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The Lost Sister is the second novel to feature Scots PI J McNee. In the previous novel, The Good Son, McNee not only managed to discover the truth behind an apparent suicide, but he confronted his own sense of guilt regarding past tragedies in his life. To me, this reveals something of the essence of a good private eye novel – secrets and guilt are integral to the world of the investigator. When the investigator is as compromised as his subjects, this can often make for a fascinating narrative.
The roots of The Lost Sister can be traced back to a one paragraph idea for a novel about a missing girl. The paragraph expanded into the outline of a typical thriller, but something didn’t sit right about the idea. It was mired in cliché and predictability. Fair enough; that’s where all writers start, mirroring and aping what they have enjoyed in the past and believing that they are somehow more original than they are.
But the girl remained at the back of my mind for many years. Why had she disappeared? Was she alive? Dead? She wasn’t a rebellious teen type. She was a good student, a kind person, well liked by all. So why would she run off? Who would take her?
It was only after I realized the girl was the god-daughter of a local criminal that the pieces began to fall into place. When I finished The Good Son, I had a feeling that McNee might be able to tell me more about this missing girl, who she was and why she disappeared. That instinct was proved right especially when McNee made the connection between the girl and her god-father, a man named David Burns.
Burns was a known element to McNee. In The Good Son, Burns does terrible things that manipulate the well-intentioned – if somewhat troubled – investigator into a position of moral compromise. By the time of The Lost Sister, McNee’s hatred of Burns is palpable and anything that would cause the old thug pain has to be a good thing.
Except McNee has a conscience, even if he would like to deny it sometimes. He has a need to see the world restored to rights. And a missing girl is not a thing he can simply ignore. Especially when a man comes forward claiming to have information about the girl’s whereabouts.
Writing The Lost Sister was one of the most satisfying writing experiences I’ve had so far. The voice of J McNee is one that sings in my head, that I feel I know intimately. And the fact that this case spins out beyond what I initially believed to be its confines resulted in a kind of exhilaration as I came to realize the truth behind Mary Furst’s disappearance.
As with The Good Son, McNee’s second case is a love song to the PI genre. Traditionally an American pursuit, I like to think I’ve been able to make the case for the British investigator here – as much of a lone wolf as his US counterparts, but with his own unique – and occasionally dour – spin on the world that says as much about modern-day Scotland as it does about the more universal secrets and lies people tell themselves across the world.
I’m excited about The Lost Sister launching in the US, especially after the very kind reception for The Good Son. I hope that you enjoy reading the novel as much as I enjoyed writing it.
- Russel D. McLean
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