Interview: Steve Cavanagh

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Crime author Steve Cavanagh is lawyer by day, and he says this is because he joined the wrong queue when enrolling for college. What he actually wanted to study was business and marketing. It was a happy accident, it seems, as now he is a successful civil rights lawyer and his work has inspired his fictional con-artist lawyer, Eddie Flynn, who Steve has imbued with a powerful sense of right and wrong.

His debut novel, The Defence, was the subject of a bidding war among publishers and he was named an Amazon Rising Star in 2015. Then came The Plea, which we reviewed here. On 18 May the third Eddie Flynn novel, The Liar, hits the shelves. We decided to catch up with the Belfast-based writer to find out more about his books.

What do you hope Crime Fiction Lovers will love about The Liar?
I have the same hope for Crime Fiction Lovers as I do for every reader. My goal is to hook them into the story and keep them there. I once read a thing by Anthony Horowitz where he talked about writing for children – he said you’ve got to grab the reader on the first page and I certainly aim for that. The Liar is a thriller, first and foremost, but it also features a trial so I hope the readers also gain an insight into the US justice system while being entertained. It’s a book about secrets, lies and promises. The main thing is the reader has to be entertained, surprised, delighted, and frightened. I’m looking for a reaction from the reader. And of course I hope they love it so much that they’ll go and check out the rest of the series.

Eddie Flynn is a fascinating character, where did he come from?
Eddie was born while I was in the middle of a trial, cross examining a witness. I can’t give too much away, but I kind of conned the witness into telling the truth by using an old courtroom trick. It hit me, right then and there, that good trial lawyers share the same skills as good con artists: persuasion, misdirection, manipulation, distraction, et cetera. So when it came to writing my first novel, I knew I wanted to do a legal thriller, and at the heart of that book would be a character who takes the reader by the hand and shows them what’s really going on in the courtroom, and how those lawyer tricks really work. Eddie straddles two worlds, but my job is to show the reader that those worlds aren’t that different.

How much do you draw on your own legal experiences in your writing?
I don’t use any real cases in my work. For a start, quite a lot of them a reader simply wouldn’t believe. Truth is stranger than fiction, after all. In terms of my experience, I like to think that Eddie and I have similar courtroom techniques. He’s a lot braver than I am, but essentially we tackle cases and witnesses in the same way. See, a trial is really two sides telling different stories. And whoever tells the best story usually wins. In that way, I suppose I learned a lot about storytelling from my legal experience.

Which other writers have influenced you?
Probably the biggest influences on my writing have come from three authors – John Connolly, Lee Child and Michael Connelly. When I first thought of writing a novel I knew I wanted to set it in the US. In retrospect, that was a brave decision, considering that at the time I’d never been to the US. But I knew that John Connolly didn’t live in America, and yet he set his Charlie Parker novels in Maine. Lee Child is British, yet the Jack Reacher books are all US based. At the time I naively thought, “Well, if they can set their books in the States maybe I could too.”

Once I’d begun writing I quickly realised that both Connolly and Child are geniuses, and I clearly wasn’t. Plus, what those authors have been able to achieve, over many years and across their respective series, is just staggering to me. When these authors publish a book I put down whatever I’m reading, and I go out and buy it. With Michael Connelly, his Micky Haller series is in my opinion, the best legal thriller series currently in existence. These authors inspired me to pick up a pen, and they continue to make me want to be a better writer. I read their work and it makes me want to do achieve more and write the best book that I can, knowing it will never approach their standards, but I can try.

The setting for your novels is New York yet you are from Ireland, what led you to this decision?
A couple of things dictated the setting. First, as I mentioned, my love of US crime and thriller writing. Second, I knew I wanted to write a fast paced legal thriller. If I’d set the book in the UK I would’ve been stuck with our dual system of representation – solicitor and barristers. That would mean I would have to create two lead characters which I felt I wouldn’t be able to balance very well. Also, it’s hard to write an action scene without making it a comedic experience when one your characters is wearing a wig and a gown!

What’s next from the pen of Steve Cavanagh?
I’m working on the fourth novel in the Eddie Flynn series. I can’t say too much about it at the moment. All I can say is I think the best is yet to come.

The Liar will be available from 18 May, and you can order a copy below.

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