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Author Talk: January 7, 2016

Recently, Andrew Grant took a break from his popular David Trevellyan series to write the stand-alone thriller RUN. He’s back now with an exciting new series about troubled Alabama detective Cooper Devereaux, which kicks off with FALSE POSITIVE. In it, Devereaux is partnered with cagey detective Jan Loflin, who’s fresh off a long undercover stint in Vice, when they’re put on a case that will test them both beyond their direst nightmares. Stand-alone or series, Grant knows how to write a knockout thriller. In this interview, he discusses why he chose to set FALSE POSITIVE in Birmingham, AL, how much he enjoys writing flawed heroes, and the differences between penning a solo book and one of many in a series.

Question: How does an author from Birmingham, England, decide to set a thriller in Birmingham, Alabama?

Andrew Grant: I work in a very visual way, in that I tend to start by picturing a scene in my head and then trying to describe what I’ve "seen" on the page. When I was starting to think about FALSE POSITIVE, I realized that for the plot to work it would be necessary to find a setting where you could have a cabin in the woods that wasn’t too far from a major city. I’m sure there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of places like that in the States, but the only one I’d seen with my own eyes was Birmingham, AL, and its surroundings. So I thought, why spend ages looking for somewhere else when I already know of somewhere that would work? I also liked the symmetry of coming from one Birmingham to the other, and I like the city itself. The statue of Vulcan made a real impact on me, for example, and I was drawn to some of the city’s iconic buildings, such as the City Federal, which plays a prominent role in the book. Finally, because I was born in an industrial city --- and lived for many years in another, Sheffield --- I appreciate the heritage of places where useful things were made, and the fabric of our world took shape. 

Q: Cooper Devereaux is a complex character. You are good at developing complex characters. Your previous thriller, RUN, gave us the much-troubled Marc Bowman, and before that was your suspense series with David Trevellyan. How much fun are you having creating these flawed/double-crossed/maverick guys?

AG: Thank you! I’m having a great deal of fun with these characters, and I have to say that Cooper Devereaux is the most troubled yet. Lots of details of his past are revealed throughout the course of FALSE POSITIVE, including a discovery that shakes the ground beneath his feet and goes a long way toward explaining who he is and why he behaves the way he does. This in turn gave me lots of scope to explore something else that fascinates me --- the nature versus nurture debate --- which I’ve always imagined is exemplified by my own family!

Q: In FALSE POSITIVE, Devereaux’s equal is Vice Detective Jan Loflin. What went into developing her character, and was it developed after Devereaux's?

AG: Jan Loflin was another character I really enjoyed developing. Devereaux did come first, but, as Loflin has a particular role to play in the plot, it was a lot of fun figuring out what could make a person act in the way she does. I read a lot of fascinating books on criminal psychology along the way, which gave me some great insights into the extremes of human behavior.

Q: RUN was a stand-alone. What are the challenges of changing gears and now writing a series?

AG: RUN is the only stand-alone I’ve written, and I enjoyed the process much more than I’d expected to because it gave me the freedom to create a whole new world of characters and settings. As it was a stand-alone, though, this world could be tailored to the demands of a single story. With FALSE POSITIVE, I knew that I was laying the foundations for the new Cooper Devereaux series, so I had to make sure I was painting on a canvas broad enough to support a succession of adventures, as well as introducing a character interesting and likable enough for people to want to revisit him year after year.

Q: When you write, do you have a set of elements you believe are key to an outstanding thriller, or do they vary depending on what you create?

AG: I think the peripheral details can --- and should --- be variable, but the key to any outstanding thriller is the central character. If the reader doesn’t care whether he or she lives / dies / escapes / gets married / survives an illness or accident / wins the legal case / gets thrown in jail, etc., then the book won’t live on in their memory.

Q: How long did it take to write FALSE POSITIVE?

AG: Around 18 months from starting the research to finishing the copy-edits.