Author of the Month

Name: Robert Wilson

First Novel: Instruments of Darkness

Most Recent Book: You Will Never Find Me

'I was totally consumed by ‘You Will Never Find Me’...'

Charlie and Mercy’s daughter, Amy is a strong willed girl in her own right. Hardly surprising given who her parents are. Now Amy has turned the tables and thrown down the gauntlet by disappearing from home with a final taunt ringing in their ears: ‘You Will Never Find Me’. Amy’s dare to her parents is all they need to prove her wrong. With their connections how could they fail to find their daughter before she vanishes amongst the London streets?

It soon becomes apparent that Amy is a ‘chip off the old block’ and she has learnt much from her mother and father. Not only has she emptied her bedroom and rid it of all traces of her own DNA, but certain avenues open to Boxer and Mercy turn out to be blind alleys. Trying to figure out Amy’s well-plotted disappearance and well-laid plans, the couple finally get a positive sighting in Madrid. Boxer travels out there to find his daughter has become ensnared in the paws of a vicious drug dealer named ‘El Osito’ – ‘The Little Bear’ and he has certainly got his claws in what Boxer has come to Madrid to reclaim.

This second thriller featuring Charlie Boxer and his ex-partner, Mercy Danquah is a dense novel about the trials and tribulations of being a parent. Wilson effectively shows the chasm between parent and child and how these individuals who are so alike can also see matters from entirely different viewpoints. It is Amy’s self-removal from their lives that brings latent emotions to the surface and shines a light on secrets that the two parents have kept in the dark for far too long.

Wilson is amazingly adept at slowly peeling back the layers of Charlie and Mercy and showing these unlikeable characters in the raw and turns them in to people you empathise with as they deal with their pain and loss. The author turns their lives upside-down and in the process makes them human with their own inadequacies, something which both have tried their hardest to keep submerged, only for them to alienate their daughter in the process. It would have been all too easy for Wilson to make Amy a spoilt brat, but thankfully he shows a young woman who is confident and yet, misinformed about life
Esme really shone for me in this novel. Charlie’s mother, who due to her own personal history, has always had trouble forming emotional ties – that is until Amy came along and became the light of her life. Her reaction to Amy’s murder is heart-rending and powerful (and to clarify I am NOT giving away a major plot twist here as this novel is so dense and complex). To call this a thriller is to cheapen Wilson’s ‘tour de force’ about this small, dysfunctional group of people who keep each other at arm’s length whilst drowning in their own isolation. I was totally consumed by ‘You Will Never Find Me’ and this level of writing can only be produced by a master of his craft. This is an astonishing and thought provoking novel of the highest order.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) Why did you primarily choose crime as the basis for your novels?
I’d travelled a lot and had always assumed that when I did eventually get round to writing it would be to write travel books of the sort written by Redmond O’Hanlon, Eric Newby and Normal Lewis. Just as I arrived at the point when I was ready to send out my first efforts in the late 80s the bottom fell out of the travel book market. A screenwriter friend of mine, who was taking time out to write some crime novels, read my travel pieces and told me to turn them into crime stories. I hadn’t read crime novels or thrillers since I was eleven or twelve and so he recommended Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy. And that was it. I was hooked.
2) This is the second book in your new Charlie Boxer series. You have based your previous novels in exotic places such as Africa, Portugal and Spain. Why have you returned to London for this series?
The implication of this question is that London is not as exotic a location as Lisbon and Seville, which I would dispute. I know if you live and work there it can seem like hell on wheels especially if money is tight, but having done that myself in the 1980s I have constantly returned and seen the city develop in amazing ways. From being primarily an English city in my day it has now been transformed into a truly global capital with every nation of the world represented. In my local council building in Islington the welcome sign is written in more than ten languages and there are more than 100 languages spoken in the capital. The cultural diversity this brings to everyday life is astonishing. I doubt there’s a capital in the world where you can eat more interestingly.

This makes it a fascinating but also a very difficult place to write about. Whereas, for instance, Seville and Lisbon have their specific cultures and city centres to which everybody is drawn, London is multicultural with many centres and lots of economic hubs. While some people treat their borough as the place where they return to sleep after a day of work and an evening of play elsewhere in the city, others see theirs as a village that they rarely leave.

It’s tough to find the defining traits of London, the things that make it unmistakeably the British capital. I don’t spend much time describing architecture because, despite some landmark buildings, that doesn’t mean London to me, and endless residential streets of terraced Victorian houses hardly distinguish the city from any other place. I don’t describe the river because, unlike in previous eras, the Thames isn’t such a focus of everyday life.

