FIVE QUESTIONS ... with James McCrone
Welcome to FIVE QUESTIONS. In this feature on my blog, you'll learn about new and exciting books from the author's themselves. You'll hear about the book, their characters, the inspiration behind the book, and other insider details. All through five simple questions.
Today, we are hearing from James McCrone about his new novel BASTARD VERDICT, available starting today.
What is your new book about?
BASTARD VERDICT begins as a second referendum on Scottish independence looms. A Scottish official enlists elections specialist Imogen Trager to investigate the 2014 referendum, ostensibly to ensure that a second referendum is conducted fairly.
Imogen uncovers a trail of criminal self-dealing, cover-ups, and murder leading to the highest levels of power. None but a very few know the truth. And those few need it to stay hidden at any cost.
What was the inspiration behind the book?
I have long wanted to write a story set in Scotland (I lived there as a boy), and I’m a huge “Tartan Noir” fan. Manipulation by anti-democratic forces is the background for my thrillers, and I saw a compelling story in what might happen if there was a second referendum. I saw Imogen as the perfect person, too. Though I’ve lived in Scotland, I’m an American, so perching on her shoulder, so to speak, seeing things from her perspective, makes sense. She’s not a Scot (nor am I), and so she has something of an outsider’s perspective.
What was the hardest scene to write?
Ha ha! That would be the one I had to re-write! I had a car chase running through Edinburgh, a route I knew well, but had double-checked against Google streetview. Then I learned that Northbridge, which was crucial to the route, would be closed until at least some time in 2024, so I had to rethink the whole scenario.
The other difficulty was that I wanted the book to be accessible to a US-based audience, but at the same time, I wanted it also to resonate with a Scottish readership. It’s no good having Scottish characters speak like Americans, but if I wasn’t careful, if I went too far, it would be difficult for Americans to get some of the dialogue. My editor Alan McMunnigall is a Glaswegian, but he spent a year in the US as a university student—in Iowa City, where I lived for about six years!—and we worked particularly hard over those scenes. I think we struck the right balance. But that tension meant I had to make some stylistic decisions for the text. For instance, in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, “I” is pronounced “Ah,” but in Dundee, where a good deal of the action also takes place, the sound is more “Eh.” In dialogue, I left it “Ah” throughout. Perhaps Dundonians will feel hard done by, but I hope not.
What's the most interesting or unusual thing you learned while researching for this book?
Well, I got to Dundee! And, as I said earlier, I learned how different the accent there is from other parts of Scotland. I’d never been there before, and I really fell in love with it. But even more than accent difference, I learned more about the language and literature of Scotland; more, in fact than I was able to put into the book. One bit that did make it in was the poet James Young Geddes, who was not only the “lover and lasher of Dundee,” but had written a poem called ‘The Spectre Clock of Alyth.’ Quite serendipitously, the town of Alyth, north of Dundee, is where I’d chosen to have Imogen go to hide out and regroup, and I have one of Imogen’s compatriots quote briefly from the poem.
Which is your favorite minor character and why?
Alan Wilson is a low-level criminal, and he’s the catalyst for the story. He steals a great many scenes. He’s funny, irreverent, and clear-eyed about what’s happening. Even in the midst of frightening, chaotic moments, he’s snarky and thoughtful. And toward the end, he’s the one who’s aghast at the manipulations of those in power. As cynical and jaded as he is, he still thought that government was supposed to be better than a pack of thieves.
You can purchase BASTARD VERDICT at the following retailers.
Bookshop.org - Supporting Local Bookstores