We are thrilled to welcome Chris Ewan to the Orenda Community Blog today, with a fascinating Q&A about his latest thriller Long Time Lost. High-octane, page-turning and intelligent, this beautifully written thriller sweeps across Europe and never falls short of being entirely believable. We meet Nick Miller, a fugitive living under an assumed name; someone who provides relocation services for people whose lives are in danger – people whom the witness protection programmes fail to protect. Enter Kate Sutherland, a victim of just such a failure, who becomes a target for someone who doesn’t just want her dead, but, it seems, Nick too. And so begins an exceptional read with a compelling plot that sees Nick and his ragtag team struggling to keep our protagonists safe, while alerting others in their covert protection racket that their anonymity has been broken. We are thrust into the lives of these others, and, in a race against time, join Nick et al trying to work out who has blown their cover, breached the trust, and why. It’s a game of cat and mouse, each neatly side-stepping or just missing the other, fighting against often unseen enemies. As we gradually understand what’s at stake, and what the protagonists – good and bad – have to hide, the lengths they will go to hide secrets, the story rips forward to a resounding finale in an old boathouse, where past sins are unveiled and further danger threatens. This is an accomplished, compelling novel, with impossible-to-guess reveals peppering the plot and driving the action at an unbelievable speed. It’s hard to think of a book that has gripped me so instantly and been so difficult to put down. A one-sitting, lock-out-the-world read that is highly, highly recommended. I will summarise my thoughts in three simple words: I WANT MORE.
Nick Miller and his team provide a unique and highly illegal service, relocating at-risk individuals across Europe with new identities and new lives. Nick excels at what he does for a reason: he’s spent years living in the shadows under an assumed name.
But when Nick steps in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects – because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s entire network apart.
Q&A with Chris Ewan:
- First of all, what inspired this book?
I’ve long been interested in stories about disappearances. I love tales about characters who vanish and sometimes reappear against all odds. Missing person stories tread that fine line between hope and tragedy, and Long Time Lost is a new way for me to explore those emotions by focussing on Nick Miller and his team who provide a unique service helping vulnerable people to change their identities and disappear.
- Your main protagonist, Nick, has a moving backstory, which ostensibly explains his ability to leave everything behind and do the work he does; however, it also engages our sympathy at the outset. Was that your intention?
Absolutely. I wanted Nick to be more than just a hero – I wanted him to be invested on a deep personal level in the success of his mission for all the people he hides. Hopefully, that means readers will invest in Nick in a similar way. His own tragedy is what drives and sustains him, and ultimately, it’s what he has to overcome.
- Kate is incredibly well drawn, her frailties as well described and considered as her intelligence and strengths (including physically). This is something of an anomaly in many thrillers written by men (sorry), and I wonder who inspired her, and what you drew upon to make her so authentic and believable?
Thank you. That’s a real compliment. The truth is I didn’t have any specific inspiration – I wrote about Kate the same way I write about all my characters, trying to make her story feel authentic and true by imagining how I’d feel, think and react in the circumstances she finds herself in. It’s all guesswork, really, whether I’m writing about men or women – otherwise, all my characters would react like me and immediately hide or call the police at the first sign of trouble.
- Your novel travels, with the characters, to a number of countries, which are beautifully described. Have you visited them all?
I wish! I’ve been to most of the countries and cities featured in the book but not all of them, and some locations I visited many years ago – like Hamburg, for example, and Prague. I’m still yet to get to Dubrovnik, though I really want to go. It’s been unusual for me to write about some of the locations without visiting them several times during the writing of the book – the consequence, sadly, of having a limited budget and a globetrotting plot. The again, I did spend five weeks in the Swiss Alps when I was writing that section of the book…
- You have created a rather unforgettable rag-tag team of people devoted to helping others in difficult situations, and risking their lives in the process. Their motivation is undeniable, each with a legitimate reason for doing so. Do you think such people exist?
Why not? There are people who provide false documents, there are people who specialise in offering private protection for wealthy individuals, so perhaps it isn’t so hard to believe someone with the sufficient motivation might go a step further and provide a full service relocation and protection scheme. You have to remember that government witness protection schemes aren’t flawless. Failures can and will occur, though often this is because of the high-risk behaviour of the protected persons themselves (who, not inconsequentially, often tend to be criminals). Mind you, if privately funded schemes do exist, I kind of hope we don’t hear about it – I’d like to think I’ve created something new with Nick and his team.
- Connor Lane is a determined character, but his motivation is largely based on his devotion/loyalty to his family rather than anything more sinister. He is prepared to maim and kill to achieve his aims. Did you want or expect the reader to feel any sympathy or empathy?
Connor’s actions and his commitment to protecting his brother are undeniably extreme, so I imagine it would be hard for anyone to feel sympathy for him, but I am fascinated by character motivations driven by family relationships and family secrets, which I tend to think most readers can relate to on some level. I’m aware that family secrets have featured to some extent in all my thrillers and no doubt they will again.
