way-above-average addition to the already overstocked subgenre of serial-killer novels. Let’s hope that its appearance provokes Penguin to finally issue Remembering Sarah in the UK, too. Both show Chris Mooney to be a don’t-miss writer.

No comments: