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The Chosen Ones by Howard Linsky

June 23, 2018

Eva Dunbar wakes in a large metal box. She has no idea who has taken her. She has no way out. She isn’t the first young woman to disappear. And with no leads Detective Ian Bradshaw has precious little time. When at last a body is found, the police hope the tragic discovery might at least provide a clue that will help them finally find the kidnapper. But then they identify the body – and realise the case is more twisted than they ever imagined . . .

Howard Linskey’s The Chosen Ones is the fourth novel in the Detective Ian Bradshaw series. Bradshaw is a compelling creation; an honest, dogged policeman often tasked with the most disturbing cases which have lead him to grapple with anxiety and depression. Bradshaw is assisted in his investigations by the journalists Tom Carney and Helen Norton. I enjoyed this novel as gripping thriller, with an interesting take on the Buddy-Buddy narrative, and full of twists and turns. Perhaps the final twist was just a bit too much for me but, more than a week after finishing the book, I’m still thinking about it and that’s the sign of engaging writing.

Howard Linskey kindly agreed to answer some questions about his novel and writing:

Interviewer: The Chosen Ones is the fourth novel in your series featuring characters DS Ian Bradshaw and journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney. What inspired you to create these characters, and why did you choose a detective/journalist team?

Linskey: With No Name Lane, the first book in the series, I had the idea for a story about a journalist who is suspended from his newspaper in London, so he returns home to investigate the case of a missing girl from his old village. Tom Carney then clashes with the police investigating the crime and the young woman who has taken his old job at the local paper. Then I thought it would be interesting if they eventually agreed to cooperate, with each one bringing the solution to a different piece of the puzzle. They also have contrasting skills and pursue leads in very different ways. Ian Bradshaw is restricted by police procedure and the law, whereas the journalists are free to use other methods to extract information and this brings ethical dilemmas. It gives me more options when I am writing about a case from the perspective of three contrasting people, from two very different worlds, who all want the same thing; answers.

Interviewer: Following on from this, how do you feel about the way these characters change over the course of a series. Do you map out how their personal and professional lives will change?

Linskey: They do change and develop along the way, as we all do. They get a little older and possibly wiser and are affected by what happens to them. We are all shaped by our experiences. When those experiences involve investigations into murder and the disturbing reasons behind those killings then it is bound to have an effect. I explore this in the books; with Detective Ian Bradshaw in particular, carrying scars from previous cases, which results in spells of depression, stress and anxiety, including panic attacks. Tom and Helen both have personal lives that affect them in other ways too. Tom was abandoned by his mother when he was a small child and tends to be commitment phobic as a result. Helen had issues surrounding her relationship with a controlling partner that she finally breaks free from. Helen and Tom are also attracted to one another and care for each other but their timing is always a little off, with one or the other in a relationship at any one time. I only tend to plan their personal lives one book at a time, so I’m not restricted by a long-term plan.

Interviewer: How do you feel the series is different from your David Blake novels?

Linskey: Aside from the north east setting and some of the humour that is sprinkled in with all the serious stuff, these books are very different. My first trilogy followed Blake, who starts off as a white-collar criminal slowly dragged into a very murky world of organised crime. He has to adapt in order to survive and protect his loved ones. The four books in the Bradshaw/Norton/Carney series are all about unravelling mysteries that surround cold or seemingly unsolvable cases. There is peril and danger in these stories too but my main characters are mostly trying to work out what has happened to someone who has been murdered or has gone missing, so they can bring closure and justice to a difficult case.

Interviewer: The Chosen Ones jumps around a little chronologically, from the 1970s to the present day. How do you get accuracy in your period setting? Do you do a lot of research to achieve this?

Linskey: The short answer is I lived through it all, so that certainly helps. ‘The Search’ for example is partly set in 1976 and I can remember that long hot summer, as I was nine years old back then. I was also a journalist in the nineties, like Tom and Helen. I do research though, because you can’t entirely rely on your memory and there are always specific topics to look into as well. ‘The Chosen Ones’ needed research on the Cold War, underground bunkers, bible quotations and the development of technology, to ensure I didn’t write something that wasn’t accurate for its time. The trickiest part of the research is when you are enjoying the reading too much and lose an entire morning without writing a word. That leads to panic and intense catch-up sessions to get the word count back on track.

