You’re always thinking about the next book. Right at the time you’re negotiating the flabby middle of the one you should be writing, or slogging through edits, the new and better idea arrives with baubles and bows and bells and sly promises. Welcome it. Briefly. Write it down. Briefly. Then put it aside. It’ll still be there when you finish what you’re supposed to be doing.
In early 2017, I was working with my agent Luigi Bonomi on the crime novel that became my first book Darkest Truth before he sent it out on submission to publishers. Luigi is a lovely man, but he’s rigorous, and he knows his stuff. The work I had to do on the manuscript was hard, and it was new, the kind of work I’d never done before. On cue, that’s when the idea for Cruel Deeds came to me. A couple of sketchy scenes at first, of solicitor Finn Fitzpatrick walking home from a Dolly Parton concert in Cork and seeing something she shouldn’t have, and of the morning after the gig in her office.
What Finn sees is her married colleague Mandy Breslin, one of the partners in the firm where Finn works, in an embrace with someone other than her husband. The next day, Mandy warns Finn, in no uncertain terms, to tell no one. Later, after Mandy is found murdered, Finn embarks on a risky investigation that lands her in jeopardy, both physical and emotional.
But back in 2017, all I had was a bare bones version of those two initial scenes and nothing else. I banked them in a Word document and concentrated on Darkest Truth. After the fog of edits and publication cleared, I returned to Finn and Mandy and the two scenes. For a while, I hadn’t a clue what happened next but I spent a long time walking around and thinking, and one of the things you have to do when you’re walking in Cork is keep a constant eye out for trip hazards. It’s something I’m especially conscious of because in my day job I’m a solicitor.
As I walked and thought, and thought and walked, I heard the opening line of the first chapter going round and round in my head, and I began to consider the hidden dangers that each of us ignores at our peril. The ones that would be visible and obvious, if only we looked properly. At some stage during all this perambulation I came to see that Mandy would be the one to die and, in my mind’s eye, the place where she would be murdered. After that, as I wrote and wrote, the rest of the story came blurrily into view. But it was only towards the middle of the first draft that I began to really understand why Mandy died, and only towards the end of it that I had the complete picture. Once I knew the full plot, I went straight back to the beginning and rewrote some aspects of it.
Not all. The foundation was there always in those two early scenes, and they’re in the book still, as is that troublesome swirling opening sentence that I rewrote a thousand times and came close to cutting out entirely, though in the end I didn’t.
I can’t tell you much more because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. What I can say is that when you’re reading the book, remember the words of the great PD James, ‘All the motives for murder are covered by the four ‘L’s: love, lust, loathing and lucre.’ I’m happy to report that every one of the four ‘L’s features strongly in Cruel Deeds!
But these days, there is, of course, an unforgettable fifth ‘L’. And, rightly or wrongly, though the book takes place in Cork in the non-specific recent past, that ‘L’ – lockdown – doesn’t make a single appearance in Cruel Deeds. There are no facemasks, no social distancing and only one mention of hand sanitizer. Even though I wrote a lot of the book during 2020 and finished it that September just as the shutters were coming down again, I made the decision not to include the virus because I’d started Cruel Deeds before I, or anyone else, had ever heard of COVID. All through lockdown I was writing only at weekends because we were on the essential service list. All through lockdown, I was going in and out to my day job along terrifyingly empty streets, silent but for the tap tap tap tap of my own steps on the footpath. I do think that some of that mood – the fear and the isolation and the sense of confinement – shows up in the book. You’ll have to read it and tell me if you agree. I do hope you enjoy it.
As for me, I’m already onto the next book, and thinking about the one after that . . .
(c) Catherine Kirwan
About Cruel Deeds:
A successful lawyer is found murdered in a derelict house in Cork.
Finn Fitzpatrick barely knows Mandy Breslin from the law firm where they both work. Mandy moves in the privileged world of the senior partners. Finn keeps to herself.
But Mandy has secrets and, as Finn gets drawn deeper and deeper into her colleague’s life, she finds out that Mandy isn’t such a stranger after all.
And that Mandy’s not the only one at the firm with something to hide.
Who can Finn turn to when there’s no one left to trust?
‘Atmospheric and intriguing with a brilliantly relatable heroine and an explosive, gripping conclusion, nothing in Cruel Deeds is quite as it seems.’ Sam Blake
‘Thrilling … a page turning read’ Patricia Gibney
Order your copy online here.