IN his newest crime thriller “Kill Your Brother”, Canberra author Jack Heath brings a twisted tale of revenge to his own backyard.
Rural NSW is the setting for this story which sees Heath pose the ultimate decision to the novel’s main character: “Would you kill a family member to save your own life?”
When disgraced athlete Elise Glyk is captured by a reclusive woman with an axe to grind and locked inside a septic tank with her brother, it’s a question she’s forced to answer.
“It was so refreshing to set a novel in Australia, to write I could just trust my own memories or look out the window,” says Jack.
“Warrigal, NSW, is the fictional centre of the book and when I was describing its town centre I was able to use Charnwood shops – my local shops – as inspiration.”
Even Canberra features in some flashback sections of the story – a far cry from Heath’s previous best-sellers, which have been set in Houston, Texas.
“I feel like when I was younger there weren’t a lot of Australian thrillers,” he says.
“It felt like there were a lot of Australian books, but if you wanted something thrilling you were going to need something set in the US or UK, so I’m pleased to be part of the mob of Aussies who are turning that around.”
Jack believes it’s authors such as Jane Harper, writer of “The Dry”, and Chris Hammer, writer of “Scrublands”, who have created a new craving for the Australian outback crime noir.
“I think for city dwellers, the outback landscape seems threatening and I count myself as part of those it scares,” says Jack.
“I’ve been to small towns where I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how far I am from a hospital. If I collapsed or got run over by a tractor or bitten by a snake would I survive?
“When writing a thriller you want to threaten your hero in as many ways as possible, and in that sense it forms a great setting for doing that.”
Threatened indeed is the protagonist of “Kill Your Brother”, who throughout the book is faced with revelations that not only lead her to question who her brother really is, but question who she is herself.
“With this novel I wanted to see how many times I could swap the readers between thinking certain characters are good or bad,” says Jack.
In “flipping that switch”, as Jack describes it, he even surprised himself with some of the twists and turns.
“I knew the final scenes before I even knew who the characters would be. It was just a matter of finding the right characters to get there,” he says.
“Having said that though, a lot of the things that happened in the middle of the book actually surprised me.
“Some of the best ideas are the ones that come to you as you’re wading through the manuscript and I know that if they catch me off guard they’ll catch the reader off guard.”
Throughout his career, Heath has been praised by critics for the complexity of his female characters and they firmly take the lead in his newest tale.
“When I’m writing female characters I actually find there’s freedom to be more autobiographical with their emotions or thoughts because no one will recognise it’s me if I switch the gender,” he says.
“I think that might be where some of the appreciation from critics for those characters comes from, and that’s something I’ve only felt safe enough to do with my male characters in recent years.”
Despite the confronting and gruesome style of his adult books, Jack says readers are often surprised to hear he faints at the sight of blood.
With this novel, he says he’s tried to exorcise some of that fear.
“When I first learned about blood doping – athletes withdrawing their own blood and reinjecting it later – the idea made my skin crawl, but I was also fascinated by it,” he says.
“I found myself imagining an athlete who had been banned for blood doping and rejected by society, and who then had a reversal of fortunes, being forced to run for her life while bleeding to death.
“The idea just wouldn’t let me go.”
With a sequel already in the works, Jack says he’s excited to write and read more thriller fiction set in his home country.
“One of the great things about Australia is its diversity of landscape – I’d love to see some more Australian thrillers set in beach communities or in the rainforests or even down in the freezing cold wastelands of Canberra,” he says with a laugh.
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