- There is a deeply moving denouement, which neatly ties together the strands of the book, and will definitely have readers nodding. Did you have this ending in sight when you began writing, or did it unfold in a more organic way?
I usually only have a vague sense of what the ending of a book will be. Usually, I know if my protagonists will triumph or fail and I have some sense of what a victory may mean for them and what costs it might involve, but beyond that the details are murky. That was the case with Long Time Lost, where the ending really developed organically from the characters themselves and how they changed and adapted as I was working on the book. I’m really glad to hear that you found it moving.
- You don’t shy away from action and quite graphic violence in parts. Do you feel that this is necessary for an action thriller?
I think the action in Long Time Lost is necessary because of the nature of the story and I hope that any violence is in keeping with the tone of the book. If it jars at all, then I haven’t done my job right. As a rule of thumb, I don’t think you can or should dodge any violence that’s authentic to the story you’re telling, but equally, I try to describe violence as sparingly as I can. That’s not because I’m squeamish but because, as with suspense, it’s something the reader is best equipped to fill in from their own imagination.
- Many of your books deal with corruption, and this is no exception … albeit slightly less overt than, perhaps, Safe House. Do you have any agenda on that front? The best crime fiction is notorious for unveiling the underbelly of our society, and I wonder if you feel any pressure to include this theme in your books?
I guess I’m just a terrible cynic, and perhaps that comes out in my books, but I never write with an agenda in mind and if I did I’m pretty sure it would warp and distort the story I set out to tell.
- Will we see more of Nick and Kate? They are probably one of the most memorable double acts I’ve read in a while…
Who can tell? I’d like to write more about them and I think their story has a lot of mileage in it but for now I’m writing another standalone thriller that I’m very excited about so any follow-up will have to wait at least a short while.
- As an aside, I see that you studied Canadian literature. Did any of the greats inspire you? What would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read anything Canadian yet?
I did! I have a minor in CanLit as part of my undergrad degree in American Studies. I absolutely loved reading for it and the semester I spent at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, was one of the very best times of my life (not least because I met my wife there). As for some favourites, I read a bunch of books during the course that have stuck with me since: Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing; Marie Claire-Blais’s Mad Shadows; Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words and a bunch of Alice Munro’s short stories. Recently, a friend put me on to Jack Hodgins’ Spit Delaney’s Island, which I loved. You’ll have to tell me your favourites so I can read those, too!
- I understand that your Good Thief series is quite close to production. Are you involved in any way, and if you had a choice, who would you like to front it?
Ah, I think it’s all some way off getting close to that stage, though happily the Good Thief books are in development as a TV show again and, as ever, I keep my fingers crossed. I’m not involved in the adaptation directly, and for that reason plus a whole bunch of nonsensical superstitions I don’t really allow myself to think of possible lead actors. Think of a modern day Cary Grant, though, and you’d have a fine Charlie Howard.
- What do you read in your spare time?
I am about to dive back in to a bunch of comic crime fiction for a paper I’ll be giving at the St Hilda’s crime convention in Oxford this August, so I am hugely looking forward to that. Meantime, I’m currently reading Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall, which is outstanding in every way.
- What’s next?
I’m just finishing a new standalone thriller set in Bristol about an unusual disappearance (here we go again …) during the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. And after that, who knows? Maybe my publisher will read this and think that perhaps there should be a follow up to Long Time Lost …
About Chris Ewan
Chris Ewan is the critically acclaimed and bestselling author of many mystery and thriller novels. His work has been called ‘truly compelling’ (Daily Express), ‘chilling and thoroughly enjoyable’ (Observer) and ‘outstanding’ (US Publishers Weekly), and his books have been hailed as ‘popular fiction at its best’ (Spectator) and ‘crime writing at its best’ (Sydney Morning Herald). In 2011, he was voted one of America’s favourite British authors by a Huffington Post Poll.
He is the author of THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO … series of mystery novels. THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award and is published in thirteen countries. The complete series comprises THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM, THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO PARIS, THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VEGAS, THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE and THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO BERLIN.
Chris’s first standalone thriller, SAFE HOUSE, was a number one bestseller in the UK and was shortlisted for Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. He is also the author of the thrillers DEAD LINE and DARK TIDES and the Kindle Single short story, ‘Scarlett Point’.
Born in Taunton in 1976, Chris graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in American Studies with a minor in Canadian Literature, and later trained as a lawyer. After eleven years living on the Isle of Man, he recently returned home to Somerset with his wife, their daughter and the family labrador, where he writes full time.
You can find Chris on Twitter at @chrisewan or visit his website: www.chrisewan.com
Long Time Lost
Published: May 2016