With The Troika Dolls, I tried to write the book that I really wanted to read. In my early teens I became addicted to spy stories: I grew up on Le Carré, Len Deighton, Robert Harris -- all the masters. The dark, icy streets of Cold War Berlin, the furtive men and venomous women in furs, the tense journeys behind the Iron Curtain, the political intrigues and assassinations all thrilled me, and I returned to them again and again. It was a very male world, brutal, fascinating and foreign.
A few years ago, I spent a winter in Moscow, just to see what it would be like. The country and its people, its history, and the future that promised fascinated and frightened me. It was the Wild West and I felt I had to write about it. Thrillers lend themselves, as a genre, very naturally to examinations of politics and history and place; it was the perfect vehicle. However, as much as I admired my Cold Warriors, I wanted to create a different sort of protagonist. For a start, it would be a woman. This is, I think, unusual in thrillers (as opposed to mysteries, say). Her name would be Stevie Duveen and she would be all the things that the heroes of thrillers usually are not: tiny, pale, quiet, possessed of old-world glamour and a very strong moral code; her milieu would be the cities of old Europe, and the playgrounds of the jet set.
The Troika Dolls is not gritty or grim. I wanted to create a rich texture of place and mood around the storyline so the reader would feel that they too knew, for example, what to order for lunch on the Alpine train to St Moritz, or how to dress in a Moscow winter, or what kind of champagne oligarchs prefer. The danger in the book is coated in this glamour, and I think this gives the story an added dimension. The book is not overtly brutal and this too was a conscious choice. It is Stevie’s lack of physicality that is important, her ability to pass unnoticed, to disappear between the cracks, to become invisible. These special 'skills', alongside her training in languages and self-defence, are her only arsenal.
It would have been impossible to write this book without looking at the idea of Evil. It lies at the heart of the book: What is evil? Where does it begin and end? How do we resist it? These are the questions Stevie grapples with in her quest. Despite the seriousness of the theme, the book also has quite a lot of humour in it. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. The choice of a gentler protagonist allowed me to really bring the premise of the book to life, and to explore in detail the worlds of the super-rich and the villainously indifferent, without sacrificing the pace of the story, or, hopefully, the reader's enjoyment of it.
Read a review of The Troika Dolls on crimespace
A specialist in discreet and dangerous missions, Stevie Duveen - diminutive, brilliant and fearless - is up against people traffickers, sex slaves and the Russian mob on a mission to rescue the kidnapped daughter of the Russian Central Bank. Risk is her business, but this time she's in over her head ...