In the end I looked to the people and I began to see that London was more a state of mind than a definable place. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re from, Londoners always have to move at pace, make a lot of noise (there’s nowhere louder than a London pub) progress with huge ambition at all levels and wear that badge of honour, the carapace of defiance, that says, ‘I’m from London’.
3) Charlie, Mercy, Amy and Esme are not the nicest of people, hard and quite dysfunctional emotionally. And yet, you manage to make them all human and in some places, vulnerable. Was it deliberate to show chinks in their armour and was this an easy or difficult process?
How many people do you know who are completely good and utterly nice? Even Nelson Mandela, who achieved near total sanctification for his ability to overcome vengeance and deliver reconciliation, was also a man with flaws. I mean just look at his turbulent relationship with Winnie. It was the flaws that made him powerfully human and someone with whom we could all identify. Charlie Boxer is still trying to come to terms with a great loss suffered when he was a small boy. Mercy struggles with the guilt she feels at having abandoned her siblings to the cruelty of their father. Amy is a confused teenager who believes she knows what’s right and hates authority. Esme has escaped from an abusive father and has lived through the horror of her business partner and lover being murdered. All of these experiences have marked them and, depending on how they cope with the psychological fall out, have hardened them and made them into the characters they are. This is where I believe it gets interesting - the wrong turns made in the mind and their terrible consequences. So, yes, it is deliberate and the process is slow. Mistakes are made with some characters, which sometimes make them turn out better, but it requires a deal of rewriting to realign the character. It is, however, the best thing about being a writer – the way your own creations can surprise you.
4) Despite this series being based in London a large part of the book takes place in Madrid. Do you feel you have more of an affinity with places in Europe like Portugal and Spain?
Strangely enough the outings in the two Boxer books to Mumbai (in ‘Capital Punishment’) and Madrid in this book are actually more a reflection of the global reach of London than anything else. So it’s less to do with any affinity I might have and more to do with how I see London and Londoners. The way that Boxer and Mercy can effortlessly call on connections who can reach into the Indian secret service or Spanish Intelligence says something about the power of Londoners. We are no longer at the heart of an empire but we’re not totally cut off.
This also has to do with my sense of not belonging anywhere. I have never had a place I can call home. My father was in the RAF. We moved around all the time and I never spent more than a few years in any one place. Even when I lived in London for ten years I spent six months cycling around France, Spain and Portugal, a year travelling through Africa, a year living near Lisbon. I feel at ease being peripatetic, having to adapt to new situations, learning different languages, communicating with new cultures, eating different food. I don’t react well to being ‘cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d’, bound in’ and this is definitely reflected in my writing.
5) There is a lot of data with regards to the proper procedure in a kidnapping situation. Do you have someone on the inside to give you the correct details?
This was a difficult situation: a writer asking performing kidnap consultants for information about their profession. I tried and was very politely told that nobody would talk to me. Then I made a contact in a private security company through an old school friend and he put me in touch with a retired kidnap consultant who had also been a director of operations. He was prepared to talk to me but was still reticent about operational detail, although slightly more open about procedure. He gave me enough to create believable scenarios, without giving away any trade secrets that could endanger future negotiations. Having said that, I was always going to be in unknown territory because no kidnap situation is ever the same. What I learned very quickly as a writer was that kidnap consultancy is not the greatest of subject matters for a thriller because consultants don’t act, they advise; they don’t move around, but rather stay with the victim’s family; and, if they’re doing their job right, they’ll remove all drama from the scenario. This was why I gave Boxer another professional avenue as a finder of missing persons where he could move around, be active and create drama.
6) You have written four Bruce Medway and four Javier Falcon books and now the Boxer books. Do you get ‘itchy feet’ and want to write about different characters? Would a series character with twenty odd books behind them cause you to break out in a sweat?
I come up with an idea for a character and then write the necessary number of books needed for that character to show the reader what he/she’s about. If I wrote more, the books would be superfluous to my aim and the reader would merely be reading stories attached to an already complete character. If I wrote less, the character would be incomplete. So I don’t get ‘itchy feet’ I just finish my task. I also think it’s better to have readers wanting more than gradually deciding they’ve had enough. I know series characters are very popular, that readers like the idea of a safe pair of hands, but I’ve yet to find one that’s really lasted the distance, apart from Philip Marlowe who was cut off after seven.
7) Two of the Javier Falcon books were adapted for TV. Did you enjoy your experience and were you personally involved with the project or did you let others re-mould your original creation?
I enjoyed the experience to a certain extent: my initial involvement with the script, taking the director, Pete Travis, around Seville and showing him Falcón’s world and the whole process leading up to the read-through was interesting. The script conference afterwards was when it was brought home to me that this was their screenplay and no longer my book. That was a shock and I left the building both gratified and bereft. As far as the result was concerned, I thought Seville came across well in both films and neither felt like a UK cop drama transported to Spain. I thought the actors did a very good job, especially Marton Csokas as Javier and Hayley Atwell as Consuelo. Ninety minutes, however, was way too short for each book to be filmed so that the audience could understand what was really going on. The compression was just too great. I didn’t like the destruction of Javier’s character from being an interesting psychological phenomenon, my hero of the inner life as I called him, to being a drug-taking murderer, which was the very antithesis of what he was about. So I was given the pretence of some involvement, but the major decisions, about length and how characters were ultimately portrayed, were taken by others with the real power.
8) You won the CWA Gold Dagger for ‘A Small Death in Lisbon’. How did that win shape your career as a writer?
I didn’t have a career until I won the Gold Dagger. Only then did the hierarchy at HarperCollins take any notice of me and give me some marketing and only then did I get interest from America, Europe and other publishers worldwide as well as film options. It might not be the most significant prize in the book world but it does have an impact and I was very grateful for it.
9) For writers like me who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
You absolutely have to enjoy the writing. If you don’t get a kick out of that and are in it for other reasons (money, fame or simply the idea of being a writer) you will never be happy. If you relish the hours at the desk then, even if you’re not successful, you will always be fulfilled.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
‘The Long Goodbye’ by Raymond Chandler, ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ by George V Higgins and ‘Stick’ by Elmore Leonard.