Redrawing the Boundaries of Crime Fiction

At its core, Lindsay Hunter’s Hot Springs Drive is a novel about a tragic and violent crime that rocks a community, wrecks two families, and rends to shreds the close friendship between two women, Jackie and Theresa, in a small community. In Hunter’s capable hands, however, this story grows and pushes against the boundaries of crime fiction. I spoke with Hunter about true crime, impossible choices, and how reading begets writing.

Stephen Patrick Bell interviews Lindsay Hunter at The Millions:

Stephen Patrick Bell: This is a book about two women and their friendship, but there are many other observers, many other voices, many other lenses the reader gets to observe them through. How did you decide which characters you wanted to have speak before and after the murder?

Lindsay Hunter: As I was drafting this novel, I was thinking of it as almost a shattered windshield, or a crazy quilt. Something made of shards but that, together, was a whole thing.Initially, I had Jackie in both first- and third-person narration. I wanted readers to have access to her story, the way she’d tell it, but also glimpse a more objective truth about her. I thought that was pretty clever. Huge red flag for a writer, when we think we’re clever. As I revisited the novel in the editing process, this fell flat. It just seemed like I’d forgotten to choose a perspective. I chose to stay with first person because I needed people to get really, really close to Jackie. Uncomfortably close. I wanted readers to see her. Jackie is, in my opinion, a reliable narrator. She just chooses what to tell you. She gets as close as she can to facing herself, but she never quite goes all the way. That kind of narrator was huge for this novel. She was truthful, but the truth she was telling just wasn’t the whole story. What she isn’t telling you, what you don’t see, that kept me obsessed as I wrote. That’s what keeps me obsessed when I think of crimes like this, the people involved in them, the aftermath.

SPB: The ghoulish excitement that surrounds the true crime genre and certain functions of the criminal justice system play a huge part of Hot Springs Drive. What shapes did your research journey take when working on this book?

LH: I would say that the research was all said and done by the time I began writing this book. I’d been consuming true crime for decades at that point. I felt a mild shame about it—queuing up Cold Case Files while, honest to god, wrapping Christmas presents. Just a lovely, cozy evening with eggnog and Bill Kurtis describing the worst day of someone’s life. Why did I keep returning, again and again? Why did I inhale every good—and not so good—true crime podcast I could find? I have tried to consider this as a human and as a writer. I think of the time when I was a child and a man removed the screen from my bedroom window, crawled in, and began searching my room for something to steal. I woke up to a flashlight sweeping my room and someone rummaging around on my dresser. I assumed it was my father. “Dad?” I whispered, and the flashlight swung around into my face. At that point I knew it wasn’t my dad, or anyone else I knew. I rolled over onto my stomach and squeezed my eyes shut. The man approached. I felt his hand pat my bottom. “Good girl,” he said. Somehow, I fell back to sleep. In the morning, my mother’s purse was missing, found later with its contents strewn across a neighbor’s lawn. What stuck with me, what sticks with me, was the terror I felt, the horror at his touch, the relief that I’d done something to please him, that he didn’t hurt me.

True crime, I think, offers a way for me to understand terror on a human level. To search for clues, for something recognizable. I think that is how most writers—and readers—approach life. We are looking for a way in, a way to see with eyes very different from our own. I have, however, come to despise true-crime pop culture that lauds the serial killer, that holds him in awe. Much more meaningful to me is the kind of true crime that examines the community, the families, the time period, the reverberations.

SPB: The incomprehensible nuggets of terror in our lives so often become the nuclei of our obsessions. I think you’re right about how this gives true crime a certain pull. I think Hot Springs Drive does a great job of underlining the ways in which violence is a community issue; there is a victim and a perpetrator, but they were members of an entire community that is rocked by the murder. We get a few key moments looking at the crime scene from the perspective of journalists and law enforcement, people less grounded in the community where the crime takes place. How did you intend for the ways they experience the crime scene and the surviving family members to change the way the reader views Jackie and Theresa’s stories?

LH: I very much wanted to give space to the outside observer in something like this. The investigative reporter isn’t so “outside”; it’s literally his job to research the family and to peer at each of them closely and analyze every little gesture, but I wanted some way to show how the outside world processes something like this. Or doesn’t. It also lends itself to the banality of violence, the way it is happening all the time all around us, that it is as human (or animal?) an act as childbirth in some ways. Rage, violence, harm, murder. Family, home, love, safety. They co-exist. As an outside observer to the crime this novel was inspired by, I think I was trying to make the world of the book even larger, more encompassing, more whole, by giving voice to the characters less grounded in the community.

I was also always looking for new ways to see the characters. The older I get, the more I understand that perception is fluid, that memories change, that people adapt to the situations they’re in, to the people around them. I’m always looking for what’s “true” in any interaction, but that would be my perception of “true.” Still, it’s meaningful. It’s information. More here.