This month my new thriller, Dead Line, is published by Faber in the UK. It’s the story of a professional hostage negotiator called Daniel Trent who finds himself forced to negotiate the release from kidnapping of the man he suspects of abducting his fiancee in order to find out what has happened to her. It’s my darkest novel so far, and it’s something of a departure for me, in that most of the novel is narrated in the third-person.
Maybe the darkness in the book developed in contrast to what was a very happy time in my life. We found out that my wife, Jo, was pregnant just a few weeks after I began work on the manuscript, and nine months later, Jo went into labour a little over half-an-hour after I’d delivered the book to my agent — which, believe me, gives new meaning to the concept of a deadline! Our daughter Jessica was born shortly before I received the thumbs up on the book from my agent, and now, a few weeks after Jessica turns nine months old, it’s being published. It’d be nice to think this neat symmetry might bode well for how the novel will fare now that it’s out in the wild.
Back when I was beginning work on Dead Line, all I knew for sure was that I wanted to write a kidnap thriller with a difference. I began to research the role of professional hostage negotiators and I quickly learned that the kidnap-and-ransom industry is a murky, unregulated world, where just about anyone could potentially set themselves up as a negotiator-for-hire, with no specific rules or procedures to follow. I found that fascinating. What would happen, I began to ask myself, if a negotiator with an ulterior motive got involved in working to secure the release of a victim?
The hook for my novel began to grow into a plot. Now I needed a setting. I settled on Marseilles pretty early on. I wanted somewhere hot, somewhere exotic, somewhere that carried a sense of danger. I remembered that when I was backpacking through Europe as an eighteen year-old, Marseilles was one of the few places where I’d felt threatened. I started to read about the city and learned about its problems with criminal gangs, with drug smuggling and arms trading. But it was also a beautiful place, set right on the Mediterranean coast, and it was about to be transformed in readiness for its role as the European Capital of Culture for 2013. It was everything I needed.
The next step was to visit, to get a truer sense of the city, to find those locations I already knew that I needed and to stumble upon exciting new locations to incorporate into the book. I went to Marseilles three times in 2012. I took videos on my phone during each trip. A few of the videos are below. There are many, many more. A lot of them I can’t share because I tend to talk over the videos (usually quite incoherently, as you’ll see!) and it would give away too much of the plot. But, in the hope that they’re of interest to you if you’ve read an early proof of the novel, or if you’re thinking of picking up a copy on publication, here are a small selection (with apologies for some unsteady camera work and wind noise).
On Location in Marseilles
First up, here’s a clip from my first trip to Marseilles, where I was doing some fact-checking for the opening scene in the book, set around the Opera. I’d written the scene with the help of Google Maps, but there were a few things I needed to adjust:
This was me just trying to get a feel for the city from a distance:
Here I am trying to find the perfect spot for a ransom drop in the middle of the Calanques, the chain of spectacular rocky inlets stretching along the coast between Marseilles and Cassis:
This is me scoping out the same scene from the water (and leaving myself with a bit of follow-up research to do, before I figured out that I wanted to write about En Vau, possibly the most famous and most dramatic of all the Calanques):
And finally, because I can’t seem to kick the habit, this video includes some preliminary plans for a break-in to a villa in Cassis:
All that remains for me to say is that Dead Line is available now in both ebook and hardback editions. For more on the book click here, where you’ll find a brief plot summary, as well as some of the very kind things a host of terrific authors have had to say about it.
Chris Ewan is the award-winning author of The Good Thief’s Guide to … series of mystery novels, described by the Sydney Morning Herald as ‘crime writing at its best’. His debut, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award. Safe House, his acclaimed stand-alone thriller, was a number one bestseller in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Born in Taunton in 1976, he now lives in the Isle of Man with his wife, Jo.