Good Reading : March 2010
MARCH 2010 ı goodreading 27 The scariest stuff in the world is true stuff, stuff that’s real, like serial killers.’ author profile 2 The idea of turning his writing attentions from fantastical horror to such 'real' horrors gained momentum when one of Paul's best friends asked him if he'd ever read a book written from the perspective of a serial killer (this was years before the 'Dexter' series became popular). 'I thought, man that's a great idea, and then that day I wrote Chapter One,' recalls Paul. Those first few pages would grow into The Cleaner, Paul's bestselling debut, which features Joe, a serial killer who works at the Christchurch Police Department as a janitor in order to keep an eye on the investigations into his own crimes. When a murder that Joe didn't perfor m is linked to him, he tries to find and punish the copycat. After its eventual release in 2006, The Cleaner became a bestseller, receiving rave reviews and getting translated into several languages. It was particularly popular in Ger many, where the dark and raw tale hit number two on the Amazon adult fiction book charts ( just behind the latest 'Harry Potter' book), and ended up as the number one crime thriller title on Amazon in Ger many for 2007, selling several hundred thousand copies. The Cleaner is one of the biggest and fastest selling fiction books to ever come out of New Zealand, despite the fact it hasn't yet been released in either the US or UK markets. Like all Paul's books since, including his latest, Blood Men, The Cleaner is told in the first person, through the eyes of a troubled protagonist. Taking his readers inside such minds has become something of a calling card for Paul -- each of his novels focuses on the trials and tribulations of a different main character who is facing emotional tur moil: there is serial killer Joe with his warped view of the world in The Cleaner ; in The Killing Hour there's blood-covered Charlie, who wakes up to the news that two women he was with the night before have been brutally murdered; and in Cemetery Lake for mer policeman Theo Tate finds himself devolving into a man he'd always despised while he hunts for a killer. In Blood Men, which, later this year, will become Paul's first book to be released in the US, Edward Hunter is a happily mar ried man with a great life but a dark past: he's the son of a notorious serial killer who has been in prison for 20 years and will never be coming out. When tragedy strikes, Edward suddenly needs the help of the man he's spent all his life trying to distance himself from, and prove he's not like -- but as things spiral out of control Edward begins to wonder whether he's destined to become a man of blood like his father. Blood Men may very well be Paul's best book yet; filled with his recognisable mix of dark crime peppered with sly humour, compelling characters, and exciting storylines with enough tension and interesting twists and tur ns to keep the pages whir ring. And it takes place in a well-evoked, if somewhat malevolent, version of Christchurch -- a city that casts a long shadow in all of Paul's books. Paul admits he enjoys writing from the perspective of such troubled characters, which allows him to mix some of his own ideas and views on the world along with views that are the opposite of what he thinks. 'It's just so fun to write,' he says. He also has fun writing about his hometown, taking the underbelly he was exposed to during his years working as a pawn broker and (somewhat) exaggerating it for effect in his stories. 'I was pretty hard on Christchurch in Blood Men,' he admits. 'But you don't just want to have some sterile garden city as the setting -- you really want to make it something of a shithole. It's not what I think of it, I don't see it like that, but my characters see it that way. And it's a more entertaining angle to write.' It's all part of the authenticity of Paul's books, and getting into the minds of his main characters; in Blood Men Edward likes living in Christchurch at the start, but when tragedy strikes he begins to see another side to the city. Originally Paul wasn't going to set his novels in the place where he was bor n, raised, and continues to live. 'When I first started writing, I just made up a city ... just some kind of generic US city.' But then he read some oft- repeated advice coming from one of his heroes, Dean Koontz: write what you know. 'I started setting [my writing] in Christchurch, and it just changed everything.You know how things look, you know the feel of the city and how long it takes a character to get somewhere. It was just the best thing I ever did.' Despite his growing success, Paul remains a very laidback person -- a working class kid from Christchurch who's getting to do what he loves for a living: tell stories. He mocks himself in the same way his characters mock each other in his books, and he admits his sense of humour is something he tries to get through in his writing, even when the stories are dark. 'It's just how I've always been with my friends, being sarcastic and mocking each other, within reason ... I think the humour in The Cleaner with Joe and the other characters is the only thing I have in common with him. I just think it's more entertaining [to have humour in crime fiction], and what I want to do more than anything is entertain people.' Ten years after he made a shift from fantastical horror to dark thrillers, Paul Cleave's writing career is really hitting its stride. Overseas he is already the biggest name in New Zealand crime writing since Ngaio Marsh, although, like Marsh, he remains somewhat overlooked in his home country. But with Blood Men, and his launch in the US later this year, he could be about to get even bigger. Perhaps it's time more Australasian crime fiction fans read Paul Cleave, finding out what Ger many already knows, and the rest of the world is soon to discover. Blood Men by Paul Cleave is published by Random House, rrp $29.95.