I did not set out to write a conventional thriller.
In 2007, I was a deputy editor at Reuters, directly overseeing all of our digital coverage of the United States, the U.K. and Canada. My former boss used to commend me on how I could calmly manage global coverage on anything from devastating earthquakes to heart-breaking terrorist attacks, efficiently and without any perceived emotion. Then in May 2007, Madeleine McCann, a 3-year old British girl disappeared while her parents ate at a restaurant nearby. The story captivated not only our UK audience, but the world. In some circles, it still does.
At the time, I worked close to 80 hours a week. It was par for the course to sleep with your BlackBerry. I also had a son, whom admittedly I saw very little of, only six months younger than Maddie. I remember travelling to London for a few weeks around that time and he hid behind his father when I tried to approach him on my return. As the Madeleine McCann story (MM) grew from weeks into months, I found myself checking on my son at odd hours of the night. I regularly woke up in a panic that somehow, he’d be gone, too. After a while, I took to sleeping on his floor.
Naturally, I moved on from that story, and that job, but this missing girl story stuck, if only as a mechanism to tap into a theme I’ve mulled over my entire life, the intergenerational impact of trauma. I was raised predominantly by my grandmother, an Orthodox Auschwitz survivor. We shared an incredibly tight bond. In many ways she was more mother than grandmother to me. She did her best to keep the Holocaust, all evil really, away from me, tying red strings around my wrists and neck, chanting unknown prayers as she dabbed my face with bread dipped in blessed water. Then the dreams began. As young as four or five years old, I’d wake up and tell her about the ferocious dogs lunging at me from behind the fence, and the smoke coming up from the buildings in the distance. I could hear the noise of the train tracks, not learning, until many years later, that her job was to clean them and then sort through the clothes. My grandmother knew that I could hear what she heard, see what she saw. She would then hug me, knowing that she couldn’t protect me from her tragedy. It formed my DNA already.
I also learned, through my early years and then as a journalist, that there are no perfect victims, nor complete villains. People make decisions that are complicated, that they don’t really understand themselves, based on a million other decisions they and those around them made. I set out to write a book about imperfect people trying to make sense of their surroundings without ever understanding themselves. I set out to write a book about the divine element in our mistakes, that may not be easily comprehended by us in the moment, but if we could only step back, we’d see the magic behind the motions.