Andy Maslen's Shallow Ground
November 30, 2021
British writer Andy Maslen’s thriller Shallow Ground is a great story, and the beginning of an interesting cast for a series. (Warning it is a bloody story — and I don’t mean that in the British way.) So satisfying plot, well-developed characters, Good wins in the end — all the things I want in a thriller. We get intriguing hints at the characters’ backstories which promises good things in the rest of the series.
Most intriguing for me as a writer, however, is his character Hannah, the new CSI assistant director. In some ways she’s a stereotype of what we think of that field — an ability to process minutia to provide clues that solve the case. But she’s more than that. She’s on the autism spectrum, but we figure that out from the way she speaks and acts. And not a lot is made of it. No one ‘tolerates’ her speech or behavior. Instead they respect her abilities and seek her out.
She connects with the teenaged son of the protagonist, Detective Ford, when his father struggles. She is romantically interested in the protagonist Detective Ford, and lets him know that — and we aren’t embarrassed for her, which happens all too often when a woman makes the first move, let alone neurodivergent? Right. But it is a touching moment and left me thinking ‘huh, I should have tried that approach.’ <smiling?>
It’s very well done.
I just participated in a online chat with the author sponsored by BingeBooks (if you don’t know that site, it’s a startup that wants to compete with Goodreads, and is worth checking out. The site is so much more user-friendly! I hope they make a go of it.) And I asked him about how he came to writer Hannah like that.
He said he started with the characteristics that he needed: the preciseness, the attention to detail. A friend of his, a neuroscientist, goes into what he calls ‘science speak’ and he used some of that. A lot of it came from his own teenaged son and his friends who accept and welcome diversity without making a big deal about it. And as he wrote the book, he came to realize that Hannah was on the spectrum.
Worth checking out his book for that reason alone.
I was reminded of another mystery series, that I also like a lot, that goes at it completely the opposite way: Estelle Ryan’s series featuring Genevieve Lenard. This series, which revolves around a police taskforce in France that solves crimes in the art world, is told in first person by Genevieve who is high-functioning autistic, and an expert in non-verbal communication. I’m on book 15 or so in the series, and I eagerly devour her new releases.
One thing Maslen said in his talk was that writers were using so much more diversity now which made books really interesting. If all his characters were like him, they’d be middle-aged white guys, and that would be boring. He said it so matter-of-factly, I had to blink a bit. For a very long time, thrillers have been about middle-aged white guys, and a lot of people still think that’s how they should be. (Not just thrillers, check out any social media platform for discussion of diversity in science fiction series.) How refreshing.