The hitchhiker is a familiar character in suspense fiction. Nothing very good ever seems to come from giving a lift to a total stranger.
Take, for example, the first line of Find A Victim, the 1954 Lew Archer novel by one of crime fiction’s greatest practitioners, Ross Macdonald: “He was the ghastliest hitchhiker who ever thumbed me.”
Archer picks up the man, a shooting victim, and takes him into the closest town for help. The man dies, and Archer soon finds himself at the centre of a very nasty situation. No good deed, as they say, goes unpunished.
It’s possible I had Find A Victim in the back of my mind before I started writing A Tap on the Window. What I do know is, I was thinking about hitchhikers.
Sometimes, when you’re starting to write a new book, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by how much has already been done, how many thousands of stories that have been told. And there are quite a few of them about hitchhikers. How do you make yours different?
You have to tell yourself, Okay, something like this might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by me. The trick is to come up with a new wrinkle. What can you do with the hitchhiker premise that hasn’t been done before?
And that was when it hit me: What if the person you picked up wasn’t the same person you dropped off?
A Tap on the Window opens late one rainy night. Private detective Cal Weaver is on his way home when a soaked teenage girl taps on his car window, looking for a lift. He’s not inclined to give her one, but when he powers down the window she recognizes him.
“You’re Scott’s dad,” she says.
Scott, the son he lost only a couple of months earlier. The son who died as a result of a drug mishap.
Cal doesn’t see how he can leave a friend of his late son’s at the side of the road on a rainy night. So he tells her to hop in, agrees to drive her home.
Something very strange happens along the way.
A Tap on the Window may or may not be my best book – I leave it to readers to decide – but it’s without question my darkest. You’ll find many of the things you’ve come to expect in my novels. Lots of characters with plenty to hide. Secrets long buried. Plenty of twists. But Tap has more. It’s the study of a troubled marriage torn apart by grief. It’s about how the loss of a child can change us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. I had to go to a place I’d not gone before in the writing of this book.
It was tough one to do.
I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you like Cal Weaver. I’m going to bring him back. Not in my next book, and maybe not even in the one after that, but I promise you he’ll return.
His story is not over.
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