With In Constant Fear (hardcover, paperback, digital), writer Peter Liney brings to close the dystopian trilogy he began in 2014 with The Detainee and continued the following year with Into The Fire. But while he knows it’s time to go, he also says, “it’s with a genuinely heavy heart that I sign off on this trilogy.”
For those who haven’t read it or any of the previous books in your “Detainee Trilogy,” what is this series about, and how does In Constant Fear connect to the other books, both narratively and chronologically?
It sounds rather grand, but whenever I’m asked what “The Detainee Trilogy” is about, I always have the same answer: “the human spirit.” For a long time I wanted to write about how people prevail under the most trying and threatening — not to mention “hopeless” — of circumstances. Those who’ve been kidnapped, for example, held in solitary confinement, their captors never speaking to them, the threat of torture, perhaps even execution, hanging over their heads, where do they find the courage, the belief, the strength to go on, to hopefully emerge into the light? Each of the three books is set in a different kind of “prison” and follows a group of characters discarded by society who join forces to fight back against the most overwhelming of odds and evil of enemies. With In Constant Fear, I gave Clancy, Lena, and the rest of the gang, all they’ve ever wanted: freedom, open spaces, an almost idyllic situation, but I wanted to show that prisons, forces greater than us, can appear anywhere. Of the three books, I would have to say, I personally find it the most disturbing…and apparently, I’m not the only one.
When did you first decide this series would be a trilogy, and when in that process did you decide what In Constant Fear would be about?
I “trailed” the first book as a trilogy, but it was the reactions of the people who read it that convinced me I had to continue. It’s always been the not-too-distant future that I find most interesting — the next twenty or thirty years — and I think that’s what makes the trilogy so real and engaging. Almost every week something happens somewhere in the world that makes you think, “Yeah, I know what that reminds me of.” I also feel I’m incredibly well served by my characters: Clancy, Lena, Jimmy and Delilah, Gordie and Arturo, Hanna. So many people said to me, “You can’t just leave them there!”
As for In Constant Fear, I had a fair idea what it would be about right from the start, or what I wanted to achieve, though not exactly how. Oddly, I think the fact that I’ve recently moved back to the country helped the story in a way. There are things out here that country people just see as facts of life, whilst they make urban dwellers that bit uneasy.
As you were writing In Constant Fear, was there anything you wish you had done differently in the first book?
Actually, I’m very glad to say “no.” The one major element of the trilogy that caused me the most soul-searching, and a little back-tracking — and, fortunately, it was all contained in one book: Into The Fire — was Lena’s blindness. It would be getting into spoiler-territory again to say what, but I eventually made, what for me was, the right decision, though I’m aware some might disagree.
The Hollywood Reporter said the first book, The Detainee, was like “the Hunger Games for older adults.” What do you think makes your series different, and more adult, than The Hunger Games?
The one thing about “The Detainee Trilogy” that seems to have captured everyone’s interest is the age of the main character. Clancy is sixty-three, a spent heavy, an ex-member of the Mob now seen as being of no use to anyone. Jimmy and Delilah are even older.
Aside from The Hunger Games, what other books do you think “The Detainee Trilogy” is similar to, and what sets them apart?
Personally, I wouldn’t say it was that similar to anything in particular, but I have noted that, when it’s discussed, some titles do keep recurring. The first book, The Detainee, several people have mentioned William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies, which is actually quite interesting because Golding used to live and work no more than a few hundred yards from where I live. Logan’s Run has been mentioned a few times, and somebody got very angry with me on Facebook and implied I’d stolen the story from Battle Royale, though, in fact, until then I’d never heard of it. But it must have some similarities because the guy seemed quite put out.
But I think no writer can put their hand on heart and say for sure what did or didn’t exert an influence. Sometimes it can be years later that you watch an old movie or pick up a childhood favorite book and suddenly think, “Jeez, that’s where I got that from!”
The Detainee is in the process of being made into a movie. What can you tell us about its status?
Very little. I’m sworn to secrecy. I can tell you that Grant Myers [The Maze Runner] has delivered a script, that a young and very talented film director is rumored to be on board, and that some very big names are reading the script.
Obviously, this would never happen, because it never does, but if they asked you who should star in the movie, and who should direct it, who would be your first picks and why?
Do you remember Robert Mitchum? He would’ve been perfect. When I was writing The Detainee, I couldn’t get him out of my head. Alas, he died a long time ago.
Clint Eastwood would been great, too, but sadly it might not be his sort of thing now.
Finally, if someone’s read all of The Detainee books, and they’re too old for The Hunger Games, what book do you think they should read next and why?
Well, I’m a great believer in reading, and writing, all kinds of books, and I might point them to something that’s very different, and yet, in some ways, not that different at all. My favorite book of 2015 was undoubtedly H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald. For those who don’t know it, it’s a very honest account of a period in the author’s life when she was trying to get over the death of her father whilst also, as an act of catharsis presumably, training a Goshawk. There are so many ways you can read this book and the symbolism is unavoidable. At times it’s almost frighteningly dark, on other occasions truly heart-warming. I rarely read a book twice, but I’ll certainly read this one again very soon.