MysteryPeople Q&A with Michael Robotham

In Close Your Eyes, Michael Robotham’s latest in his Joe O’Loughlin series, the psychologist seeks a killer on the loose, deals with some family drama, and finds a former student, billing himself as “The Mindhunter,” in his way. Along with help from friend and former Scotland Yard inspector Ruiz he dives into a dark crime that is also most human. We caught up with Mr. Robotham to talk about the book, his characters, and crime both fictional and real.

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople Scott: Close Your Eyes presents some big life changes for Joe O’Loughlin. Was that your intention going in?

Michael Robotham: You’ll get no spoilers from me but I never begin a book knowing where the story is going, or might end. I begin with a premise – in this case the murder of a mother and daughter in a farmhouse – and let the story unfold. It’s a very organic way of writing but also very exciting. There are days I come in from my office (The Cabana of Cruelty) and say to my wife, ‘You would not believe what just happened!’ If I’m surprised, hopefully readers will be.

As for Joe O’Loughlin, I wanted Close Your Eyes to be as much about his family and his love for his estranged wife as it is about solving a terrible crime.

“…with all of my villains, I try to show that they are not simply born evil (few people ever are) but they are product of their upbringing and environment, as well as their genes. Society gets the monsters it deserves.”

MPS: What drew you to use Milo as a foil for Joe?

MR: In the past I’ve come across psychologists and profilers, who are like ambulance-chasing lawyers, looking for any opportunity to further their careers. The difference with Joe O’Loughlin is that he doesn’t charge for his advice and cares deeply about the victims. It’s not some intellectual parlour game for him – lives are at stake.

MPS: At one point when Joe explains to Milo that homicide is not a game or a puzzle, I couldn’t help but think of some lesser crime fiction novels. Do you believe crime should be taken seriously even in fiction?

MR: I think it depends upon what sort of crime fiction you’re writing. A cosy whodunit appeals to many readers. They don’t necessarily want to a grizzly murder, described in graphic detail. Nor do they need to explore the terrible impact of that crime on a family or a community.

As a journalist I interviewed many victims, talked to families and saw how a crime can alter the lives of investigators. I know people who were never taught to ride a pushbike because a child went missing in their neighbourhood when they were growing up. That’s why I treat the crime so seriously.

MPS: As usual there are some great bits between O’Loughlin and Ruiz. Besides being each other’s help mates, what do you see their friendship providing each other as they get older?

MR: I think this goes back to what I said earlier. Both Ruiz and Joe understand the impact of crime – Joe as a psychologist and Ruiz as a former Scotland Yard detective. In an earlier book I showed Ruiz pointed out buildings and describing to Joe O’Loughlin where he’d found bodies, rescued children, investigated suicides, or discovered pimps trading in underage girls.

‘Most people look at a city and they see people or buildings,’ Ruiz said. ‘All I see are the dead.’

That’s why their friendship is so important. They understand each other.

MPS: You spend a lot of time focusing on Joe’s relationship with his eldest, Charlie. What drew you to focus on that?

MR: I think I’ve always been an accidental crime-writer, who gets far more joy from exploring relationships and human behaviour than I do writing the twists and turns of a murder investigation.

I also think that by focusing on relationships and hopefully creating very believable, multi-dimensional characters, my readers will care deeply about what happens to Joe and Charlie and Julianne.

In my first novel The Suspect, which was published more than ten years ago, I gave Joe O’Loughlin Parkinson’s Disease. Having aged him in real-time, his health has slowly deteriorated and there’s a limit to how much longer Joe can continue has a main character. Each book could well be his last. I like Charlie as a character and there may come a time when she takes centre stage in a future novel.

MPS: It seems that Close Your Eyes is a subtle study of why Joe does this work without boiling it down to something simple. As someone who has worked with criminal profilers what did you want to get across to the reader about the people who do it?

MR: The most important thing I have learned from working with forensic psychologists and criminal profilers is that killers rarely spring from nothing. The vast majority are created by circumstances – dysfunctional families, violence, sexual abuse, neglect and poverty. This does not forgive what they do – but it does help explain.

This is why with all of my villains, I try to show that they are not simply born evil (few people ever are) but they are product of their upbringing and environment, as well as their genes. Society gets the monsters it deserves.

You can find copies of Close Your Eyes on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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