Many years ago when I wrote the original version of Degrees of Darkness, I allowed a friend to read the manuscript. Now, my friend was neither squeamish nor the nervous type, but after reading Degrees he told me that he subsequently checked all of his doors and windows twice when going to bed at night, and had also started sleeping on his back so that both ears were free to listen. It had come as a huge surprise to him that the person he knew so well socially was capable of writing about the wretched side of humanity, and the sheer impact of my story about a monster in human guise had terrified him.
As a writer, this was no cautionary tale – I loved it! But it does make me consider all the times I have been asked why I write what I write, and the simple answer is that I write what I enjoy reading. So I suppose the real question is, what is it about the dark that I enjoy so much that my antagonist in Degrees of Darkness considers himself to be the dark?
My short stories were almost exclusively drawn from the horror and dark fantasy genre, which I think explains a lot. Take my first three published stories: one features an American diner that only ever appears to men when they want to get rid of their nagging wives; another has a writer sending in his final book, and his editor discovering that the book’s type is the author’s blood and not ink, and that the cover is made from the author’s flesh; whilst a third features another writer, who is confronted in his attic by all of the characters he has killed in his books. They taunt him but he is not threatened, as to him they are not real, only for one of them to point out that he is actually nothing more than a character in someone else’s story, and that his life can be ended with a flourish of that writer’s pen, just…like…that!
Warped stories have to be the product of a warped mind, or else they could not be written. But I contend that my mind is only warped when it comes to thinking about my writing or when actually writing. At all other times I am pretty normal. Yes, I can have a sick sense of humour, and I am perhaps a misanthropic cynic at times. But I also laugh a lot, make people laugh a lot, love a great comedy show, and genuinely love my family and friends. I’m just a little bit twisted when it comes to my writing, is all.
I gravitated towards crime and thrillers because my reading tastes had moved on. King, Straub, Herbert and Koontz were replaced by Connelly, Rankin, Harris, and Sandford. And yet, I still favoured the darker side of crime, the hard-boiled stuff, themes presented by the likes of Thomas Harris and the whole wide world of the serial killer. I also read a lot about what made the real serial killers tick – the likes of Bundy, Dahmer and Gacey. Partially I did so for research purposes, but I also find it fascinating that such people walk among us, and I want to know how and why.
I think if I had completely merged my love of horror and the dark side of human nature then Degrees would have ended up being an extremely graphic novel, possibly even exploitative. The subject matter lends itself to such extremes. In reality, though, my main interest lay in the dynamics of the characters involved, the psyche of people in completely unnatural situations.
I didn’t just want to write about the killer-abductor, the man who murdered families and took away the young pre-teen girls, nor the ex-cop father who fought his own way into the darkness in order to hunt down his daughter. I wanted to get inside the head of that abducted girl, also. So yes, I wanted the reader to both fear and, to a certain degree, understand what drove the killer to carry out such horrific acts, I wanted them to root for the father so desperate to find his child that he was willing to do absolutely anything – even become what he despised most. But I also wanted that same reader to see it all unravel through the daughter’s eyes, to fear as she feared, hope as she hoped, and weep as she wept.
Degrees of Darkness is, of course, a hunt the serial-killer book. But at its core it is a close examination of the base side of human nature that enforces the circle of evil that is man’s inhumanity to man, the power of a father’s love for a child for whom he is willing to sacrifice his own humanity, and also the hope that those in the very worst circumstances of their lives cling to in order to face the dawn of each new day. By its nature, such a book needs to feature some uneasy content, though I leave much to the imagination. It is not an easy book to read at times, admittedly, but again the crimes being committed here are abhorrent and cannot be shied away from. Ultimately, however, I hope that it is the extraordinary power of the bond between a parent and a child and the power of hope that keeps the reader turning the pages.
(c) Tony J. Forder
About Degrees of Darkness:
Pre-teen girls are being abducted from their homes and their families murdered. When Frank Rogers, once a DI with the Met and now running his own debt collection agency, is told that his own daughter is missing, his son murdered, he naturally wants to become involved with the case.
Soon Frank’s face is all over the news. In an unexpected turn of events, the killer contacts the police and says he is willing to talk, but only to Frank.
When the body of the first abducted girl is discovered, Frank realises it is a race against time to save his daughter.
In order to solve the case, Frank must work out how the killer is picking his victims.
But how do you catch a murderer who is hiding in plain sight? And can Frank unravel the mystery, when he has so much to lose?
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