Linwood Barclay: Bestselling Canadian crime writer on his new novel Elevator Pitch
Canadian crime writer Linwood Barclay's latest thriller centres on a spate of New York killings committed via sabotaged lifts. David Roy spoke to the best-selling author about his inspiration for Elevator Pitch and his famous fans
THE press blurb for Linwood Barclay's new thriller Elevator Pitch proudly proclaims that it "does for elevators what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the beach!".
Such publisher-proffered hyperbole might raise sceptical readers' eyebrows faster than a penthouse-bound express lift – but taken alongside a quote from longtime Barclay fan Stephen King advising "read Elevator Pitch as soon as possible, it's one hell of a suspense novel", it's likely that even hardened crime fiction nuts will be queueing up to jab at the call button (and that's the last elevator-based pun you'll have to endure, honest) for the best-selling US-born Canadian crime writer's latest.
As you may have guessed from its title, Barclay's new page-turner involves a cunning killer who's found a way to 'hack' into New York City's elevators and make them do his lethal bidding, thus bringing terror to the skyscraper-riddled metropolis with a hat-trick of gravity-assisted multiple murders.
PTSD-stricken Detective Jerry Bourque is soon on the case – which is lucky, since he must be one of the few NYPD cops harbouring a lifelong passion for architecture and a particular fondness for high-rises, like the brand new record-breaking Top Of The Park due to be officially opened by hard-nosed mayor, Richard 'Dick' Headey.
Is there a direct connection between the mayor and the killings, or has New York just become the latest victim of 'coastal elites'-hating domestic terrorist group The Flyovers?
City Hall-savvy columnist and perpetual thorn in Dick's side, Barbara Matheson, smells a story – but family matters and her fondness for enigmatic mayoral security hunk Chris Vallins might hinder the journo's quest for the scoop of a lifetime.
That's the 'elevator pitch' for Elevator Pitch – the snappy title of which initially proved problematic, as Barclay explains.
"I remember sending a quick note to my publisher about the book and at the top of it I'd written 'Elevator Pitch'," the journalist-turned-author recalls over the phone from his lakeside summer home in Prince Edward County outside Toronto.
"Then I realised I needed to explain that was the title – it wasn't just an idea for a book, that was the book!"
With a chuckle, he adds: "We figured that calling it 'Lift Pitch' for you folks in Ireland and the UK just wouldn't have the same ring to it."
As for how he came up with the idea for this pacey, multi-character story strewn with red herrings, sadly it seems that Barclay was not inspired by a lift-related near-death experience of his own.
"That's the story I want to tell," laughs the Toronto-based writer, who has sold million of books worldwide since enjoying his first international hit with the Richard and Judy-endorsed No Time For Goodbye in 2007.
"What happened was, I was listening to the local news and they were saying how Toronto didn't have nearly enough elevator inspectors. As soon as I heard that, the idea was just there: what if you had someone who was deliberately sabotaging elevators as a way of knocking people off?"
He continues: "I've since discovered from people's reactions [to the book] that elevators seem to be this place where there's an intersection of phobias – there's claustrophobia, fear of falling, loss of control, and they all seem to come together once those doors slide closed.
"I'm not too bad with them, although the CN Tower in Toronto is one of the tallest buildings in the world and the elevator there can give you a little bit of an odd sensation. They have a glass floor at the top where you can stand on it and look down – that's not a place I want to stand for very long.
"But I have friends who are completely freaked out by elevators. Some of them have told me that they can't even read this book because of it – but then others have told me that's why they have to read this book!"
When it came to selecting an appropriate setting for this multi-storey centric thriller, New York – described in the book as a 'vertical city' – was an obvious candidate, as Barclay explains.
"Really, I thought there was only one place where it could be and that was New York," he tells me.
"I've been there many many times, so I had a good sense of that location anyway. Hong Kong would have been another great place to set it, because that's one of the most vertical cities I've ever been to or seen, but I hadn't been there enough times to feel like I could write about it convincingly."
And, while Elevator Pitch keeps readers guessing about the identity of the elevator obsessed killer and their motivation – "there's a lot of balls in the air with this one," comments Barclay, mischievously – it seems the author himself made sure to have the culprit nailed down before writing word one.
"One of the first things I had to sort out before writing the book is 'why is this happening?'" he reveals. "I had to know that before I began. It's funny, we got a lovely blurb for the book from Joe Hill [best-selling author son of Stephen King] – he wrote to me to say he thought he had it all figured out and then was totally blind-sided. I loved that."
Indeed, with the King clan very much confirmed fans of the Canadian writer's work, Barclay admits he still has to pinch himself every time the legendary US author says something nice about his books.
"It's kind of mind-blowing," he says of his celebrity 'constant readers'.
"I remember years ago when my wife and I went to see Carrie, which was my introduction to Mr King's work – if you had told me then that 'in the future, this guy will read your books and like them', I would have said 'nah, that's crazy!'
"He actually sent me an advance copy of his new book The Institute which, I have to say, is one of the best things he has done. I just loved it, it's my favourite book of his since 11/22/63.
"It amazes me that, at a time in his career where he'd be entitled to coast and kind of just 'mail it in', he's turning out some of his most amazing work. That's really inspiring."
:: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay is published on September 5 by HQ. Linwood will be launching the book at No Alibis in Belfast on September 7. Full details on Noalibis.com