At first glance, the horrifically bloody crime scene in suburban Liverpool looks like a straightforward murder-suicide. The husband kills the wife and then himself. Simple.
Or it would be if it wasn't for the dead couple's missing teenage son, Nicky.
With Nicky's holiday job on a Hollywood movie being shot in the city bringing unwanted press attention, newly promoted DCI Frank Keane knows that time is running out to find the missing boy. The only question is: is Nicky victim or killer?
When it comes, the answer is worse than anyone expects.
The deaths in Liverpool are just the start of a twisted international killing spree by an ambitious psychopath with a point to prove.
As the odds, and the stakes, stack up, Keane has no option but to mount an unorthodox operation on unfamiliar and dangerous territory.
And suddenly a cop from Liverpool might just be the only one who can prevent a killing that would shock the world…
Ed Chatterton was born in Liverpool, England and, working as 'Martin Chatterton', has been successfully writing children's books and Young Adult fiction for over twenty years. In addition to his award-winning career as a writer, he has enjoyed international success as an illustrator as well as working as a graphic designer, university lecturer and commercials director. After spending some years moving between the UK and the US, he emigrated to Australia in 2004. He lives in northern NSW and is married with two children.
Random House Australia
Author: Ed Chatterton
Question: Can you talk us through how Underland follows A Dark Place to Die?
Ed Chatterton: 'A Dark Place To Die' took place in two main locations: Liverpool, England, and in the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers here in Australia (as well as another location that I won't reveal because it could be something of a plot spoiler for the very few remaining people not to have read it). In the sequel, 'Underland', the action shifts back to Liverpool and then to Los Angeles with Detective Chief Inspector Frank Keane becoming even more personally involved with this case than he was in 'A Dark Place To Die'. 'Underland' takes place – at least at first – against the backdrop of a movie being filmed in the real-life Joseph Williamson tunnels, a set of complex and pointless Victorian brick-built labyrinths that lie beneath the city. What seems at first to be a simple, if bloody, suburban murder-suicide leads us deeper and deeper into a moral maze even darker than that of the tunnels. As Frank Keane becomes ever more entwined with forces beyond his control or experience, he is forced to take on a formidable opponent in an unfamiliar environment. To do that he recruits Menno Koopman and Warren Eckhardt, two key characters from 'A Dark Place To Die'. As they grapple with a bitter and intelligent schemer, Frank realises that only they can prevent an atrocity of global proportions.
Question: How do you go about ensuring your novels are full of suspense to keep the reader on the edge?
Ed Chatterton: I write books that I'd like to read. That means I try to write books with believable characters put under extraordinary pressures. I also try to let the story flow through an initial skeleton in a very cinematic way. At a recent festival panel I was on, the author Colin Falconer defined writers as 'planners' or 'pantsers'. By 'pantsers' he meant writers who aren't entirely sure what is going to happen in the narrative – they 'fly by the seat of their pants'. While Colin happily defined himself as a 'planner', I definitely lean more towards a 'pantser', my thinking being that if I'm not sure what my characters are going to do then neither will the reader. And that's what I like reading: stories that never let you relax, that never do the obvious thing. This strategy works for me but requires a lot of energy and an ability to chop out sections or plot lines that have disappeared down indulgent lines. And I use a lot of tried and true devices to keep the suspense coming, mainly by holding back key pieces of information until the time is just right to drop them in. I think also that you have to have characters that rise above the cardboard cutout. If a reader doesn't believe in a character then how will they become emotionally involved in what happens to that character? Lastly, you can't just keep killing people. Raymond Chandler famously said that whenever his story lagged he had a woman come into a room holding a gun. There's a lot to be said for that but I think you have to be careful about overdoing it!
Question: Do you find inspiration from real life crimes publicised in the media?
Ed Chatterton: Yes, I find that I get a lot of 'texture' from real-life crimes. One of the main things I lift from real crimes is that, mostly, they are not overly ornate. People tend to be killed relatively simply; they are shot, they are stabbed, they are beaten. Although I love Sherlock Holmes, even as a child I realised that shoving a poisonous snake into someone's bedroom was a method that was chancy at best. Real-life crimes are, very often, mundane events with horrific consequences. It's these consequences I'm more interested in than the manner of death. The exception to this was the opening murder in 'A Dark Place To Die' which was deliberately 'exotic'. This though was based on real-life murders in Liverpool (and elsewhere) which were committed by drug gangs to send a message. The more outrageous the method, the clearer the message they were sending. I have also been involved with a couple of projects based on real-life crime. One was centred on a murder and manhunt that took place recently, the other is more of a character study of a well-known gangland personality. I'm not sure if either of these will ever see the light of day but real-life crime is certainly an interest.
Question: What have you enjoyed about the switch from children's books and young adult fiction to adult crime novels?
Ed Chatterton: Although I love children's fiction and I'm still writing one YA novel which I'm excited about, it's fair to say that my focus has moved. This is partly because of my own interest in engaging with topics that do not require as much restraint as children's books, as well as a desire to explore fresh ways of writing. My children are now old enough to read my crime fiction which is also a consideration. Even though several of my books have been 'mysteries' I mainly write comedy when I'm writing for children. Turning to crime fiction has allowed my darker side to emerge more explicitly. I'm actually a bit queasy when it comes to forensic science details, and I'm not a fan at all of 'torture heavy' crime books (even though I don't shy away from blood), so I try to make the books chilling through suggestion and character rather than have the reader wading through gore. The 'darkness' is in the psychology – which is something I do a lot of research on. Writing about incredibly damaged characters with unsettling motives can be done in YA literature but it is rare and is always diluted. I'm interested too in human sexuality as a driving force and that's something that is very tricky to deal with in children's books, even those aimed at older readers. By switching to full-blown 'adult' crime I can examine themes like this without having to self-edit as I go (thematically at least).
Question: What's next for DCI Frank Keane?
Ed Chatterton: I'm trying not to give away any plot spoilers in answering this question! It's safe to say that in 'A Dark Place To Die' we were introduced to Frank Keane as a diligent. 'ordinary' copper. This ordinariness was deliberate because what I want to do with Farnk is to show, book by book, a really grounded character come under incredible pressures and see what happens. In 'Underland' I put Frank into situations he was deeply uncomfortable with. One was the physical environment below ground, the other a more psychologically pressured maze which pushes him into situations that appear (at first) to be utterly foreign to him. And in the third in the series which I'm writing now, Frank has a significant life event shape his character development. I'm asking questions about how Frank Keane would react and then observing how he changes. I'm not interested in writing a main character who remains static throughout his or her life. Although I love Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple characters of that sort never age, never alter and are doomed to repeat past experiences. Frank Keane is a real person in unreal situations and is mutating right in front of us. That mutation is what makes it interesting. Of course, I'm bound to say that: I'm biased.
Interview by Brooke Hunter