Saturday, March 26, 2011

Emotional rescue: Russel D. McLean talks about The Lost Sister

Russel D. McLean is a young crime novelist and thrifty tippler from Dundee, Scotland. His second book, The Lost Sister, is newly out in the U.S. from St. Martin's, and Russel is doing a round of the blogs to promote it. In the latest installment of his tour, he talks about a notable aspect of his writing and his one-named protagonist, J McNee.

Ladies and gentlemen, Russel D. McLean.
Being a Scotsman, I was the perfect person for Peter Rozovsky to ask about the price of a gin and tonic at 2010’s San Francisco Bouchercon. After all, we do like to know where our money’s going and I can tell you this: those drinks were expensive.

How did I know?

I didn’t need two litres of Irn Bru* to recover after a night in the bar.

But I admire Peter for more than just his ability to sense when he’s being overcharged at a bar. His dedication to the world of crime fiction is to be truly admired, so when he asked me to guest here on DBB as part of my blog tour promotion for the US release of The Lost Sister, I jumped at the chance.

After all, he’s one of the people who got the book, in my humble estimation. In his recent critique of the novel, Peter picked up on more than a few points that I felt were absolutely vital to what I was trying to do with the novel. In particular, he picked up on the book being about emotions.

I am not – and this will be clear to anyone who’s heard me wax lyrical on the subject – a fan of what I see as “puzzle” mysteries, where the object is to solve whodunit or to merely catch the killer (you might as well be trying to catch the pigeon along with Dick Dastardly and Mutley for all that it eventually matters). While these things can indeed be part and parcel of a good crime story, I’ve always been more interested in the emotional states of the invested parties. If there’s a mystery I’d like to solve, it’s the mystery of why people react the way they do in certain situations.

The thrill of a good crime story for me is seeing the ways in which characters react to unusual and unsettling situations. The measure of a character for me is in the way they are affected either by direct involvement with or being witness to something unusual, something that breaks the status quo. Whether or not that status quo is eventually restored is less important to me than uncovering the ways in which people try to pick up their lives.

I guess that’s why I don’t write about a police officer. There is a natural degree of detachment that comes with the police officer as an authority figure that never appealed to me as a writer. A private investigator falls midway between being a civilian and having a professional interest in a case. They have a clear goal, a mission, and yet they are not so bound by rules and procedure as the copper might be.

They can walk where uniforms fear to tread.

There’s also the fact that having an investigator as your protagonist means you can come at a case sideways. A copper will always have to investigate after a crime. They are rarely in the midst of the transgression. A PI can never start with a body. They are not police and they should not be used as a rogue substitute. Their professional remit is different.

More personal.

More emotive.

More involved.

The eye allowed me to adopt an investigative stance while still looking at the way in which people are affected by crime and transgressive acts. McNee’s own emotions are as much of a puzzle to him as those of others. His own motivations require as much interrogation as those who fall under his professional gaze.

I’ve said it many times before that crime fiction is the perfect genre. That it allows authors to not only tell a story that moves, that twists, that surprises and thrills, but also to lay deeper groundwork. The nature of crime is naturally emotive and through characters and their attitudes, crime can explore issues of personal morality, of value, of empathy and so much more. In short, if we want to, we can beat the literary boys at their own game (and we often do).

So yes, The Lost Sister is a novel about a man searching for a missing girl. It is a novel about some very dangerous people. There are scenes of violence. There are plot twists and misdirections.

And at the same time, as Peter said, The Lost Sister is a novel about emotions. About loss. About the search for a kind of redemption and whether such a thing is even possible.

You can read it as one or the other. Or both. I just hope you enjoy it.
The Lost Sister is out now from St Martin’s in hardback and e-book. In the UK, Russel’s books are available in paperback from Five Leaves Publications.
*Irn Bru is Scotland’s best hangover cure. Unofficially. Officially it’s a delicious fizzy beverage. The hangover cure’s just a side effect.
Visit the previous stops on Russel McLean's blog tour for The Lost Sister:Tomorrow he visits:

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Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I think the Blog Crawl is an interesting promotional idea. I wonder which executive at Macmillan came up with the idea.

