It was only last week that we reviewed Karen Long’s revolting serial killer novel, The Vault. How time flies — a lot has happened since then. The Vault is a book that makes the corners of your mouth turn down in distaste at the antics of its creepy antag. But anchoring the story, as she did with thriller predecessor The Safe Word, is the complex and ambiguous character of DI Eleanor Raven.
Let Dante be your guide…
It had always been my intention to create a character that I could develop over a series of five books and in order to achieve that she had to be complex, psychologically robust and insightful, though not necessarily about herself. She, like us all, would be moulded and defined by the events of her childhood, in her case the discovery of the decomposing body of her murdered friend.
But Eleanor Raven, unlike the majority of us, cannot forgive herself for not recognising the signs that could have prevented Caleb’s death at the hands of his sexually abusive stepfather. Eleanor manifested this inner conflict in The Safe Word by seeking out sado-masochistic encounters with strangers. The sex scenes were not particularly easy to write but were a great way of placing Eleanor in jeopardy and having a character motivated by the unconscious desire to seek and find redemption.
However, when I started writing the second book in the series, The Vault, I felt the premise to be intrusive and artificial, as I tried to build the plot around it. I was at a loss, I had a story I was dying to tell and a character whose traits were bouncing me out of the story. I turned, as one does, to Dante, whose ‘Inferno’ is tucked between the ‘Next’ catalogue and a vegetarian cookbook next to the loo.
In Purgatory sinners seek redemption, even though tormented hideously with creative ‘contrapasso’ punishments. That is to say that the means of punishment mirrors their sin. Eleanor’s contrapasso is that she is stimulated by the sexual abuse that destroyed Caleb.
This flaw was no longer a narrative intrusion I’d burdened myself with, it was a way into Eleanor’s thoughts, reactions and motivations. I stopped feeling the creeping unease that accompanied the writing of a difficult sex scene and embraced it as a means of examining and exposing my character’s inner conflicts.
And now to book three…
Thanks, Karen. Of course, who doesn’t keep a copy of Dante’s Inferno in the toilet?
A long time ago, when this blog was young and naive and still inexplicably full of the joys of life, Karen took part in The Intel. Go take a look see at that.