Cain launches a new series with One Kick, featuring 21-year-old Kick Lannigan, who was kidnapped at age six and rescued five years later.
Like Archie Sheridan, the detective hero of your Gretchen Lowell serial killer series, Kick Lannigan is emotionally damaged. What appeals to you about damaged heroes and heroines?
I’m a sucker for a screwed-up protagonist. We all have issues. Some of us were made fun of in seventh grade; some of us were tortured by serial killers. I use them as a kind of narrative shorthand to get to a lot of issues that we all deal with in one way or another. Both Kick and Archie are defined by these dark events in their past, and they are each still dealing with the fallout. Archie can’t get out from under his dark impulses. Kick is determined to make good.
Why does One Kick have less gore than the Archie and Gretchen series?
I wanted to write a book for all the people who come up to me and say, “I wish I could read one of your books, but I’m too scared.” Every year I give my dad an advance copy of my latest book. He reads it over the next several nights and says something incredibly supportive. Then he clears his throat nervously and changes the subject. I wanted to write a book that I could give my dad without cringing.
What appeals to you about the complicated relationship between those who get abused and their abusers?
I’m interested in the exchange of power between characters. I set up conditions—abductor and abductee, serial killer and detective—that just take this dynamic to the extreme. But the power is always shifting. I guess it’s the shifting that interests me most: who has the upper hand and when. Also, I am interested in unpacking the traumatic past event that occurred between the two characters because it is never as simple as it seems outright. Memory is a fiction we tell ourselves, just a piece of the truth.
Were there specific kidnapping cases that influenced your writing?
Like anyone, I was completely captivated by the Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard stories—abductees we all thought were dead who were suddenly rescued. As a seven-year-old, I remember when Etan Patz disappeared and was immortalized as the first missing-child face on a milk carton. I remember the “stranger danger” assemblies. I remember looking at all the faces of all those kids—a different face on each milk carton at the store—and I burned those faces into my memory. I was determined that I would recognize those kids if I ever saw them in a crowd. I wanted to save every one of them.