Featuring a detective obsessed with the female serial killer who tortured him, Chelsea Cain’s New York Times best-selling Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thrillers are so dark they make midnight look like Mardi Gras. Now Cain has a new series, opening this August with One Kick and starring Kick Lannigan, a tough young woman still finding her equilibrium after being abducted as a child. With Kick, Cain says she’s lightened up some while conceding that “compared to my other series it is PG-13, but compared to anything else, it would be R.” Why launch a new, presumably gentler series, and what direction will it be taking?
“I had the idea of writing a second series early on,” explained Cain in a phone interview. “It’s a weird job I have as a writer. In most jobs there’s a projectory of change, but I’m still at my desk writing away, and I wanted the challenge of writing a second series and maintaining two of them.” At first, Cain couldn’t dream up a character that interested her as much as the troubled Archie, but the stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Lee Dugard sparked her imagination. “I wanted to know about those girls, about what their lives are like now,” she maintains. “How do you move forward and reintegrate with your family when everyone thought you were dead?”
What’s more, much as she loves Archie, Cain concedes that he’s doomed: “He can never get better; he can get back to the person he used to be.” She instead wanted a strong character who would be scarily competent and involved in redeeming her own life—“a hero in the undorky sense of the word.” One of the great pleasures of this series will be watching Kick unpack her past as she continues to heal.
Part of Kick’s healing comes from helping to find abducted children, precipitated in the opener by the arrival of the edgy, enigmatic John Bishop, who compels her to join his crusade by holding her dog hostage. Sometimes, he feels more like a villain than an ally. “In the early draft, he was more trustworthy, but I needed the tension,” affirms Cain. “The more he subverts expectations, the more interesting he is.” Kick and Bishop circle each other warily, and we don’t know any more than Kick whether we can believe what he says. But we do see Kick more clearly through him.
In fact, says Cain, “All the characters in Kick’s orbit exist to clarify who she is.” For instance, we come to understand Kick’s adaptive strategy during her abduction when she meets her abductor in a prison hospital, and dealing with her conflicted feelings about him will powerfully shape the series. Kick’s uncertain reconciliation with the mother she reflexively shoved away as a celebrity monger will also be part of Kick’s ongoing recovery. Then there’s James, another abducted child and now her surrogate brother. “With all those fractured relationships, I needed someone she could trust,” says his creator.
Does the dark and twisted labyrinth Cain enters in her books suggest some dark and twisted place in her mind? “I am a very happy person and feel safe in the world almost to a fault,” she retorts, explaining that fiction like hers allows us to experience terrible fears without risk. Still, for writers, putting a child in danger presents a special problem, which Cain manages by showing us what befell Kick from her perspective only, never from that of an exploiting adult. Is One Kick really a book her grandmother could read? “I faded to black in the sex scenes,” she protests. “There’s no gratuitous menace, just menace!” And menace will keep those pages turning.—
Created by a group of librarians, LibraryReads offers a monthly list of ten current titles culled from nominations made by librarians nationwide as their favorites. See the August 2014 list at ow.ly/zbkcs and contact libraryreads.org/for-library-staff/ to make your own nomination.