Author of the Month

Name: Joseph Knox

First Novel: Sirens

Most Recent Book: True Crime Story

'He’s exciting, original, and not afraid to tear up the rule book...'

Synopsis:
In the early hours of Saturday 17th December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months. She was never seen again.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer, Evelyn Mitchell, finds herself drawn into the mystery.

Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened on that night in 2011.
But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand out in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.

Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.
Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning.

Review:
Joseph Knox burst onto the crime fiction scene in 2017 with the stunning debut 'Sirens'. It was the first in a trilogy of novels featuring detective Aidan Waits and was an exceptional series of noir fiction with hints of Raymond Chandler. Knox wrote about a dark and seedy Manchester with perfection and hopes are high for his first standalone thriller.

‘True Crime Story’ is a meta-thriller with very little prose. We’re told of the case of missing student, Zoe Nolan, through those who knew her best and the detectives leading the investigation through a series of interviews with a struggling writer, Evelyn Mitchell. She uses local writer, Joseph Knox, as a sounding board for the book she’s putting together and it’s these emails that are interspersed between the interviews.

Confusing? No. Clever? Absolutely. Knox could have shot himself in the foot by putting himself into the story. It could have been over-the-top, self-aggrandising and supercilious, but at the hands of a man who works devilishly hard on his work, it’s anything but. ‘True Crime Story’ is wonderfully executed, and there isn’t a bit of back-slapping as Knox’s own books are mentioned. At times, he paints himself in a negative light, showing how self-deprecating he really is.

Through the process of reading interviews with no clarification from a narrator, the reader is unsure who is lying and who is telling the truth. There are very few facts to go on with this case and we have to be careful who we trust. It’s interesting, as the story unfolds, watching how ordinary people’s lives are dramatically changed by being plunged into a police investigation. It’s almost like being behind the scenes of the criminal process.

The contrast in style between the Aidan Waits trilogy and ‘True Crime Story’ is testament to Knox’s strength as an author. He’s exciting, original, and not afraid to to tear up the rule book and try something new. In just four novels, Joseph Knox has shown himself to be a major player in the British crime fiction industry. If Knox continues to produce books like this, he’s going to have an amazing career ahead of him.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) ‘True Crime Story’, as the title suggests, reads like a true crime book. What research did you do to make it feel so genuine? What was the inspiration and ‘jumping off’ point for this book?
Years before I wrote my first novel, ‘Sirens’, I read a biography of the songwriter Warren Zevon, which was the first ‘oral history’ type book I’d read. Oral histories are books about one particular subject but from many different points of view – meaning in the Zevon book, one paragraph might be from his wife, one might be from his mistress – with each of them obviously seeing the same events in very different lights. I thought there and then it would be a fantastic way to write an unconventional thriller, but I put the idea to the back of my mind because I had nowhere near the skill required to plot a book like that, or to deliver ten or more very distinct sounding voices. I really needed to write three crime novels to get close, and it was still daunting.

In terms of research, it really came from the things I’m always doing anyway. Reading heaps of crime fiction, heaps of true crime, and heaps of fiction (the latter of which was often helpful for finding ways of expressing different kinds of voices).

I also listened to almost every true crime podcast I could find, and I think that comes across in the ways that the voices interrupt and dispute each other in the book.
2) How difficult was it to write a book with almost no prose and made up entirely of dialogue?
I love writing dialogue so it was a pleasure to be honest. Writing ‘True Crime Story’ was a lot easier than the Aidan books, mainly because they’re more personal to me and somehow always end up being quite a harrowing ordeal. I had a headache for six months after finishing Sleepwalker. It was also nice to have some different voices in my head.
3) ‘True Crime Story’ is a massive change in direction from the Aidan Waits trilogy. Was that deliberate to flex your writing muscles?
100%. I think what I loved about the idea was what a break it represented from my usual style. The Waits trilogy is very ornately written – the prose is luscious, bordering on purple. Those books are all about tone and atmosphere, I want you to really feel the energy of the night time in a dangerous city, but also to feel some of Aidan’s awe and wonder at the world. To get the impression that he is capable of love and seeing beauty in spite of everything. With TCS, writing in the voices of people who are less damaged and less gloomy than Aidan - certainly less doomed - was refreshing.
4) Did you worry putting yourself in the book would come across as self-congratulatory? You don’t paint yourself in a great light. It’s almost as if you stole the story. Why the negativity?
Ha! It’s funny – I don’t really think I’ve put myself in the book, to be honest. Sadly, I’m much more in tune with Aidan’s doom and gloom outlook than the kind of flirty and fun (but problematic) Joseph Knox presented here. Plus, my real name isn’t even Joseph Knox, so you could argue he was always just a character I made up in the first place.

I never worried it might look bad or anything – generally when something feels risky or like a raw nerve I go right to it, and all my books are embarrassing in different ways.

Mainly I think the book demanded it, though. I’m trying to ask questions here about who gets to shape the narrative when a young woman goes missing. As we see here, so many people get their grubby mitts on it. It seemed only fitting that the buck (or book!) should ultimately stop with the author, and the best way to make my point was to have him also be compromised. I also wanted to write a book sympathetic to the charges of sexism against some crime fiction, where men get to do terrible things to women and make their living off it. I deserve some criticism for that I’m sure, so I approached the problem like I do everything else, through fiction.
5) Is that you in the Scream costume?
Yep – My kitchen knife, too!
6) What have you planned for your next book? Will there be more from Aidan Waits?
I wish I could say yes re: Aidan, but I don’t think so to be honest. My sense is that people don’t really connect with him as a character, and that that kind of atmospheric noir isn’t really what people want to read either. There’s a chance I spent so long inside his head that it just made me gloomy, but I think if I kept writing them people would care less and less.

As for my next book, I’m kind of working it out at the moment. I would like to write something much more conventional than TCS but much more fun and entertaining than the Aidan books. I want some sunlight and romance and goodness in there, but there’s a chance I’ve been avoiding those things so far because I’m incapable of writing about them.
7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
My first novel took eight years to write, which is obviously ridiculous, but it was also great. When I started, I had no hope of even finishing it, no industry connections, no idea about the market, etc. That’s all good, because I wasn’t trying to swing a deal or make a living off it, it gave me lots of time to just work out how to write and what I was honestly interested in.

New writers often ask me versions of this question, and I always say, ‘just start writing’. I know the impulse is to try and research or find out what not to do, but honestly the best thing is to dive in and make your own mistakes - learn the fundamental lessons the hard way.

There’s no shortcut, unfortunately. It will be difficult, and you can’t get around the fact that your first efforts will likely be awful. Mine still are to this day, and some would say even my published efforts aren’t much better. Take it easy on yourself, don’t expect to be great right off. Have fun with the process – rewrite and take pleasure in a passage slowly improving. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
It’s my whole life, I love it. I would take some big fat weighty tomes to really pore over.

American Tabloid - James Ellroy, because I was so impressed by it.

Libra - Don Delilo (not technically crime fiction, but about the JFK assassination. Mainly I’d take it because it’s something like 1,000 pages long and I’ve never had the chance to read it yet).

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton. Similar to above, but I saw Ian Rankin say he considered this to be a kind of crime novel and it’s an absolute unit of a book so would soak up some desert island time. It won the Booker in 2013, so I’ve always wanted to get around to it, but never quite find the time with books over 600 pages.