Monday 4 October, 2021
Cruel Summer is the second Anna Scavolini mystery, but its protagonist is in fact one Zoe Callahan - a curious state of affairs to be sure, but one that, if you think about it, makes a certain amount of sense.
At the end of the first novel in the series, In the Silence, Anna came face to face with the serial killer who had been terrorising Glasgow - revealed as none other than her best pal Zoe’s brother Victor, who ten years ago participated in the gang rape of a classmate and was now murdering his co-conspirators one by one, driven by a combination of guilt and rage. When I first began thinking about a sequel, it was immediately obvious to me that, harrowing though Anna’s own experiences had been, her trauma paled in significance compared to that of Zoe, who until that point had lived a relatively charmed life but was now forced to confront the fact that her brother - shot dead by police marksmen during the climax - had been both a rapist and a multiple murderer. It therefore stood to reason that there was ample fertile ground to be mined from exploring Zoe’s attempts to come to terms with both who her brother had been and her own precarious sense of self.
So Anna - who still appears, but in a supporting capacity - took a back seat and Zoe assumed centre stage. Admittedly, it took me some time to change gears and make the mental shift required to see the world through her eyes rather than Anna’s. Though they have their similarities - not least their persistence and determination to right the many wrongs that exist in the world - they are, by design, polar opposites with radically different personalities and attitudes. Where Anna is logical and methodical, her worldview formed by rigorous academic study, Zoe tends to have more of a gut reaction to the situations in which she finds herself. She has very fixed views on right and wrong, but little awareness or understanding of the systemic nature of what she instinctively recognises as injustices. (As the novel itself puts it in the first chapter, ‘Politics didn’t interest her except in the most rudimentary sense: more money for hospitals good, more money for bombing brown people bad, and so on.’) She’s easily led and tends to respond without pausing to think through the ramifications - the perfect recipe for making a bad situation worse despite going in with the best intentions.
As I delved into Zoe’s psyche and got to grips with the person behind the gregarious party-girl persona to which I’d introduced readers in In the Silence, I realised that, fundamentally, I was telling a story about a character trying to figure out both her own identity and how she fit into the world. Towards the end of the previous novel, I’d revealed that the ‘mystery man’ Zoe kept sneaking out to spend time with was in fact a woman - socially conscious bartender Carol. It dawned on me that Zoe’s upended assumptions about her own sexuality and the nature of the world she inhabited were really two sides of the same coin, and that both provided fertile ground through which to explore her multiple uncertainties and insecurities. In doing so, I almost felt as if I was writing a treatise on millennial angst, distilling the uncertainty of a generation, and the precarious nature of their existence, into a single, red-haired package.
In many respects, I found writing Zoe to be a liberating experience. Her rage at the injustices she perceives is more knee-jerk, and therefore somehow more ‘pure’, than Anna’s more informed, measured approach. In putting myself in Zoe’s shoes, I was able to explore the part of myself that never feels suitably equipped to understand the great ideological battles of our time; that feels that no ‘side’ is talking to me or representing my views; that wishes life was simply a matter of doing what you like as long as you’re not directly harming anyone else. The reality, of course, is vastly more complex than that, as Zoe soon learns when she gets sucked into the world of up-and-coming politician Dominic Ryland and the various forces utilising him for their own ends. Therefore, while I remain of the opinion that I have more in common, personality-wise, with Anna, it’s Zoe for whom I feel the most empathy. She is, I suspect, the more immediately likeable of the two, and it’s not hard to feel sympathetic towards her - both on account of all the hardships she endures and her yearning for a world that is more straightforward and morally clear-cut than the one we actually inhabit.
