Monday, 11 July 2016

Book Review and Author Q&A: The Salt Marsh by Clare Carson

Read:July 5-7    Verdict: 3 Stars

Sam Coyle’s father was an undercover cop and her whole life he taught her to be wary of everyone and everything. Now her father is dead and Sam is having a hard time getting over it. Then Sam’s boyfriend disappears, she gets strange messages on her answering machine and it appears like someone is after her. Sam ends up on a mission to find out what’s going on and just might end up leaving a trail of bodies in her wake.

This is a suspenseful mystery novel that manages to tie in the fear of nuclear disaster with family ties and legacy as one woman figures out who she is and if she really is her father’ daughter. Sam is a thoughtful, mature character who despite only being 20, seems to be able to look after herself and doesn’t hesitate to get things done. There were times she could be a bit hasty in going and leaving places but that was okay in the end. I enjoyed getting glimpses of her relationships with the men in her life - her dad, Luke, Dave and eventually even Sonny, and how they all ended up shaping her a little bit and helping her. This book definitely had me suspecting everyone all the time though I wasn’t that surprised at the conclusion.

The book’s plot around the nuclear power plants and protests went a bit over my head as it’s set in the 80s and I wasn’t even born yet so I don’t have a really clear idea of the time when people were protesting Sellafield and Chernobyl was still a clear memory for everyone. It was definitely interesting and it set the scene a lot. There were times I forgot the book was set in the 80s as it was a bit timeless like that and I’d only remember when she checked the answering machine at her house.

I really loved Sonny and thought he was a mysterious, anti-hero character. He was dark and handsome but he was also ruthless. Yet, he showed remorse for the things he’d done from crying after he finished ‘a job’, to his renewed faith and the crosses on his arms for his victims. I think I would have liked more flashbacks or something with Sam’s previous history with Sonny and how it all went down with her dad. I’m very surprised we didn’t get an actual flashback of that day.

Overall, this was tense and suspenseful with also a hint of the supernatural about it. Sam is a bit obsessed with witches and witchcraft and some of her interactions with people definitely left me feeling a bit spooked. Everything tied in nicely at the end and I enjoyed it.

Q&A with author Clare Carson

1. What inspired the idea of this book?

This is the second book I’ve written about Sam, the daughter of a police spy. Orkney Twilight, the first book dealt with Sam finding out about her father’s work. It was partly inspired by my own childhood – my dad was an undercover policeman - as well as my love of spy thrillers. The Salt Marsh comes from the same sources of inspiration – but in this book, Sam has to deal with the legacy of her father’s enemies.

2. Crime/mystery novels often have complex plots and a lot of little things that lead into big reveals. Did it take you long to map out how everything would come together?

I spent a week or so mapping out the plot – but I changed it as I went along. And then I changed things around again when other people read it and gave me helpful feedback. Working out what goes where and when to reveal details is one of the hardest things, I find, about writing a crime/mystery. I definitely need somebody else to read my draft with a fresh pair of eyes to help get it right.
3. The Salt Marsh is set in the backdrop of people protesting the nuclear power plants in the 80s. Was the small power movements around the nuclear power plants, such as the protests planned by Sam and Luke, something you wanted to educate your readers on?
I write about things that interest me and I like characters – particularly women - and plots that have one foot in relationships and one foot in politics. They are easier to find on TV than in contemporary crime/thriller fiction: the German TV show Deutschland 83 - about the son of a Stasi spy and German peace movements - was great. I also loved Grace, the police spy’s daughter, in Peaky Blinders. Sam is a similar character – the daughter of a police spy, she is pulled in different directions by her politics and her personal loyalties. The Salt Marsh is set in 1986. Protest movements around nuclear power and weapons were a big part of the eighties, so those issues were a good entry point for the story. I do think, though, that the people’s power politics of the eighties and the issues around nuclear power and safety have a lot of resonance with the politics of today – so I hope readers find it interesting and can relate to it.

4. There's a feel of the supernatural in this book with mentions of witches, light and dark magic and crow dancers. What made you decide to add this to the book and give Sam 'a witch's mark' in the form of her birth mark?

I like to weave mythology and magic in my plots because, as Sam discovers, in the world of spying it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between fact and fiction. The idea for the witch’s mark came from a book called Daemonologie which was written by King James 1 in 1597. He writes that you can tell a witch by her mark, and when you find the mark, burn the witch. Sam is worried that she has inherited her father’s sins and enemies – so the birthmark seemed like a good way of conveying those fears.

5. Sonny is an intriguing character. He's dark and handsome but also a killer. How was it developing his character and turning him into a partner in crime in a way for Sam.
I like difficult characters from tough backgrounds who are trying to make sense of their own history. They are interesting to write. During the eighties and early nineties I met quite a few men who were damaged by their part in the fight against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa: deserters from the brutal South African army who didn’t want to fight for apartheid, and African National Congress exiles who had been traumatized fighting against the apartheid government. The character of Sonny draws on these people in different ways. So it was interesting for me to build Sonny’s story, show both his strengths and his flaws, and explore his relationship with Sam.