Connelly’s books worked as standalones, of course, but huge, life-defining events in Bosch’s life were never written off as margin notes; he wore the scars from one book to another, he referenced things that had happened to him, changes in his personal life, old cases, perceived injustices, and the result was a world that felt legitimate, and a character you grew with, and grew closer to, as each novel passed. Like Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Bosch aged in something approaching real-time too, giving Connelly a rich canvas to paint on.
And so David Raker, in many ways, was a love letter to those books, a character who was affected by the cases he took on, by the people he’d met, a man who never failed to forget about the heinous killers he encountered, or relationships that fell away because of them. Like Connelly, I was determined that readers could come aboard at any point in Raker’s journey – and have always ensured that the books can be read in any order – but I wanted there to be a clear arc to his life as we moved from one novel to the next: from the grieving widower of my UK debut Chasing the Dead, to the shoots of recovery in its follow-up The Dead Tracks, to the devastation of my third book Vanished, and back to the early days in my first U.S. release Never Coming Back. Like seasons of a TV show, each book would work on its own, but major incidents were never forgotten.
I was clear from the start that, while Raker had to be familiar to readers of crime thrillers, and definitely needed to be of the same world as people like Bosch and Charlie Parker, of Rebus and Reacher, he had to have a twist. The market was saturated with big writers doing amazing novels based on cops and ex-cops, on federal agents and PIs, so I needed a hook. If they recalled nothing of the story, I needed readers to remember Raker.
Missing persons was the hook.At the time there were few, if any, characters specifically working missing persons so I immediately had great themes to work with: the mystery of disappearing people, the emotional turmoil of the families left behind, and the way in which Raker connected with them. I never wanted him to be a part-time drunk or a coke fiend, hated the idea of him delivering one-liners every time he offed a bad guy, or taking down eight meatheads in a bar brawl without even breaking a sweat. I wanted him to be tough, intelligent, attractive, unflappable and highly skilled, but I also wanted him to understand people and identify with them. I wanted him to be as good a psychologist as he was a detective, and while he could hold his own, he wouldn’t be Superman. He couldn’t dodge bullets. He’d be a human being, and everything – all the edges and flaws – that came with it. In Chasing the Dead, he spends the first chapter of the book talking about the death of his wife. During the course of that novel, he’s so affected by her passing that he can’t bring himself to sleep in the bed they shared; even in the bedroom itself. I wanted him to reflect the emotional complexity of the families that came to him, and I wanted him to have the motivation to help them. Most of all, I suppose, I wanted him to feel touchable, accountable, and real.
Even so, over the course of four books, Raker has changed more than I could have imagined. And I like that. I like that he’s evolved in a way even I couldn’t have predicted, built relationships I never expected, and lost others I imagined would last. I like it because it means the books have, in some small way, taken on a life of their own. And, if I’m never quite sure what’s going to happen to David Raker next, my hope is the most important people of all – readers ¬– won’t either.
What are some of your favorite themes in crime fiction?