“Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is exhausted and drinking hard, sustained only by a hopeful yet baffling note from his estranged daughter, Sarah.
An SOS from an old flame whose child has been kidnapped gives him welcomed distraction, but the investigation raises more questions than answers.
Then comes the news that his greatest enemy has escaped from prison with a score to settle.
With Joel’s life and the remnants of his family at stake, any chance of peace depends on the silencing of his nemesis once and for all. But an unexpected obstacle stands in his way…”
I am delighted to welcome you to my stop on the Hell is Empty blog tour. Hell is Empty is book three in the excellent PI Joel Sorrell series, written by Conrad Williams. And it’s publication day today so a very happy book birthday to Conrad Williams and all at Titan Books!
Now I have a confession to make, I’ve only read the first book in this series (that’s Dust and Desire if you haven’t come across Joel Sorrell before). But I do have Sonata of the Dead and Hell is Empty on my TBR and I can’t wait to read them. Dust and Desire is such a fabulous book and you can read my review by clicking here. Dust and Desire also features on my recent top 20 all time favourite crime books post for #TBConFB. You can see my other nineteen choices by clicking here. Anyway, enough of my waffling! I’m delighted to have a guest post from author Conrad Williams to share with you today, the topic of which is anti-heroes. Over to Conrad…
We all do and say things that are sometimes cruel and hurtful, perhaps even damaging, even though we perceive ourselves as essentially being good. That means our heroes and villains in literature should too. I don’t believe in evil. Evil acts, sure. But not evil people. I like a knotty, chewy protagonist with layers. Joel Sorrell is vulnerable but also capable. He’s someone who can be pushed only too far before he cracks. He doesn’t react well to stress. And, of course, he’s a potty-mouthed individual who relies on drink a little more than is good for him. In his first outing, Dust and Desire, I wanted to pit him against a ‘baddie’ who is also vulnerable. This person – the Four Year Old (aka Wire) – is driven to find the person who ruined his mother’s life (ironically, by doing what he thought was the right thing). But he is young and wet behind the ears. He has trained his body to look like that of a man much older, but his brain and his behaviour are undernourished things. He has committed violent acts that have also damaged him. No person can kill or maim and not be affected by it, certainly not a teenager. When Joel and the Four Year Old finally meet, I wanted their confrontation flavoured with tragedy. I was very pleased when Publishers Weekly recognised this in their review: ‘The suspenseful face-off between Sorrell and Wire carries an unexpected charge of pathos.’
In Sonata of the Dead I introduced Joel to an amoral writers’ group called the Accelerants who have never really gained any kind of experience. Perhaps they travelled a bit in their gap year. Perhaps they had a summer job. But that’s about it. A cossetted, privileged type who nevertheless recognises their own failings as people who want to write what they know… but know nothing. And so they force experience. They steal cars. They shoplift. They play chicken on the motorway. Idiots, basically, trying to justify their so-called lives and their so-called fiction. When they start getting picked off, one by one, by an unseen and unknown killer they quickly go to pieces despite this obviously being quality grist for the mill. You wonder if a writer from an earlier time – Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee – might have turned such an experience into gripping material. But not the Accelerants. This kind of pressure can only have one outcome.
In Hell is Empty, Joel finds himself up against a person who he thought was a friend, but is in fact a gun for hire. Joel is also digging into a cold case from the 1980s, concerning a killer who pushed construction workers to their deaths as the skyscrapers they built scratched at the London sky and blocked out the light for those living below. It was interesting to press Joel into situations such as this to see how he reacted, but also for him to have to deal with the fallout of besting people who – but for a moment of greed or bad judgment or desperation – find themselves doing questionable acts with deadly consequences. Capering in the background of the three novels is someone much worse than all of these characters, the kind of cartoon villain readers perhaps feel more comfortable with. He has no redeeming features whatsoever. He commits atrocities. I felt the narrative arc needed this, at the end – a classic good versus bad scrap – white versus black, after so many pages of what I hope is seen as subtle grey shading.
Thanks for such a great post, Conrad. I’m even more excited about reading Sonata of the Dead and Hell is Empty now. Sounds like Joel is getting in even more trouble than he did in the first book of the series! Keep an eye out for reviews of both books coming your way soon.
Conrad Williams was born in 1969. He is the author of seven novels (HEAD INJURIES, LONDON REVENANT, THE UNBLEMISHED, ONE, DECAY INEVITABLE, LOSS OF SEPARATION and DUST AND DESIRE), four novellas (NEARLY PEOPLE, GAME, THE SCALDING ROOMS and RAIN) and two collections of short stories (USE ONCE THEN DESTROY and BORN WITH TEETH). He has won two major prizes for his novels. ONE was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel, (British Fantasy Awards 2010), while THE UNBLEMISHED won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 (he beat the shortlisted Stephen King on both occasions). He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 1993. He won another British Fantasy Award, for Best Novella (THE SCALDING ROOMS) in 2008. In 2009 he was Guest of Honour at the World Horror Convention. He edited the anthologies GUTSHOT, which was shortlisted for both the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards, and DEAD LETTERS (forthcoming from Titan Books). He is an associate lecturer at Edge Hill University.
He lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife, three sons and a monster Maine Coon.