The Hiding Game Bohernabreena novelist brings Boston streets home

By Hayden Moore

Award-winning novelist Louise Phillips has left behind the tales of her beloved character Dr Kate Pearson that brought her in the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year award.

But now, the Bohernabreena native is leaving behind her debut series based in Ireland to go down the dark road of crime in the gritty Boston streets.

The Hiding Game Louise Phillips compressor

The Hiding Game author Louise Phillips

With the release of The Hiding Game on Thursday, September 5, Louise caught up with The Echo to fill us in on how she flew over to Boston to research the book with the Major Crimes Unit, how a series of events in her own life mixed with a trial in the US spawned this new book, and leaving behind Dr Kate Pearson to introduce Heather Baxter to the world.

What helps you get into the right headspace to write novels within the crime genre?

It usually starts with an idea, and then I ask myself what if? Normally everything flows from there. What’s so interesting about writing crime fiction is that it can act as a mirror on society, and the things we fear most. Often it places ordinary people, by way of fictional characters, in extraordinary situations. This really tests them, and you, as a writer.

Tell me a little bit about Heather Baxter and this world that The Hiding Game is based in.

Heather Baxter is a lawyer from Boston who returns to the small town where she grew up, to defend a nanny accused of shaking a baby, leading to his death.

Heather’s mother was murdered twenty-five-years earlier, in the same small  town, and her death remains unsolved.

Defending the young nanny, Heather is forced to face her past, and all the questions surrounding her mother’s death.

Within bustling Boston, and small-town America, the story is part courtroom drama, and part psychological thriller, one where the minuteness of small-town life puts everyone under the microscope, and many are prepared to do anything  to keep their secrets safe.

How much research goes into creating a whole new world like this?

Once I made the decision to base the novel in the US, I knew I had to familiarise myself firstly with location, starting initially in Boston, and then later the South Shore. While there, I met with detectives from the Major Crime Unit in Cambridge, including undercover cops, forensic pathologists specialising in the area of paediatric neurology, and members of the judicial system.

Because the story includes both a legal element, and detailed medical data, it was important to get each of these aspects right.

Through writing the Kate Pearson novels, based in Ireland, I have several contacts within the Irish police force, and these in turn helped me to connect with the right people Stateside.

I enjoy research, because it can open your mind to new and exciting ideas for your story. The research did take longer this time around because of the geography and all the other elements involved, but I hope readers enjoy it.   

The Hiding Game FINAL COVER High Resolution compressor

The Hiding Game book cover

What has it been like leaving behind the character of Dr Kate Pearson to take up a new one, after all of the success you have had with that character?

I really liked writing the Kate Pearson series, and how Kate, as a criminal psychologist, dug deep into the mindset of the fictional killers, and the ‘why’ behind the crimes, but after four novels, for me it was time to try something new, including changing location from Ireland to the US.

What drew you to write a crime thriller based in a small town just outside of Boston?

There were many reasons for setting this crime thriller in Boston, but the spark really began in 1997, when as a young mother I watched the televised trial from Boston, Massachusetts of Louise Woodward, a 19-year-old nanny accused of killing the infant in her care.

The story never left me. Several years later my mother died, and I think it was the first time in my life I understood true heartbreak.

Over time, I began to reflect on my mother’s life, especially the loss of my infant sister to cot death, and later, my brother who was stillborn.

Both tragedies deeply affected our family. For years my mother kept unworn baby clothes of my sister and brother in a large cardboard box on top of a wardrobe, unable to let them go.

Both these strands, the Louise Woodward trial, and my personal story, came together, and The Hiding Game came to be. 

What are the main themes of The Hiding Game?

The story is not autobiographical, or based on my mother’s life, but within this fictional novel I hope a certain commonality of human experience is explored, sometimes within the context of loss, trauma, secrets and lies, and on other occasions, injustice, and murder.

The emotional anchor for this story is a simple one. The death of an infant changes everything, and the death of a mother, the break in the mother-child bond, changes everything too.

What can people expect from this new book?

A gripping courtroom drama, combined with all the great elements of the psychological thriller. I am delighted with the early review quotes from other authors:  “A cracking good read”– Karen Perry; “Will enthral you to the end”– Liz Nugent; “An addictive page-turner”– Patricia Gibney; “A five-star read”– Arlene Hunt; “Full of suspense”– Andrea Carter; and “A riveting read”– Catherine Ryan-Howard.

Can readers expect any crossovers between the Heather Baxter and Dr Kate Pearson series?

The characters are very different from each other, but they are also strong female protagonists who are sometimes trapped within the fractured memories of the past, and the terrible secrets which shift and resurface to the present.

What’s next after the release of The Hiding Game?

The book launch of The Hiding Game will be happening in The Gutter Bookshop in Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar at 6.30 p.m. on September 10. Colm Hayes of Radio Nova will launch it.

There will be free vino, great company, and lots of books, so all are welcome.

I have several festivals lined up too, and I’ll also be doing a couple of crime-fiction workshops, one in Dublin, as part of the Bray Literary Festival, and another series of workshops in Dundalk.

There will be other events around the country too, as well as some radio and TV, but it won’t be long before I’ll  be back in the old writing cave, working away at my next novel.

I started a couple of months ago, and thankfully so far, my editor is delighted with it.

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