Q&A: RJ Mitchell talks 'Parallel Lines'
RJ Mitchell began his career as a novelist with DS Angus Thoroughgood and the book Parallel Lines. First released in 2010, the book serves as an origin story for the Thoroughgood character and also for the author himself.
With the new edition of Parallel Lines releasing on October 22nd, we chatted to RJ Mitchell about revisiting the book, painful memories, and the city of Glasgow that is almost a character itself.
How does it feel returning to Parallel Lines again so long after its first release? Has it brought back any memories at all?
Particularly painful memories!
I wrote Parallel Lines in 2008 when I was recovering from appendicitis which, when it came to the book, ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. The ideas behind Parallel Lines came from my time as a Glasgow Cop and when I left in 2001 I had a rough idea of the book I wanted to write. However, a change of career — which took me into sports journalism — meant I did not have the time to write it until disaster befell me seven years later.
Parallel Lines is all about two men on opposite sides of the law with careers running parallel and in the middle is the woman they both love but neither, ultimately can have.
Declan Meechan, who is DS Thoroughgood’s nemesis, is based on more than one bad guy I came across in my time on the job but ultimately mainly on one very smart individual who was affiliated to one of the main crime cartels in Glasgow and with whom I had some very interesting conversations. I wanted Parallel Lines to really move as a crime thriller as I hate too much ‘chin-stroking’ and I also wanted to colour it with music — the title is a nod to my favourite childhood album, Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’.
Parallel Lines is the ‘origin story’ of DS Thoroughgood, in a sense. If people have read a book like The Blood Acre, for example, will they notice anything different about the character? How has he changed over the years?
The Blood Acre is a prequel to Parallel Lines, The Hurting, and The Longest Shadow. In ‘The Blood Acre’ you have a 21-year-old rookie Thoroughgood and in Parallel Lines a DS who has been through more than his fair share of disaster and bitter experience. Yet, essentially, Thoroughgood is the same character: a romantic at heart, slightly arrogant, and with a desire to see justice served and the rights of the underdog preserved. This often leads him into situations he would rather not be in.
When writing a character like Thoroughgood — and some of the other recurring characters in your books — have you ever found them changing in a way even you didn’t expect?
Every writer, I would imagine, has a style that evolves over time and with every book he or she has written. My next book in the series, ‘The Hammer’, will be my seventh published crime thriller, so over that period, I guess I exert more control over my writing. I have developed a style of writing which revolves around roughly six-chapter mini-stories or sequences and when I start writing a novel, I know what I want from each character.
One of my best friends from my time in Strathclyde Police has one of the foremost private investigations businesses in Glasgow and I am lucky enough to benefit from many tidbits and we also discuss events and characters from the past before I start writing a new novel. So, things are largely shaped before I sit down to start.
Yet, on occasion, the character does take a slight meander and that is the case with the villain ‘The Widowmaker’ in The Blood Acre, which was particularly worrying as I found myself starting to like him a bit too much!
For the DS Thoroughgood series, you have drawn a lot from your own experiences as a police officer. How important do you think it is to ground Thoroughgood in reality?
Right from the start, I want Parallel Lines to be based on experiences I had and to give the reader the most realistic look at police life I could, within a fictional setting. That really mattered and still does.
How are you feeling about reintroducing Parallel Lines — as well as The Hurting and The Longest Shadow — to new readers?
I’m really looking forward to it. The big thing for me is to get Thoroughgood as a character known outside of Scotland and this time around that is the great hope. I think all three novels stand the test of time and confront three vastly different plots that will enthrall a reader and certainly anyone who loves crime fiction laced with double cross, betrayal, revenge, and heartbreak, all dipped in crimson.
Finally, I want you to tell me two things.
1) What is your favourite thing about Glasgow?
2) What is DS Thoroughgood’s favourite thing about Glasgow?
My favourite thing about Glasgow is the people. There is a warmth and vibrancy there. Glasgow is full of characters and personality. In Scottish terms, in my opinion, Rebus aside, there is no better city to place a crime series and I was lucky enough to pocket a treasure trove of experiences and characters from my 13 years in uniform and plainclothes as a cop that has given me a helluva a lot to write about!
In terms of Thoroughgood, Glasgow is the place that made him and breaks him. His degree was from Glasgow University and the mistakes he made there meant that Strathclyde Police CID had its only Medieval History graduate in its ranks. He is similar to me in that he loves the people and the places in Glasgow but with Thoroughgood, his job parallels his life and, as the lines blur, this threatens to prove all-consuming. That is why Glasgow is the only place to be for the life and crimes of DS Angus Thoroughgood!