Fresh Blood

Name: Barry Gornell

Title of Book: The Healing of Luther Grove

'This is a debut? Stunning, absolutely stunning.'

Arriving at their idyllic and newly renovated Highland home, worthy of TV's Grand Designs, wealthy thirty-somethings, John and Laura Payne, hope they are leaving their problems behind in the city. But the couple's presence disturbs neighbour and local eccentric, Luther Grove, forcing him to confront long buried secrets; secrets that draw him inextricably to Laura and trigger an instant conflict with John.

The arrival of John's brother, Frank, proves to be the spark that ignites this highly combustible triangular relationship, ultimately threatening the safety and sanity of all four as they are propelled towards a bloody and tragic denouement.

If Daniel Woodrell had grown up in the West Highlands of Scotland rather than the Missouri Ozarks in the US, he might have written this book. I simply can’t give this debut novel any higher praise than that.

The opening pages are thick with atmosphere as Gornell introduces each of the protagonists with consummate skill. We see the titular Luther, in his cabin, skinning rabbits he has hunted and killed, their blood and bone painted on the page and all but catching in the reader’s throat. Then, right next door, as John and Laura wander through their perfect new home, investigating the wonderful surprise the developer has left them I can hear Kevin Macleod lyrical over the waxed, wooden floor.

Each character is rooted in place and the action can begin.

Complications and depths to each of the characters are revealed with care: connections made and lost and the dynamics between each of them is endlessly fascinating. Gornell writes with affection for each of them and with a heart-wringing empathy. In particular the pain that Luther feels soaks through the page on to your fingerprints and from there to your heart and mind. His actions are extreme, but in the context of the novel completely believable.

And then, there’s the prose. Lyrical and concrete, it says much in just a few words. Where has this guy been? This is a debut? Stunning, absolutely stunning.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What made you decide to write a crime novel?
I didn’t. The crime elements developed around the core of Luther’s isolation being disturbed. The questions around why Luther lives like he does and what the Payne’s were running away from pushed the story in that direction.
2) You evoked a wonderful sense of place in the novel. How important is setting to you in your writing?
Crucial. If I can’t see it I struggle to deal with it. I draw maps, diagrams, doodles of buildings etc as I work. I had an OS map and photographs of a house I used to live in on the wall as I wrote. It all helps.
3) Could you describe the jumping off point for the novel?
An argument I had with a new neighbour, pretty much replicated in the book. On the surface he appeared to have it all, yet he wasn’t happy. It prompted the question – what would make a man so angry or contrary that he couldn’t see what he had or care that he had it? When I asked the question of myself, the story started to come.
4) You are a graduate of the creative writing course at Glasgow University. How key was the course in your development as a writer?
The fee puts you in the room with like-minded people. I was lucky to be a member of group C, who were blunt, honest, giving and supportive. We also did the degree part time, which allowed time for us to get to know each other and for my prose writing to evolve. The New Writer Award from the Scottish Book Trust was huge.
5) How about you share with us your writing process?
I don’t have a routine. I do try to knuckle down every weekday between 9 and 2. This is usually based on notes or thoughts that have occurred to me over the past afternoon or evening in response to the previous mornings work. I write something, even if it’s only a phrase, every day. I never leave the house without a notepad and pen. Some of the best ideas, words and lines have come and gone in the time it takes to find a pen. Things start to come together slowly in a process of assemblage I suppose. I have a corkboard of post-its, index cards, scraps of paper, spider charts etc. These relate to a fairly strong idea or structure and it grows. The argument of Q3, although it was the ‘jumping off point’ wasn’t the first thing I wrote. I wrote to that incident and then found out what happened after.
6) Even though the novel is set in Scotland the novel feels quite American in flavour. Was this deliberate or do you feel your writing is influenced by American writers?
The American ‘flavour’ probably comes more from Westerns. Bad Day at Black Rock was at the back of my mind. Add to this, Carson McCullers, Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell and Alistair MacLeod. I’m also a big fan of classic country music and its landscape of loss. They’re all in there. These influences maybe fit this story and that’s why they soaked into it. For example, ‘Luther’ isn’t a story that would sit well for me on Tove Jansson’s island in the Gulf of Finland, or George Mackay Brown’s Orkney, both writers I enjoy and admire.
7) Your prose is quite spare. Is this your style or was it a conscious decision to convey the mood of the novel?
8) What one piece of advice would you give to any new writer starting their own book?
Finish it. The real work starts after the first draft.
9) What are your plans for your next novel?
I’m working on a book about what happens when the wrong child survives. I'm also working on an 18th Century supernatural crime novel for teenagers.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - RLS

The Death of Sweet Mister – Daniel Woodrell

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg

Are novels with crimes in the same as crime novels?

James Ellroy and Kinky Friedman are favourites.