by Zoë Sharp
I find myself in a weird situation this week. I hope you’ll forgive a touch of BSP, but I have two Charlie Fox books coming out within a few days of each other – one old and one new – and it’s made me view the whole series in a new light. I look at where I started, and where I am now, and think about the journey that has taken Charlie from there to here.
In KILLER INSTINCT, which comes out in a spanking new trade paperback edition from Busted Flush Press around May 1st, my heroine is a very different person from the one she later becomes. By that, I don’t mean that she’s undergone any kind of radical personality changes in the subsequent books. The underlying traits and abilities were always there, but softer, more hesitant. Charlie still gets into physical altercations with people, but she probably agonises more before beating the crap out of them. In one scene of KILLER INSTINCT, for example, she is forced to dislocate someone’s shoulder in order to avoid being glassed in the face during a fight in a nightclub. She really doesn’t like the idea, but recognises she has little choice.
During that period of her life, she was certainly younger and more naive, still on her way back from being a victim and with her new-found resolve never to be put in the same position again untested. This is the book that joins Charlie at the start of her road back. It marks a turning point in her life, where she discovers the best and the worst of herself.
I don’t remember making a conscious decision to make Charlie into a killer, albeit one who stayed within the law. Violence comes easy to her, but that very fact unsettles her. It’s something of an unwanted talent. Only later does she realise that she needs an outlet for it that isn’t going to land her in prison for the rest of her life.
In KILLER INSTINCT, Charlie is making best use of those talents by teaching self-defence to local women in the northern English city where she went to ground after her disastrous ejection from the army. She stresses that the skills she’s imparting are to avoid or deal with trouble, not to go out and start a fight. But, almost inevitably, her abilities come to the attention of a man who is stalking, raping and killing women, and soon she finds herself the target rather than the teacher.
Even as I was writing the book, I had a feeling that this career was never going to fulfil someone like Charlie, and I knew almost from the start that I was going to take her towards a career in close protection. In some ways, the first few books in the series are the back story to her professional and personal life. It’s interesting to me that the American publisher picked up the series with FIRST DROP, which not only charted Charlie’s first visit to the States, but also her first proper professional job as a bodyguard.
Since then, of course, Charlie’s been through the grinder numerous times. She’s been shot, run down, beaten, TASERed and tortured, but that shouldn’t give you the impression she’s some kind of superwoman who leaps tall buildings with one mighty bound. She suffers just like anybody else, often carrying injuries – both physical and emotional – from one story to the next.
In FOURTH DAY, which comes out in the UK from Allison & Busby on May 6th, (but, sadly, not until next year in the States) Charlie is facing her most testing challenge. Infiltrating a possibly deadly cult in California, she has reached a crisis point in her life. By exposing herself to such danger, she is looking not only for answers about who and what she is, but also for redemption. As well as trying to halt the countdown to a massacre of innocents, which sees Charlie and her lover, Sean, fighting on opposite sides.
FOURTH DAY still finds Charlie living and working in the States, but still viewing the place as a slight outsider, a foreigner in a strange land. And, for the first time, she feels very isolated there, still reeling from the events of THIRD STRIKE, and unable to find a connection with the people who should be closest to her, she turns to a stranger instead. One who could have sinister reasons for wanting to harness her lethal abilities.
FOURTH DAY was an intense but satisfying book to write, and looking back at KILLER INSTINCT at the same time seems to highlight the changes in the character that have taken place in the intervening years. But I do hope that anyone going back to Charlie’s earlier life for the first time will still find her just as appealing.
So, ‘Rati. If you’re a writer with a few books under your belt, how do you feel when you look back at your first work with the benefit of hindsight? Does it still stand up to scrutiny? And do you think a series character should change and grow as the series goes on, or stay the same? How important is it to read series books in order?
NB. On Tuesday, May 4th, I will be hosting an evening discussion in the Brewery Books series at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, Cumbria. The book in question is Lee Child’s latest Reacher thriller, 61 HOURS. I am thrilled to be doing this (if you’ll forgive the pun) as Lee was gracious enough to do a terrific Foreword for KILLER INSTINCT.
This week’s Word of the Week is mascaron, which is a grotesque face on a keystone or door-knocker, used as an architectural ornament. The origin is unclear, but it’s thought to be connected in some way with the Low Latin mascus, masca, a ghost, and with Arabic maskharah, a jester or man in masquerade.