I'm a little disappointed that DBB was only considered worthy of being the twelfth Port of Crawl. If I ever publish a novel, I can promise you DBB will be Number 1 on the list.

In an earlier post Russel says:

My dad, of course, said it best (although I’m likely paraphrasing): “Read Hammett for the plot. Read Chandler for the language. But they’re both brilliant.”

I don't disagree about the reduction of Chandler to the use of language. But much as I like a good plot I don't read Hammett for that reason. Hammett's great virtue was his first-hand experience of being a private eye and he gives us that experience with a cold, unemotional eye and does so in language that is expressive enough to make his point perfectly plain, without resorting to the kind of pyrotechnics that those writers wishing to impress 'the professors' as James Joyce called them in a famous quote, resort to.

Sadly, Peter, for me, if not for you, personal circumstances mean I shall have to sacrifice my DBB fix for a while. When I'm back of dry land, I'll be looking forward to catching up.

March 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I don't know who came up with the blog crawl, but the idea has been around for a while. At first I thought all those stops would be exhausting for poor Russel -- a dozen interviews or little essays take time. But then I realized that that's time he'd be spending in airport lines or on highways on a traditional promotional tour. And why was I twelfth? He wanted to save the best for last, I guess.

I should go back and read the Chandler/Hammett post to which you refer. For now I'll say that Hammett was a brilliant stylist for precisely the reason you suggest: his language is expressive enough to make his point perfectly plain without pyrotechnics.

I will look forward to welcoming you back.

March 26, 2011  
Blogger Russel said...


I'm busier than expected but today I'll try and get back to you on the Hammet/Chandler thing. I think you make a fair point, and the my own quote was admittedly a generalisation of sorts, but in essence I think it holds true.

As to why DBB was 12th - I planned the tour based on the trued and true methof gathering together the interested parties and then picking the names out a hat. That way it would be fair to all these blogs that I wanted to get to.

So you can blame fate for DBB's appearance at this stage.


March 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Besides, the number 12 resonates greatly in our culture, don't you think?

I have read lots of Chandler and Hammett the past couple months, so I look forward to that discussion.

March 26, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

And here I always thought that the blog owners set the dates. Goes to show how little I know. I have to make a serious effort to do a blog tour myself. Taking names from a hat sounds good to me.

March 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Russel proposed the date, and I agreed. If the date had been disagreeable to me, I suppose he'd have stuck my name right back in the hat.

From my outsider's perspective, a blog tour has the disadvantage of requiring a lot of work -- and the advantage of likely requiring less work than a traditional tour. Advantage: You don't have to worry that no one will show up. Disadvantage: You might have to work a bit harder to avoid repeating yourself, since readers might well read all your stops on the your. Advantage: You have greater control of the discussion and might feel freer to range widely. Disadvantage: You're working from home rather than staying in hotels, so you have to make your own bed.

March 26, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'll say that Hammett can surely turn a phrase and write very well. It's not just about the plot.

Even sentences--just one sentence--posted here can cause one to ponder its meaning and choice of words for hours after reading it. Not so with many writers, whether they pen mysteries or not.

This book sounds very interesting, will look for it. Hope my library gets it soon.

March 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you can read my discussion of the novel by clicking on the link in the post.

One reason Hammett may be underrated as a stylist is that Chandler's style was more noticeable in some ways: the extravagant metaphors, and so on. I did notice in my recent reading of three of Chandler's novels not just that the metaphors were extravagant, but they suited the story well. They commented on it like a chorus, one might say.

And now, let's see what Russel has to say. He's probably snoozing in Scotland, but I'm happy to hold the fort til he gets up.

March 26, 2011  

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