Marriage, Murder, and Plenty of Questions at Heart of Thrilling Debut
By Dawn Ius
Harriet Tyce knew she wanted to create a character who was fully human—not only with good and bad aspects, but also a transgressive nature that wouldn’t be punished in a way that so many women are in psychological thrillers.
She succeeds with Alison Wood, the decidedly unlikeable protagonist in her chilling debut BLOOD ORANGE, a domestic thriller that twists and turns down a dark rabbit hole of suspense toward an explosive ending that will stick with readers long after they turn the page.
On the surface, Alison has a perfect life—a doting husband, a precocious young daughter, and a thriving career as a London barrister who has just landed her first murder case. But it’s evident within the first few pages that Alison’s perfection is only a mirage—she’s an alcoholic who is both unfaithful to her husband, and negligent to her beautiful daughter.
She knows what she’s doing is wrong—she just can’t stop.
Perhaps in the hands of someone far less skilled, Alison’s excuses and transgressions would be off-putting, but for Tyce, the risk of creating such an unlikeable character outweighed any notions of playing it “safe.”
“I have to be honest that I didn’t weigh it all up at all when I was writing,” she says. “For a start, I didn’t really think that anyone else would necessarily read it, and I have always been very fond of Alison, warts and all.”
Readers may not come away with a true fondness for Alison, but certainly, it would be near impossible not to appreciate both the character’s complexity and Tyce’s writing prowess. BLOOD ORANGE is beautifully crafted and has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Gillian Flynn. The author couldn’t be more pleased.
“Gillian Flynn is very much one of my literary heroes,” Tyce says. “What I love about Gone Girl is that the twist is only one small part of the book—it operates on many different levels and is very clever. I’ve tried to make BLOOD ORANGE work on a number of levels, too, the story on top but yet some fairly strong themes underneath, and I hope that comes across.”
Tyce accomplishes this mission as well, while also demonstrating how her love of the genre and its bestselling authors have informed her work, and inspired her to take a fresh crack at the unreliable character trend.
The suspense in BLOOD ORANGE is palpable, with each potential story thread shadowed in tension—will Alison’s doting, albeit clueless, husband catch her having sex with her boss at the office? Will her daughter find her mother in a drunken stupor? Who is the person sending Alison texts, threatening to crash her crumbling world to the ground? And, perhaps most important, will solving her client’s murder case be the key to saving herself?
While these questions undoubtedly drive the narrative forward, this is very much Alison’s story, and thus it should come as no surprise that her character arc provided the foundation for the entire book.
“I started with Alison’s character and her context in my mind, the world of the criminal barrister about which I do know quite a lot,” Tyce says. “And as I thought about it, the ending scene came to mind. But for me, the central story really is the development of Alison’s character and also of her growing awareness of the situation that she’s in, in parallel with her growing understanding of her client’s defense to murder.”
Although unintentional, BLOOD ORANGE also weaves in a #MeToo thread, with the issue of domestic violence underpinning the story. Tyce admits she began writing the novel long before the #MeToo movement began, but acknowledges that there is an increasing prevalence of this theme in today’s fiction—and her novel contributes to this collection.
“Perhaps there is a collective sense of rage and a need to voice some of these feelings and experiences that is coming together,” she says. “Having said that, the themes behind #MeToo are perennial; male violence against women has been a factor for centuries, and it’s that point I wanted to tackle.”
Another mission accomplished, clearly demonstrating that hard work and perseverance are the keys to writing a novel that stays true to one’s vision—particularly when the path to publication is pitted with potholes. Tyce says she began writing 10 years ago and has faced numerous rejections.
It’s unlikely readers will need to wait that long for Tyce’s next book, but as to what that will be, the author says she’s still working her way through a draft of a psychological thriller that shares some of the same themes as BLOOD ORANGE, but with new and different characters.
“I hope that it will be ready to reach readers next year,” she says. “That’s the plan!”