Interviewer: In the Author’s Note you describe how the plot was inspired by the discovery of ‘Scotland’s Secret Bunker’ in St Andrews. Do you have any vivid memories of the Cold War? Are there any films or novels dealing with the threat of Nuclear War which inspired you?

Linskey: I remember growing up in an era where we all thought the world could abruptly end if there was a misunderstanding between super powers or our technology let us down but it is only recently that we have learned how close we came to Armageddon back then. I’ve been re-watching the Terminator films with my daughter and they hit on a stark and simple fact that makes them compelling; we rely on computers and technology so much but what if they go wrong? If they malfunction, nuclear warheads could conceivably be launched in error and it nearly happened. If you think this seems far-fetched, check out a couple of times when the world came to the brink of nuclear war, which astonishingly occurred within a month of each other back in 1983. ‘Able Archer’ was a war game played out by NATO, which the Soviet union mistakenly thought was an actual attempt to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against them. It seems incredible now but they almost fired on us first, because they feared they were about to be wiped out. Then there is the case of Stanislav Petrov, who died last year. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian armed forces, who should in theory have responded to a report from their early warning system that nuclear missiles had been fired from the United States. He doubted its veracity and didn’t urge retaliation but, if he had obeyed orders, none of us would be here. It turned out that the early warning system had malfunctioned. It’s incredible when you think how high the stakes were and how close we have come to total annihilation.

Interviewer: Central to the novel is a kidnapping plot and there are some disturbing themes of sexual abuse, religious paranoia and mental breakdown. How do you navigate this territory as a writer?

Linskey: In a word, carefully. If you are writing crime novels then you have to tackle themes that are disturbing. What I desperately want to avoid is exploiting them in a gratuitous way. You won’t get torture-porn in my books and I hope that is quite clear from reading them. The religious element in The Chosen Ones is to show how biblical phrases, written two thousand years ago, can be selectively chosen to justify more or less anything. If you have an evil or twisted mind it is amazing how you can locate verses that give you carte blanche to beat or kill someone. The bible also repeatedly states that women must be obedient and subservient to men, particularly fathers and husbands, which is obviously something I am very strongly against. I suppose I am saying that, even if you believe in God (and I emphatically do not believe in the biblical God), then don’t just unquestioningly use the ancient, primitive words of the bible as your moral code.

Interviewer: One of the sub-plots deals with how ethical lines are crossed when senior police officers are racing for promotion. Is this something you felt passionately about, and wanted to condemn in the text?

Linskey: I do feel passionately about corruption of any kind and this behaviour is a form of it. Anyone who has worked for private companies, witnesses a level of arse-covering, selfishness and duplicity in senior management that can make you feel quite sickly at times. When this is transplanted into the world of the police, where things really do matter, because they are dealing with criminals, victims and justice it can cause actual, lasting harm to real people. There is a lot of this kind of behaviour, in all walks of life, published in the newspapers every day and it never fails to anger me. South Yorkshire police, for example, behaved disgracefully over Hillsborough, Orgreave and Rotherham and that is just one police force. Having said that I am at pains to make the point that there are a lot of very fine police officers out there, including DS Ian Bradshaw. I certainly don’t condemn them all and try to present a balanced view of the police, with the good appearing alongside the bad.

Interviewer: You’ve indicated Bradshaw, Norton and Carney will return in a new novel in 2019. Can you give us any hints as what this novel will be about?

Linskey: A young girl called Alice Teale is last seen leaving school one evening, after taking part in out-of-hours activities. She’s only seventeen and never reaches her home. As Ian Bradshaw starts to uncover the truth about the case, he realises Alice is from a small town that is riddled with secrets but which one of them is responsible for her disappearance? Facing police budget cuts and manpower shortages, he asks Tom and Helen to help him out again but there is a catch this time. There is no money to pay them. They become involved in the search for Alice anyway and finally learn that in a town full of secrets, hers is the biggest.

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