While very much a direct sequel to In the Silence and a continuation of the characters and storylines established in that novel, Cruel Summer is nonetheless a radically different beast than its predecessor, and not just in terms of its protagonist. It’s more character-driven and less rigidly defined by the conventions of its genre, and - I think - all the better for it. While In the Silence was a murder-mystery in the most classical sense, with a whodunit to solve and fresh murders served up at regular intervals, the precise nature of Cruel Summer’s central mystery is revealed more gradually, incorporating elements as disparate as political conspiracy, courtroom drama and organised crime thriller. The inciting incident may be a brutal assault, but the first and only dead body doesn’t show up until three-quarters of the way in, and it relates to a subplot rather than the main investigation. It may not be advisable to undertake such a radical gear-shift when writing the second instalment in a series, but the move was an organic one, driven by the needs of the characters and where they found themselves as a result of the events of the previous novel, and I’m quite proud of the fact that I didn’t take the easy route and simply serve up ‘more of the same’.
With this new edition, I’ve taken the opportunity to make some adjustments to the text to create additional clarity and improve its overall flow. Most of these changes consist of minor tweaks to the wording without affecting the overall meaning of the passages in question. Additionally, in three instances, I’ve taken what was originally a single chapter and split it into two where it seemed to me that a natural break occurred.
As with In the Silence, I’ve also reinstated a small amount of material that was removed from the previous release during the final editing pass, most notably some character-centric scenes which don’t necessarily advance the ‘A’ plot but which flesh Zoe out more as a character and provide crucial insights into both her crumbling relationship with Carol and her growing feelings towards Fin. These include a discussion between Zoe and Carol about Jasmine’s profession in Chapter 1 (‘Zoe’); a phone call between the pair of them in Chapter 2 (‘Spanish Night’) which contributes to Zoe’s fateful decision to go out drinking on Friday night; a couple of additional scenes focusing to Zoe’s efforts to help Jasmine in Chapter 5 (‘Safe’); a more steamy conclusion to Zoe and Fin’s council of war in what is now Chapter 14 (‘Bukkake Surprise’; Chapter 13 in the previous version); and an extended scene in Chapter 31 (‘The Deal’; formerly Chapter 28) in which Cottrell’s men make Zoe go to greater lengths to prove that she isn’t wearing a wire. In addition, I’ve restored a couple of previously deleted scenes set during the second day of Gavin Price’s trial. These scenes, which provide some additional follow-through to the events of In the Silence, are to be found in the new Chapter 19 (‘Knowwhatimean?’), created from splitting the old Chapter 17 (‘And Nothing but the Truth’) into two.
Finally, I’ve done a light pass on Zoe’s dialogue, keeping the overall wording the same as before but adjusting the various elisions and inflections to be more in line with how I represent her speech in The Shadow Men. In the process of rereading all three books in the series, I realised I’d been somewhat erratic in how I ‘transcribed’ speech that didn’t conform to the narrow parameters of the Scottish Standard English spoken by the likes of the resolutely middle-class Anna. It will probably never be one hundred percent consistent - but that is, to some extent, by design. SSE and Scots exist on a continuum, with those who speak both languages shifting between them on a context-dependent basis. (You might notice that Zoe ‘code-switches’ a fair amount based on both her emotional state and who she’s speaking to.) Furthermore, because Scots lacks a standardised orthography, I had to make some decisions about spelling and punctuation. For instance, should the Scots word for ‘with’ be transcribed as ‘wae’ or as ‘wi’ - and if the latter, should it be presented with or without an apostrophe? Similarly, should the word for ‘haven’t’ be ‘havnae’ or ‘havenae’… or perhaps even ‘huvny’? (Or some other combination of the above?) You might disagree with the choices I’ve made, but I’ve done my best to be internally consistent and to convey the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the dialogue without rendering it unintelligible to non-native speakers.
(For the record, it’s ‘havnae’. ‘Havenae’ looks weird.)
The Shadow Men: the story so far
Friday 15 October, 2021
The Shadow Men signed paperbacks now available!
Monday 11 October, 2021
The Shadow Men sneak peek and Zoe bio
Friday 8 October, 2021
New editions of Cruel Summer now available
Monday 4 October, 2021
Announcing the M.R. Mackenzie Readers’ Club
Monday 4 October, 2021
Announcing the Shadow Men book tour!
Tuesday 28 September, 2021
M.R. Mackenzie at Noir at the Bar
Sunday 26 September, 2021
New covers and editions for In the Silence and Cruel Summer
Tuesday 21 September, 2021