'The Other Passenger' is the clever, twisty, and utterly satisfying thriller you need to read this year.
It all happens so quickly. One day you’re living the dream, commuting to work by ferry with your charismatic neighbor Kit in the seat beside you. The next, Kit hasn’t turned up for the boat and his wife, Melia, has reported him missing.
When you get off at your stop, the police are waiting. Another passenger saw you and Kit arguing on the boat home the night before and the police say that you had a reason to want him dead. You protest. You and Kit are friends—ask Melia, she’ll vouch for you. And who exactly is this other passenger pointing the finger? What do they know about your lives?
No, whatever danger followed you home last night, you are innocent, totally innocent.
The Other Passenger is perfect for fans of Mare of Easttown and Double Indemnity.
We chatted with Louise about music inspiring her writing process, not writing every single day, and crafting the perfect twists and turns.
Q: Where do you like to write the most?
I write on the sofa in my living room, surrounded by chaos. My dog Bertie is usually sitting next to me, shedding hairs.
Q: When do you like to write the most?
I used to write around my daughter’s school day and I got used to that split shift – a short day, then a break, and then a couple of hours in the evening.
Q: When it comes to drafting, do you prefer writing on a computer or freehand?
I only write on a computer.
Q: Are you more of a plotter or pantser?
I’m a plotter. I’m not sure how a thriller can be pantsed!
Q: Stephen King has a great line in On Writing that says “the scariest moment is always right before you start. After that, things can only get better.” That scary pre-start moment often inspires procrastination in writers. Suddenly, you have to clean your entire house, do the laundry and play Candy Crush for an hour before you can actually start writing. Is there anything you need to do before you can actually sit down and work?
That’s such a great line. I find I’m quite excited to get started, so I’ve never procrastinated over the beginning of a book. What I find hard is finishing! If I’m stuck, I go for a long walk, which always seems to loosen the knots.
Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what music? Is your choice of music inspired by the project you’re working on?
I find music very inspiring. The Other Passenger had its own soundtrack, including the Kinks, the Zombies and Lana Del Rey. My favourite scene is where Melia and her friend dance to ‘Doin’ Time’ by the river. That’s such a hedonistic and sinister song, perfect for her.
Q: Some writers believe you have to write every single day. Is that true of your process? How often do you write/how long for each session?
I don’t need to write every day. In fact, the most useful thing for me is to take time off a novel, so I can appraise it afresh when I go back to it. I might write for a couple of hours and then take care of other jobs, like social media or publicity or meetings.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring author?
Have a really good central concept, something you can pitch in a line or two. The phrasemaking can be polished up over time, but a good idea needs to be there from the start.
Q: Where do you normally find story inspiration?
Inspiration comes from lots of places. It might be a place or a song lyric or an eavesdropped conversation. I read a lot and keep up to date with politics and social issues. Some of my crimes and tragedies are from news stories, often long in the past. The Other Passenger was partly inspired by ‘Double Indemnity’ and other old movies.
Q: The Other Passenger follows Jamie over the course of a year. How do you balance a character like Jamie, who has to be fairly unlikeable for the premise of the story to work, but still have it be so compulsively readable?
It wasn’t a conscious balancing, but more a case of my really liking him and rooting for him and being completely unconcerned that he might be dislikable to others! All I wanted was for him to be real. I think the compulsive element comes from the plotting, the slow drip of clues and revelations.
Q: Ruth Ware calls you the "queen of the sucker punch twist." What goes into crafting a perfectly shocking, yet believable twist?
That is very kind of Ruth! Big twists need to be planned right from the start and, for me, need to be very natural and integral. I like to scatter just enough clues that the reader could have figured it out – it’s that ‘Oh my God, of course’ factor. I don’t like twists that feel contrived.
Q: What comes first when you're drafting a book with so many surprises tucked away in its pages—the initial setup/mystery, such as the disappearance of Jamie's commuting buddy Kit, or the story's finale?
The most important thing was to know the mechanics of the deception plot. I had to master that before I could figure out where to plunge into the story. I knew I wanted to start with the river commute, to set the mood and establish Jamie’s voice, but there were a few possibilities since he goes back and forth all the time. I settled on the morning he is picked up by the police; the subsequent questioning formed a natural scaffolding to the back story.
Q: While the mystery at the center of The Other Passenger will keep readers hooked, you also examine the generational divide between Gen X and millennials and how those differences can cause friction in close relationships. Why did you choose to explore that topic through the lens of a thriller/mystery?
I always have social issues I want to explore, it’s a big part of my MO. I’d read so much about generational conflict and found the tone very inflammatory – I even wondered if it might be an invention of the media! But it’s real, certainly in financial terms. In the book, the Gen X characters are smug and complacent and the millennials are entitled and avaricious (I should point out that they’re both exaggerations) and these combined character faults proved to be perfect for a suspense story.
Q: What are some of your favorite psychological thrillers?
Anything by Patricia Highsmith (the French movie adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley, ‘Plein Soleil’, is mentioned in The Other Passenger). I’m shamefully late to Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell), but recently devoured A Dark-Adapted Eye and A Fatal Inversion. Of my contemporaries, I love Lisa Jewell, Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena and am always happy when I’m likened to them!