The Characters of Justice For All

When it came to writing my debut novel, Justice For All, I knew that the characters would be key.  Serpentine plots are all well and good, but lets face it, most of them have been done before, so it’s the characters that grab you as a reader, the characters that make you want to turn the page, the characters that are all important.  Go ahead – think of your favourite series of novels, then tell me about all the different scrapes that the hero got in to.  Chances are, you cant.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll remember how the main man looks, how he talks, the type of car he drives, the music he likes to listen to, the women he likes to bed, but when it actually comes to recalling the plots of the novels in any detail, everything starts to go a little hazy around the edges.

So with this in mind, I set about creating some strong, memorable characters that would grab the reader’s attention and refuse to let go.  First up was my leading man, Zac Hunter.  Hunter’s not your all-American hero – he’s a good guy to have in the trenches but a bad guy to have on your case.  A maverick ex-cop who’ll walk through walls to bring down the bad guys, his desire to see justice served stems from the fact that his father’s murderers were never identified.  Hunter’s kind of an updated version of a young Clint Eastwood.  When I first came to write about him, I always had Eastwood in mind – particularly the poncho wearing, cheroot chewing ‘man with no name’ of the iconic spaghetti westerns.  Now that’s not to say that Hunter strolls around L.A. dressed like a cowboy – what I wanted to capture was more the essence of the character – the tough, taciturn, sardonic guy who always fought on the side of the angels, despite how it sometimes appeared.  And I wanted him to be a loner.  Someone that was self-reliant for the most part, and unencumbered by the day-to-day baggage that a wife and family can bring.  And most of all, I wanted him to have an air of mystery.  I wanted to keep the soul searching to a minimum and make him a man of action – someone that’s focussed on where he’s going rather than where he’s been.  That way, the reader learns about him as they see the world through his eyes, that is, they make the journey together.  

Next, I set about creating the female lead, Rebecca Finch, the high-powered criminal defence attorney who’s at her best when she’s representing the dregs of society, and who’s more than happy to pull out all the stops to keep them on the streets.  Rebecca’s sense of justice is at the polar opposite end of the scale to Hunter’s, so I knew there’d be fireworks when I put them together, but getting inside her head was a much trickier task for me than when I was channelling my male lead.  Not because she’s a woman – female characters come just as easy to me as the men – but because she’s a lawyer.  In order to make her believable, I had to make sure she knew what she was talking about when it came to the U.S legal system, and I put in countless hours of research to do just that (if I never have to read through sections of the Californian Law Code again I’ll be a happy man!).  This was also something of a balancing act – if I skimped on the technical jargon I ran the risk of undermining her, but if I put in too much there was a danger she could become dry and boring.  Thankfully, I think I got the balance right, and this was essential, as Justice For All is a tough vigilante thriller – not a courtroom drama!

Creating the last of my three main characters brought a whole new set of challenges that were different to any I’d faced before.  Viktor Danilov is a Russian hitman who’s killed more people than he cares to remember, in more ways than he cares to describe, but his life, which he once ruled with iron-fisted precision, has suddenly spun out of control – being on the run from the Russian mob was bad enough, but his new boss makes them look like a bunch of boy scouts.  Danilov gave me two major challenges – to create a Russian character, and to create a lethal killing machine, while grounding both elements of his psyche in reality.  If the research needed for Rebecca Finch was lengthy, then that needed for Danilov was doubly so.  With internet connection buzzing and library card in hand, I boned up on such diverse subjects as traditional Russian recipes and old Russian proverbs, secure messaging via e-mail, and the techniques employed by a world class sniper.  And then of course, there was the language barrier.  When dealing with a foreign character such as Danilov, I needed to use enough of his native tongue in dialogue to show his origins, but not so much that he became indecipherable.  We’re back to that balancing act again…

These three characters form the spine of Justice For All.  Their lives interweave explosively, and as the body count escalates, each of them is forced to examine their own sense of justice as they try to survive.  Of course, I also had to throw an embittered old cop, a scumbag paedo, a vile racist, and some angry gangbangers into the mix to spice things up – but that’s another story.  Thanks for reading, and more importantly, I hope you enjoy Justice For All!