Fresh Blood

Name: Adam Southward

Title of Book: Trance

'‘Trance’ is a thriller that worms its way in to your brain.'

His victims are powerless. He is in control. This is his revenge—and he’s only just begun.

Three university scientists are found dead in a gruesome murder-suicide, and the only suspect in the case, Victor Lazar, is quickly captured. When the spate of violent suicides follows him to prison he is moved to solitary confinement, reserved for the highest-risk inmates. And then his assigned psychologist inexplicably takes his own life.

Alex Madison, a former forensic psychologist turned private therapist, is brought in to interview Victor. He suspects that Victor is controlling his victims, somehow coaxing them into a suggestive trance. It seems like science fiction, but as Alex digs deeper he uncovers a frightening reality of secret research and cruel experimentation—and the perpetrators are closer to home than he could ever have imagined.

Too late, Alex learns the true extent of what Victor is capable of—and who he’s after. With everything he holds dear at risk, can Alex take control of a dangerous mind—before it takes control of him?

Southward’s debut is gripping, merging the thriller genre with sci-fi, but does it really? The interesting premise of ‘Trance’ may not be totally within the realms of fantasy. The possibility of taking over another’s mind has long been documented. Dark parts of some governments have been known to try and make it a reality (although they strenuously deny this), so is the power of mind control totally fiction? It does make you wonder.

Southward has taken this premise and delivers a thriller that puts his readers in a trance, especially myself, Southward’s story filling my brain whenever I had to put the book down!

Victor Lazar is a wonderfully bizarre nemesis, but as the story develops I began to realise that despite his despicable acts (and here Southward can be quite graphic), Victor is as much a victim as those he kills. To tell you more would spoil the story, so I will leave it to you to find out for yourself.

Alex Madison is a man who has made big mistakes in his personal and professional life. He is quite selfish and emotionally distant and you can see why when Southward introduces you to Madison’s parents. Not exactly an example of the perfect family unit. Southward comments in his Q&A that Madison has a long road before him to redemption (if he makes it). Madison as the damaged anti-hero is a nice change to the normal macho protagonist and makes him more interesting. I will be very interested to see what situations Southward puts Madison in.

‘Trance’ is a thriller that worms its way in to your brain. Victor Lazar is a brilliant damaged criminal and one who may even make his presence felt in future novels. The tagline for ‘Trance’ is ‘You Can’t Fight It. You Have No Control’. You will well agree when reading ‘Trance’ as it will propel you to the end before you even realise you were under Southward’s spell! A strong start to an intriguing series.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘Trance’ explores a killer who can kill with the power of suggestion. How did this first come to your mind to include in your debut thriller?
A few years ago I did a piece of work with the UK government behavioural insights team, whose job it was to ‘nudge’ the public to do things by exploiting behavioural psychology. They were using the power of suggestion to make people pay their taxes on time, obey the speed limits, donate their organs etc… it was all good stuff… but it made me wonder how far you could stretch it. It’s a theory well explored in literature (Stephen King, for example) and TV (Derren Brown), so all I’ve done is add my own spin on things. ‘Trance’ takes the power of suggestion to the murderous extremes, but the foundations are laid in behavioural science. Mind control is quite real, which is both fascinating and terrifying in equal measure!
2) Dr Alex Madison is quite a selfish man and is deficient emotionally. What was it about Madison that made you want to make him your main protagonist?
I didn’t want a straightforward ‘good guy vs bad guy’, so I created Alex as an ‘anti-hero’ - a realistically flawed human being who would elicit a range of emotions in the reader. Alex is fundamentally a decent person, but has made some terrible decisions and displayed some regrettable behaviour – most notably towards his family. There are a multitude of reasons (not excuses) for this, not least of which was the cold upbringing by his distant (and corrupt) father, and the extremes of emotional turmoil he is exposed to in his work as a forensic psychologist. He is now faced with trying to rebuild his fragile family life while at the same time battling severe anxiety and dealing with the most disturbed and violent patients the police can throw his way.

Alex blames himself for his failures, and rightly so. Don’t worry, his journey will be a long one, and there’s no easy redemption for him!
3) The killer, Victor Lazar is a damaged and compelling character. What were your influences to creating Victor?
I love a good origin story. Victor is a product – the terrifying result of an experiment gone wrong, which created a mind so twisted and tormented that it transcends our current understanding and practice of psychology. Building on the theory of behavioural psychology, my influences in creating Victor were a blend of famous characters (think Hannibal Lecter) combined with some of the great sci-fi origin story creations (think Stephen King, Stranger Things etc). Victor’s bizarre ability is firmly grounded in science – i.e. it’s not supernatural, but it pushes the boundaries of what we think is possible.

However, there’s the fun - it’s precisely because the human mind is so complicated that it’s so exciting to imagine what would happen if we stretch it this way and that, experimenting and exploring the possible abilities and psychological conditions that would appear.

Victor is also a partial mirror to Alex. Both have been damaged from a young age and both are products of their upbringing – albeit one much more extreme than the other. Both are motivated to address that damage, and both will struggle to do so.
4) Many writers are combining genres these days, (thriller/fantasy/horror). What is it about these genre-busting books that get people suspending belief and enjoying these sorts of books?
As a reader I love to explore the boundaries of genre. There’s something terribly exciting to read a novel which takes you outside your comfort zone – one which crosses over into a category you might not normally choose off the shelf. I find these novels stay with me – after all, who wouldn’t want to read a story that triggers as many emotions as possible? I guess others feel the same, and that is what’s leading the trend to crossover titles – personally I’m very happy to see it.

As a writer, I set myself the challenge to write what I love reading – I initially pitched ‘Trance’ as a ‘high concept thriller’, my publisher tagged it as ‘psychological thriller’, and the Amazon auto-categorisation filed it away under several related genres, including ‘medical thriller’ and ‘supernatural thriller’.
5) What is next for Adam Southward? Will there be more of Alex Madison or do you prefer to write standalones?
‘Trance’ is the first in a series that focuses on twisted and tormented minds, and the havoc they wreak. Alex Madison returns in ‘Pain’ (released November 2019) which features a female serial killer stalking London hospitals in search of her prey. There is a rather sinister link back to the first book and further development of the conspiracy which ties the series together. Book three is being written as we speak, and will be released in the summer of 2020.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
Such a difficult question. Yes, I’m a fan, although I spread myself across all genres – thriller and SFF are particular favourites.

My three desert island crime books would be:

The Silence Of The Lambs - Thomas Harris (or anything by Harris, in fact)

The Enchanted - Rene Denfeld (perfect prose - like poetry)

The Butterfly Garden - Dot Hutchison (very recent, very nasty, and I loved it).