Rain Dogs and Love Cats
My friend Dave said that one of the things he liked about Rain Dogs and Love Cats was that he was halfway through before he realised he was reading a detective novel.
Cool, I thought. It meant I had achieved at least one of my main aims, which was to create an organic, believable narrative. Writing it, I never actually wondered what would happen if Shane Meadows directed a remake of Chinatown, but that’s sort of what I’ve ended up with: the plot borrows a little from the former, the execution owes a wee bit to the latter.
The first principle was that I was writing a detective story. A noirish one (an early touchstone was ‘suburban noir’), with twists and turns, dark secrets, a plot like the jumble of wires behind a TV. Raymond Chandler used to say that even he didn’t understand the plot to The Big Sleep. I wouldn’t go that far, but I’m pleased to say that mine has its inscrutabilities. My second principle was that it needed to feel real to me – it needed some washing-up liquid and lost TV remotes in there somewhere. Doing this meant being aware of normal detective-novel rules and careful about which conventions to embrace, which to discard. So my character, Charlie Watson, is not a down-at-heel private dick or maverick DI passed over for promotion. He’s a bloke who lives in the suburbs. He has a wife and new baby. He is, as far as I could make him, a normal person. Of course, by the end of the book he will have learnt some painful truths about his own history, about the nature of fatherhood and the sort of person he is.
But for those revelations to carry the right emotional weight, his route through the plot needed to feel as commonplace as a trip to Tesco. And there are, incidentally, plenty of trips to Tesco in the novel. Plus, in among the dark secrets, threats of violence clues and red herrings, there’s also a chase scene set in Woolworths, using pushchairs. There are fallen women and femme fatales, but there are also car salesman, yobbos, and at least one punch-up at a disco.
I don’t for a second claim to have reinvented the detective novel, but I do hope that I’ve detonated a cliché or two. There’s a war on against them, you know.
The Untitled Pam Ferris Project