Professor Joe O’Loughlin takes center stage in Close Your Eyes, Robotham’s 10th series novel featuring an ensemble cast.
When I wrote my first novel, Suspect, almost 15 years ago, I had no idea it was a psychological thriller. I wasn’t even sure it was a crime novel. I told a story in the first person, using the voice of a clinical psychologist, Professor Joe O’Loughlin, who was perched on the roof of the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, London, trying to stop a teenage cancer patient from jumping to his death. “His name is Malcolm and he’s 17 today. Tall and thin, with dark eyes that tremble when he looks at me, he has skin as white as polished paper. He is wearing pyjamas and a woollen hat to cover his baldness because chemotherapy is a cruel hairdresser.”
When Suspect came out, the first question I was asked was, “Why crime?” I couldn’t answer it. I had no idea. Despite a long career as a journalist, some of it as a crime reporter, I had never understood my fascination with psychology, crime, and the human condition.
I appreciate it now. All crime is psychological. When a university graduate in urban preservation flies a passenger plane into a skyscraper killing thousands of people, or when a student barely out of his teens sprays a university campus with bullets, or when a teenage mother gives birth in a toilet and leaves the baby in the wastepaper bin, it all comes back to some aspect of human behavior and interaction. Everything we think we know and understand—the good, the bad, and the inexplicable—is produced by four pounds of grey matter between our ears. That’s why I write psychological thrillers. I think that’s why people read them.
Of all my characters, Joe O’Loughlin is the most autobiographical. We are both the same age. We have daughters. We have similar views politically and socially. However, he is a far brighter and braver version of me, but also more tortured.
When I created O’Loughlin, I thought he would be a one-off character and I would write standalones. I gave him early onset Parkinson’s because I wanted a protagonist with a brilliant mind and a crumbling body. Joe was never going to be a classic loner hero who could outrun, out-drive, outfight, and out-bed his enemies. He had to think his way out of danger, unpicking motives, and reading the psychological clues.
Close Your Eyes showcases O’Loughlin’s brilliance but also his vulnerability, revealing the two blind spots in his inventory—he cannot understand the woman he loves and he cannot analyze himself. His greatest strength is his abiding weakness, because truly believable heroes need a tragic flaw.