When Alyssa Stone goes missing, Deputy Noah Harper knows he’s going to have to cross some lines to find the young girl – lines there are no coming back from. Saving her costs him his wife, his job, and he’s kicked out of Acacia Pines with the promise that if he ever returns he’ll be thrown into jail and left there to rot.
Twelve years later and Noah has moved on. He owns a bar. He has a nice place. A nice life. He’s happy. Then there’s a phone call… Alyssa has disappeared, and Noah is asked the question – how far is he willing to go to find her? It would mean heading back to Acacia Pines. It would mean coming face to face with the past.
It would mean doing whatever it takes.
Whatever It Takes is the 11th novel from Kiwi crime writer Paul Cleave. One of the country’s most internationally successful authors, Cleave’s novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and sold over a million copies worldwide. He’s won New Zealand’s Ngaio Marsh award three times over and been a finalist in the American Edgar Awards, Australia’s Ned Kelly awards and the Barry Awards.
When he’s not writing, Paul can be found throwing a frisbee, something he likes to do wherever he travels, with a recent trip taking his list of countries thrown in to 42.
We asked him some questions upon the release of his latest gem.
Kia ora, Paul! What draws you to writing, and can you tell us about your latest book, Whatever it Takes?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, the same way that kids growing up want to be Batman or firefighters. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living now, and when I travel I miss being behind my desk making bad things happen on the page. Whatever it Takes is the first book not set in New Zealand – it’s set in Small Town USA. It deals with a young girl who is abducted, saved, and then twelve years later goes missing again. It deals with the deputy who broke all the rules to find her that first time, lost his job over it, his family, and got kicked out of town – but this guy, Noah, made that young girl a promise that if anything bad ever happened to her again, he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to save her. The book is about him trying to do just that.
This is your first book set out of New Zealand. Did the change of setting involve much travel or research?
I’ve been to Small Town USA a few times, so I had somewhat of a feel for it – only Acacia Pines (my town) is far more isolated. Going to these kinds of places certainly helped with the setting for the book – it helps give it some authenticity. As for research… most of my books don’t rely on it, and this one falls into that category.
You travel a lot with your books - do you get inspired by exploring new places, and how important is the role of place in your work?
I do travel a lot – and I always love going to new places, and meeting new people – and often I’ll wonder if I can set a book there, or look at something and imagine how it would look as crime scene on the page. Place is really important in the books – I like having the location come across as another character – that’s definitely true with Christchurch.
Your books have been described as gripping and unput-down-able (if that’s a word!) How do you approach plot when you’re writing – is it something you develop as you go, or do have a good idea of the plot before you start?
I have no idea where the books are going to go. I will have an idea for either a character, or an opening scene, and go from there. So it’s all pretty random for me – which also makes it entertaining because I get to see what happens the same way a reader will. When I write, I’m basically transcribing a movie that I’m watching in my imagination. I feel that character is more important than plot – characters are the driving force to a story, and characters are who you will think about years later if you remember that book. I take a lot of care with them and do my best to make them real people.
Our annual reading research has found that Kiwis love to read crime and thriller novels, more than other genres (although memoir and sports writing are up there, too!) Why do you think this is?
Tough question. People have loved crime fiction since people first started writing. It’s can shine a spotlight on society, you can see what the social issues are of the time. Plus people love to solve puzzles – and crime fiction can often be about that – the whole ‘whodunnit’ aspect. I like to turn that on its head a bit too – sometimes you know who the killer is in the first few pages, in which case the book then becomes about the ‘why’ and the ‘what happens next’.
Think of what’s happening in the news – every time tragedy strikes, people try to figure out why. They try to figure out what makes people tick. In crime fiction you get that – you get the puzzle, you get the reasoning, and you get a conclusion – something you often don’t get in real live. Crime fiction will often give readers closure.
I’ve always thought more New Zealand crime writing should be adapted into TV series or movies. Recently The Bad Seed by Charlotte Grimshaw became a TV series. Which of your books do you think would work well for screen, and why?
All of them, for various reasons – and the thing is it’s something we’re actively trying to make happen. The books are very visual. Anyway… we have a few irons in the fire on that front, so I can’t really get into it… but needless to say I would love it if we can get something up and running.
Is there anything about New Zealand crime novels that sets them apart do you think?
There probably is – and there are obvious things, like setting, how beautiful our country is, and you can get away with coincidences in New Zealand novels because we have a smaller population (I mean, how often to we run into people we know at the mall – that never happens overseas…) – but aside from superficial stuff, I would say no. New Zealand fiction stands up there with the best fiction in the world. There’s no difference, other than a perceived difference people who haven’t read New Zealand fiction think – which is to think it’s not as good. But that a perception that changes quickly once they start reading contemporary stuff.
Which New Zealand books or writers have been special to you in your life?
None – to be honest – the New Zealand fiction I was forced to read at school made me never want to read it again. I think it’s scarred a lot of us – which is why I said earlier if folks start reading contemporary stuff, they’ll see it’s not like that. But now there are plenty – there are so many Kiwis writing so many great books that it’s inspiring. Mostly the writers here who are special to me are friends of mine so they’re special to me in different ways.
What are you reading at the moment, and have you got any book recommendations for us? (these do not necessarily need to be related!)
I always have five or six books on the go – but I actually haven’t read anything at all for the last few months. I was traveling for five weeks, and that was so full on I didn’t get the chance to read or write the entire time – and prior to that I’ve been working pretty hard on next year’s book – and now that I’m back I’m also working. My new favourite authors at the moment are Gilly Macmillan, and Fiona Cummins who have had new books come out over the last few weeks – and I know Michael Robotham has a new book that’s just come out so I’m keen to read that. The coolest part about becoming a writer is becoming friends with folks who you admire – and those three are all friends of mine… so these days when I do read it’s often a book written by somebody I know.
What’s next in store for you, Paul?
Well, I just got back from five weeks away, which means I need to keep working on next year’s book. I’m a few drafts into it, and I almost have a completed draft for 2021’s book. But I’m also thinking about where I’ll go next – I want to throw my frisbee at the Great Wall of China, and I want to climb Mt Fuji, so I’m thinking of shooting over to one of those this year if I can. But more importantly I need to try and get back into shape – I’ve eaten a lot and drunk a lot over the last few months because of travel and work – I can’t remember the last time I actually cooked a meal… so I’ll focus on that before anything else…
Whatever It Takes by Paul Cleave ($37.99 RRP, Upstart Press) is on sale now.