BOOKS: Grief, revenge motivate protagonist in new thriller | Books & Literature

Ellen Saint knows she isn’t wrong, but then how could she be right? After all, the man she just spotted, Kieran Watts, can’t possibly be alive. That’s because two years ago she killed him.

And so begins “The Heights,” the latest page-turner by bestselling author Louise Candlish, whose previous book, “Our House” won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards,

Saint, a grieving mother, blames Watts for the death of her teenage son. The two teens were best friends and Watts, with all of his charm and deviousness, had corrupted her son and then been with him in the car when he perished. Though it’s been several years since Lucas died, Ellen isn’t ready to forgive. Indeed, whatever happened the first time she set out to destroy Kieran, she doesn’t intend to let that happen again.

The following is a question and answer between Candlish and Times of Northwest Indiana correspondent Jane Ammeson.

JA: “The Heights” is a revenge novel — and ultimately a very fulfilling one. What inspired it?

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LC: I had wanted to explore revenge for a while, and had the idea of constructing that dynamic around a feud. I love feuds! Reaching for a fresh angle, I became intrigued by the dynamic between an overprotective tiger mother and her teenage son’s “bad influence” best friend. It feels quite primal — having your golden boy stolen from you right under your nose.

JA: How do you plot your novels, and how do you keep track of all the twists and turns?

LC: I always plot the main thriller story, the mechanics of the crime, before I start, and I loosely think through the structure and the order of the revelations. Because “The Heights” is a book within a book, I had a natural framework, which helped me keep my thoughts straight.

JA: Ultimately Ellen became a very likeable character and her pain was so palpable — did you base her character on someone you knew?

LC: That is good to hear, as I was a little wary of readers reacting negatively to her because she is clearly neurotic and — how can I put it? — an over-reactor. But she is grieving the loss of a child and I think we all understand that could take us to the brink of human endurance. Even so, I’m surprised by how many people have said to me, ‘I’d do exactly the same if that were my child.’ I hope not! She’s not based on anyone in particular, though some of the details of her overly involved behavior are taken from my observations of fellow parents. She’s actually kind of how I would be if I allowed every catastrophic thought to grow, if I acted on every knee-jerk emotion.

JA: What made you decide to write a book within a book like the way Ellen is telling the story in her writing class?

LC: I love this device, which appears in some of my favorite books, like Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin.” I think the conditions of the COVID lockdown, during which “The Heights” was written, had an impact on the structure. By writing a book within a book I was almost doubling my sense of control over the project, imposing order in the only way I could during a chaotic, uncertain time.

For more information, visit or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.






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