A child disappears one day… and returns five years later with no memory of where he’s been all this time. What’s his story? That would be enough for any thriller, but with The Stolen, author Jason Pinter wants to go deeper, into the background of his main character, journalist Henry Parker, and how his past informs the book’s tale. Pinter’s here to help you figure out how it’s all going down.
I don’t think I can really get into The Big Idea for my third novel, The Stolen, without talking about The Big Idea for my first novel, The Mark. I’ve been a voracious reader of crime fiction in all its permutations for years. From the early works of Hammett and Chandler to their descendants like Connelly, Lehane, Lippman and Pelecanos, to the development of the thriller from Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal to more recent offerings by Harlan Coben, Charlie Huston, Karin Slaughter and Lee Child, I read them all. Not just for the mystery or suspense, but because many crime novels could also been seen as a snapshot of a time and place. The crimes investigated were often emblematic of the world the characters lived in, the characters themselves inhabiting traits of much of the populace. You could pick up a James Ellroy novel and learn as much about Los Angeles in the 1950’s as you could from any primary source.
So when it came time to write my first crime novel–something in knew I always wanted to do–it began with the character. First and foremost, I wanted my protagonist to be someone my age. I began writing The Mark when I was 24, an age group not often depicted in crime novels unless the character in question was either a drug addict, degenerate, or more often, both. Crime fiction heroes tended to be older, more world-weary, with loads of baggage and, more often than not, at least one divorce and a drinking habit. I wanted my hero to be younger. A little more naive, a little more optimistic. Someone who the readers could watch accumulate baggage over time, but that would be half the fun.
I didn’t want to write a down-and-dirty police procedural, nor did I want to write a book where the hero could survive major league ass kickings with a wink and a nod. I wanted to write a fun, fast-paced crime series, but one where my characters retained their scars from book to book.
I also wanted my character to exist in a world not fully explored in crime fiction. I didn’t want to write a P.I. novel, a political thriller, or straight up noir. I wanted my character’s career to some extent to be a mirror of the world he lived in. The newspaper industry seemed a perfect fit. Since I’d worked for nearly a decade in media, I knew enough to make Henry’s world feel legitimate. It was a world different from usual crime fare, and since I began the novel not too long after the Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass scandals (which still boiled in my gut), it all came together. Henry Parker was a young, idealistic, ambitious and perhaps slightly hubristic reporter. He was sick and tired of his generation seemingly represented by plagiarists, egomaniacs, rich offspring and navel gazers (is there a little of me in Henry? Maybe just a bit…). So Henry began work at the fictional New York Gazette, in part to help wipe away the stains left on the journalistic establishment. He wanted to be a young journalists whose stories were more important than his byline. But of course, it’s not that simple.
Henry ends up accused of murder, his face plastered across the very newspapers he aspired to help clean up. Overnight, Henry becomes the very thing he despises the most. I loved the irony of his situation, and knew this was something he would have to live with and deal with in each subsequent novel.
So how does that lead into The Big Idea for Henry’s third outing, The Stolen? It began with Elizabeth Smart, the young girl abducted by Mormon extremists and found nine months later, whose story captivated the nation until he rescue. It always seemed odd to me that the girl couldn’t escape, that she was never able to alert authorities or anyone to her capture. How could anybody be abducted and held against their will for such a long time–especially so close to their home by a couple that wasn’t exactly Bonnie and Clyde–without being able to alert anybody? This planted a seed. Eventually that seed grow, and a scene formed in my mind.
The scene was of a family eating dinner one night. A typical American family in the suburbs. A couple of kids, a nice home, toys scattered about. But despite this, there is an air of sadness about the parents. Then the doorbell rings. The mother goes to answer it, and when she opens the door she sees standing there the son who’d vanished without a trace five years ago. The boy looks untouched, healthy. He has no scratches on him, and has no memory of his lost years.
That scene gave me chills, and of course raised numerous questions that would be answered throughout the book. Who took the child? Where has he been for five years? And how can he not remember where he’s been? After doing some research, I knew those questions could all be answered.
We learn early on in The Mark that Henry come from a broken home. A brutal father and a mother so shell shocked that she’s completely withdrawn emotionally. Henry in many ways never really had a childhood, and lost himself in his work. So when he begins to investigate the strange reappearance of this child, he’s looking into lost years that could very well have been his own.