AVery appropriately for the author of one of the most hideously compulsive thrillers you’ll read in 2021: I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish it, and then I reread the ending in the morning because I’d read it too fast in my horror – Will Dean talks to me from his cabin deep in the Swedish woods.
The Last Thing to Burn, which opens on January 7, begins when Dean’s narrator Thanh Dao is trying to escape Lenn, the farmer who has kept her imprisoned in a sinister farce of married life for years. When she sees her Land Rover approaching through the swamp fields, she knows she will be punished for her disobedience. He has four possessions left and he will burn one: “My identity card. My photo of my parents. The precious letters from my sister. My book. My, my, my mine. It is not this one. Mine.”
“There’s no one to blame but you, Jane,” he tells her. My name is not Jane, Thanh Dao thinks to herself, as she hands over the photo of her parents.
The scene came to Dean in 2016, one night as he lay awake in bed. “I was in that strange moment between wakefulness and sleep, and I saw very flat, featureless fields with a small ruined cabin. Then I saw a woman there, ”he says. “It seemed like he was living a pretty normal life there, but he knew he couldn’t leave. I wanted to understand why and I wanted to understand her story. That night, between midnight and 6 in the morning, I got the complete book. “
Thanh Dao, Dean’s narrator, is a young Vietnamese woman who came to the UK with false promises of a good job and found herself sold out to Lenn. She cannot leave for several reasons: the vast countryside around her, an injured ankle and the safety of her beloved sister, Kim-Ly, who is also in the UK.
Dean found the idea of an individual being controlled in all aspects of their life – their medication, what foods they eat, where they sleep – “really unsettling, in a calm and threatening way.”
“The idea is horrible. Lenn is eroding his identity, layer by layer, by burning his possessions, ”says Dean. “I am not a very intellectual writer, I really feel my way through the stories. So I felt uncomfortable for her and I worried about her all the time. And the hope that she would see the whole book got smaller and smaller. “
Growing up in the East Midlands, Dean describes the region’s vast skies and endless plains through the eyes of Thanh Dao, for whom it is a “hell of the plains.” “I love it. I find it quite haunting and bleak, but it’s quite beautiful, ”he says. “I like bad weather and gloomy landscapes. Where I am in the forest, the sun will not rise above the treetops for the next two to three months. My friends get scared and think it sounds horrible, but I really like it. “
Dean is the author of the excellent Tuva Moodyson series, in which the deaf young reporter Tuva delves into various crimes in the wilds of Sweden. Like The Last Thing to Burn, the first book in the series, Dark Pines, came to him as a picture: a huge forest, much larger than the one he lives in.
“I saw this gravel track and a truck, then I looked out the window and saw a woman with headphones. I knew she was my main character, but I didn’t understand her at all. I knew I wanted to write a Twin Peaks type book in a small town. And when I started writing, his voice was flooded. “
Dean met his Swedish wife in his first week of college in London. A “clumsy, shy, weird, book-loving kid,” he had decided to study law at the London School of Economics because “that’s what you do if no one in your family has been to college before: you study something that leads directly to a job. “
He ended up working in finance, but it didn’t suit him. He loved his visits to Sweden with his wife, and when he came across an old list from a marshy clearing in the middle of a forest, he convinced her to fly with him to check it out.
“I think the real estate agent was so surprised that someone wanted to come see this swamp that he picked us up at the airport,” says Dean. They drove as close as they could, but they had to walk the rest of the way. “It was snowing, in February we had to walk like five miles. And then we found it, and I said right away, ‘I want to live here. I really like the feel of this. ‘
Dean built his house himself, earning money from an additional activity in the repair of antique clocks. Keeping the idea to himself, he began to think about writing.
“He didn’t feel brave at the time. To be honest it would have felt braver to stay in London, ”he says. “Being on the subway at 6 in the morning every day, we just didn’t want that anymore. And I longed for more time to read and write, and to take it seriously. I never thought I would be a writer and I never imagined it until I was 30 years old. “
Then Tuva approached him. Dark Pines was picked up from the slush pile. His publisher, Oneworld, “took a lot of risk,” he says, “because nobody knew who I was. And it is kind of an unusual book: a British writer writing on a Scandinavian setting, a man writing to a deaf woman. I think they had very modest expectations about it, and then luckily word of mouth happened. “
Dean is not deaf and does not understand why Tuva, who has now appeared in three crime novels, with more to follow, came to him that way. “I wish I had understood these things better. Perhaps it is something subconscious and I had deduced that I had not seen many deaf characters, “he says. He still does extensive research on living with hearing loss and says he was “concerned and concerned” about how deaf readers would receive Tuva. When a deaf reader tells you that his writing feels authentic, it means everything to him.
One of his deaf friends reads the Tuva books before they are published, while a Vietnamese friend reads The Last Thing to Burn in its early stages.
“All writers must do their best. If you write from a place of utmost empathy and you really care about your writing and your storytelling, that’s all you can do. I always try to research the best I can and be as sensitive as I can to my characters, and do them justice, whoever they are, ”says Dean. “It’s my job to tell the story, and it’s other people’s job to criticize it. And that’s fine. “
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.