Author: Brad Parks
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Dutton Books
Brad Parks delivers another riveting, emotionally powerful stand-alone domestic suspense thriller perfect for fans of The Couple Next Door and What She Knew.
Disaster, Melanie Barrick was once told, is always closer than you know.
It was a lesson she learned the hard way growing up in the constant upheaval of foster care. But now that she's survived into adulthood--with a loving husband, a steady job, and a beautiful baby boy named Alex--she thought that turmoil was behind her.
Until one Monday evening when she goes to pick up Alex from childcare only to discover he's been removed by Social Services. And no one will say why. It's a terrifying scenario for any parent, but doubly so for Melanie, who knows the unintended horrors of what everyone coldly calls "the system."
Her nightmare mushrooms when she arrives home to learn her house has been raided by sheriff's deputies, who have found enough cocaine to send Melanie to prison for years. The evidence against her is overwhelming, and if Melanie can't prove her innocence, she'll lose Alex forever.
Meanwhile, assistant commonwealth's attorney Amy Kaye--who has been assigned Melanie's case--has her own troubles. She's been dogged by a cold case no one wants her to pursue: a serial rapist who has avoided detection by wearing a mask and whispering his commands. Over the years, he has victimized dozens of women.
Including Melanie. Yet now her attacker might be the key to her salvation...or her undoing.
“Another winning tale of domestic suspense from the Shamus- and Nero Award–winning author Parks, who knows how to get readers to empathize emotionally with his characters while amping up the tension and suspense from the first page.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
—Library Journal (starred review)
“A diverting, exciting read, with an ending you won’t see coming.”
A Conversation with Brad Parks, author of CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW
What inspired you to center the plot of Closer Than You Know around the child welfare system?
As an upper middle class white kid, I grew up with exactly zero experience of the child welfare system. Then I spent a decade as a reporter in Newark, where child protective services was an enormous presence in the lives of many, if not most, poor families. As a political nerd, it fascinated me that in America—a nation founded by guys trying to resist tyranny—we created a system that gives government so much authority over such an intensely personal aspect of citizens’ lives. Think about it: No matter where you live, there is a state or local agency that has legal ability to take your children away from you. Now, most of the time, that authority is only used with great caution and only as a last resort. But what an awesome power. Especially if it was abused. That’s the basic germ that I allowed to take root in Closer Than You Know: That someone who understands the system could manipulate it to steal someone’s baby.
What research did you do for this novel? How was it more or less difficult than your research into the judicial system for your last book, Say Nothing?
I spoke with people who work for Virginia social service agencies at a variety of levels—from a former secretary all the way up to a director. They were, without exception, dedicated professionals whose hearts were absolutely in the right place. From them, I learned how the system is supposed to work. Then I spoke with, and read memoirs by, former foster kids. From them I learned how the system actually works. There are some success stories, of course. But for a lot of children, particularly those who enter foster care at later ages, the system creates as many problems as it fixes.
I also spent time hanging around Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, talking with lawyers and a judge. The great difficult there is that, unlike adult courts, trials involving children are closed. That was probably the greatest difficulty: Not having the opportunity to observe directly. I found myself asking a lot of my sources questions like, “Okay, how does this go exactly? What does this look like?”
This is your first novel told from the perspective of female protagonists, Melanie Barrick and Amy Kaye. Did you find writing from the perspective of female characters more challenging? How did you ensure that the tone felt authentic?
With forty-three years’ experience thinking like a guy—and none thinking like a woman—the prospect of writing from the female perspective definitely intimidated me at first. And there were a handful of scenes where I was cognizant that a woman would experience the events unfolding in a fundamentally different way. But for the most part, once I got into the story, I was amazed how little it actually mattered. In most of the situations these women faced, gender was probably the seventh or eighth most important thing motivating their thoughts and actions. There were other aspects of their personalities that simply mattered more. They were driven by their wants, their needs, their ideals, their hopes. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t writing female protagonists. I was writing human protagonists who happened to be female.
Closer Than You Know is your eighth novel. What, if anything, made it different from the previous seven?
I always have strong feelings for my characters. But I was more attached to Melanie Barrick than I’ve ever been to any of my previous protagonists, even the one loosely based on me. There were times when I felt this horrible guilt about what I was doing to her—ripping her baby away from her, putting her through this horrible ordeal, sending her to prison. I always talk my characters throughout the writing of a novel. I found myself apologizing to Melanie quite a bit.
