A lot of professions involve speaking to the public. And often that’s done through giving interviews. I’m sure you can think of plenty of famous people such as professional athletes, film stars, and political leaders who go in front of the cameras. It’s almost a job requirement, really.
But other people are sometimes interviewed, too. Some are fairly comfortable in front of the camera; others dread it. And, of course, some people are much more accustomed to being interviewed than others. Either way, the public interview can be an interesting plot point in a crime novel. And it can show a bit about a character, too.
If you follow sport at all, you’ll know that athletes, their managers, team owners, and so on are regularly interviewed for TV and radio, as well as other media outlets. We see a great deal of that in sport-related crime fiction, too. For example, Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry is a sportswriter who works for the Toronto Planet. She has a particular interest and expertise in baseball, and follows the Toronto Titans Major League Baseball team as they go to their ‘away’ games. She attends ‘home’ games, too, and is one of the members of the press who interview players and the management staff. There’s an interesting relationship between the press and the team. Each knows full well that they need the other. So, in general, the team and management staff try to be generous about giving interviews and information. They know that builds their public appeal. At the same time, members of the press try to be respectful. They know that they won’t get that exclusive interview/story if they’re seen as too pushy, or worse, untrustworthy. It’s a delicate balance, but when it works, it’s effective. And more than once, that relationship allows Henry to get information when she gets mixed up in murder investigations.
In John Daniell’s The Fixer, we are introduced to Mark Stevens, a former member of New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks rugby team. He’s heading towards the end of his career, and wants to shore up his financial resources for his own post-retirement security and that of his family. So, he’s playing now for a French professional team. Then, he gets word that Rachel da Silva, who works for a Brazilian magazine, wants to interview him. She’s been sent to France to do an in-depth piece on rugby, the rugby live, and the sport’s popularity. She’s bright, attractive, and interesting, so it doesn’t take long for Stevens to be attracted to her. The feeling seems to be mutual, too, and all goes well at first. Stevens gets to promote the team and the sport to a wide audience, and da Silva gets her story and the recognition that goes with it. Then, da Silva introduces Stevens to a friend of hers named Phillip, who’s become quite wealthy through betting on rugby. Before Stevens knows it, he’s drawn into a web of supplying ‘inside information.’ He finds it hard to resist, because he wants to ensure his and his family’s futures. It all starts to fall apart, though, when Phillip suggests that his ‘new friend’ fix matches. Now, Stevens has a choice to make. And no matter what he decides to do, it’s going to be very dangerous for him.
If you watch the news, especially crime news, you’ll know that there are sometimes interviews with convicted criminals. Sometimes they’re part of a larger story on the crime in question. At other times, the criminal wants to protest her or her innocence. And they certainly play a role in crime fiction. For instance, Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink features that sort of interview. In it, we are introduced to Johannesburg publicity expert Lucy Khamboule. A few years earlier, she worked in journalism. At the time, she’d sent a letter to notorious convicted killer Napoleon Dingiswayo, asking for an interview. She never heard from him, and went on with her life. Then one day, she gets a telephone call from him. He wants to give her his story, and perhaps have her write a book about him. This is an opportunity Khamboule had only dreamed of; she’s always wanted to do a book, and this, she knows, will sell well. She arranges to go to the maximum-security prison where Dingiswayo is being held, and starts doing background work for the book. Soon after she begins her series of interviews, though, some violent and disturbing things begin to happen. Dingiswayo can’t be responsible, because he’s securely locked away. But if he isn’t guilty of the attacks, then who is? Before long, Khamboule begins to get too close to the story, which has its own consequences. She founds out the truth, but not without a heavy cost.
Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry highlights another important role that public interviews play in crime fiction. In it, Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel to Melbourne, where Robertson grew up, with their nine-week-old baby, Noah. The flight is a nightmare, but everyone arrives. Then, on the way from the airport to their destination, disaster strikes with the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, but no trace of the baby is found. At first, the press and public are very sympathetic to the parents. But it’s not long before whispers start that perhaps they had something to do with Noah’s disappearance. As a part of the search for answers (and to keep their own names as clear as possible), the two go in front of the TV cameras with a plea for their son’s safe return. Gradually, we learn the truth about what happened to Noah, and we see the role that interview plays in the story.
Fans of Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone will know that that novel, too, features a missing child. In this case, it’s four-year-old Amanda McCready. Dorchester, Massachusetts PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to find the girl, and reluctantly accept the job. They’re not sure what they can do that the police can’t, but they agree to at least try. At one point, there’s a scene in which Amanda’s mother, Helene McCready, is giving an interview to the press. That’s not so unusual in itself; it’s the expected plea for the child. But Helene’s reaction to seeing herself on television is unsettling. As she’s watching the recorded interview during a news broadcast, she points out ‘the best part,’ and talks about who’s present at the interview. It’s difficult for both PIs to deal with her, and it adds to the suspense in the story.
There are, of course, many, many examples of interviews with fictional police officers, too. Sometimes, they provide valuable information, or prompt people to contact the police. Other times, they’re nothing but trouble. Either way, they’re an important part of the genre.
On Another Note…
Talking of interviews….I’m privileged and excited to have been invited to be a part of writer, blogger, and podcaster Claire Duffy’s series, Writers Chat Writing! It’s a long interview (sorry for going on so, Claire!) (31 minutes), but if you’re interested in what we had to say about writing and the writing process, you’re welcome to check it out right here. CLaire’s a fabulous interviewer! Thank you, Claire!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carly Simon and Don Was’ Interview.