You’re a father, but you write a lot about the bond between a mother and her child in Closer Than You Know. How were you able to convey this unique relationship on the page so vividly?
I did a tour of duty as a stay-at-home dad with an infant. For many long hours each day, it was just me and this baby. I came to realize that a big part of what our culture calls “motherhood” is really just having another human being who is wholly dependent on you for every need, all the time. So I certainly drew on that physical and emotional experience. But I also came to understand there is another aspect to motherhood, and that’s because I watched my wife parent this same child. She wasn’t with the baby for huge chunks of the day, like I was, and yet there were ways in which her bond with the baby was undeniably closer. That really helped me flesh out Melanie Barrick, because when Alex gets taken from her, she is no longer his caregiver. But, deep in the very core of her, she is—and will always be—his mother.
This novel, much like your first standalone Say Nothing, is as emotionally resonant as it is thrilling. Do heart-string-tugging plots just come naturally to you, or do you make an active effort to focus on making the emotions in your thrillers feel true-to-life?
I write by feel. If I don’t feel something, chances are the reader isn’t going to feel something. And if the reader isn’t feeling something...well, really, what’s to stop them from putting this down and playing Sudoku?
Before you were a full-time novelist, you were a successful journalist. How does that inform your work today?
One year at a daily newspaper brings you into contact with enough fascinating stories and weird characters to fuel at least twenty novels. It also teaches you how to learn (quickly!) about anything at all.
Do you miss journalism?
I miss the people. The newspaper newsroom of yore was a magical place: A collection of bright, talented, irascible folks—many of them temperamentally unsuited for employment in any other industry—who spent half the morning strangling each other and half the afternoon worrying about lunch. But then somehow by the end of the day, they managed to get their act together just enough to publish the equivalent of a full-length novel, complete with pictures, graphics, and the horoscopes. And then they’d get up the next day and do it all over again. It was magical to be even a small part of the whole crazy show.
Why did you transition into writing novels?
In some ways, the decision was made for me. The newspaper business began entering its death spiral around the time I turned thirty. I came to realize there was no chance I was going to be able to ride that dinosaur all the way to retirement. I took a buyout in 2008, when I was 34, figuring it was better to jump than be pushed. At that time it was frightening. And depressing. Journalism was all I had ever done, all I knew. But looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Under ordinary circumstances, I am far too risk-averse by nature to do something as outrageous as leaving a steady job for the uncertainty of writing novels. It took the collapse of the industry to make me pursue a dream I otherwise would have been too chicken to chase on my own.
What’s something about your process that might surprise people?
How—for lack of a better word—physical it is. While I’m working on a novel, particularly in that crucial first-draft stage, I treat myself like a professional athlete in season. I do everything I can to maximize performance: I eat right; I don’t drink much (besides Coke Zero); I try to give my brain lots of rest, whether that’s goofing off in the afternoon, or getting eight hours of sleep at night. Don’t get me wrong, I have distractions, like everyone. But my goal is to structure the other twenty hours a day so that those four hours in the chair can be as productive as possible.
What’s the most important trait you bring to the keyboard?
Stubbornness. It’s the gas for my writing engine, and I’d like to think I have more of it than most. When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. There was one test where you had to rearrange blocks. The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop. I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved that second-grade problem. But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I am willing to bash my head against the screen until the words come out right.
Rumor has it that you’re known to break out into song during author events. What inspired you to make this a trademark at your events? Were you involved in musical theater during your school years?
Those rumors are malicious and false. How dare you... Uh, okay, guilty as charged. I was all-state chorus, did high school musicals, sang a cappella in college (yeah, I was one of those guys) and have continued to sing in pretty much any forum in which I am not muzzled by either decorum or someone’s hand. It’s just something I love to do.
What do you hope readers take away from Closer Than You Know?
To my knowledge, there’s never been a thriller that uses the child welfare system as its backdrop. And while I’m not trying to cram a social work textbook down their throats, I would hope readers come away with a more nuanced understanding of that world and some compassion for those involved in it. That’s one of the things I love about the thriller genre: It’s a vehicle that allows you to explore some weighty social issues, yet do so in a way that’s still wildly entertaining. Done right, it’s like ice cream that’s good for you.
BRAD PARKS is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards. His books have won starred reviews from every major pre-publication journal. His latest novel, SAY NOTHING, will be translated into thirteen languages. For more information -- or to sign up for the newsletter written by his impertinent interns -- visit his website at www.bradparksbooks.com.
(2) copies of CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW - Open to US residents only!