D.L. Michaels discusses how cars influenced the plot in his new book, Dead and Gone.

There’s a car incident in Dead and Gone. A motoring moment, very early on, that’s crucial to the start of the plot. A small twist of the main protagonist’s steering wheel sets in play a series of events, that surprisingly throws a number of unconnected people, places and events together.  Cars can do that. They’re Games of Chance. Time Machines. Literary Bagatelles.

They’re also the stuff of our fantasies and fears. Think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (a souped-up Paragon Panther).  Wacky Races. Gone in Sixty Seconds. Bullit. Cars (The animation franchise). Mad Max. James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger.  From the gull-winged DeLorean in Back to the Future, to Stephen King’s possessed Plymouth Fury ‘Christine’, writers and film makers have had a fascination with cars.  In 1908, no sooner had Henry Ford’s Model T rolled off the production line than Kenneth Graham had penned Toad of Toad Hall as one of the first (if not the first) literary characters to drive daringly (and recklessly) across the English countryside.

My first recollection of a car driving a plot came some zillion books ago, when Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities kept me up late at night, frantically page turning, after I found myself following the wrong turn that Sherman McCoy took with his lover Maria Ruskin after they left JFK and ran into a whole world of trouble. Fabulous, fabulous book. Gripped me from beginning to end.  A simple motoring mishap that suddenly opened a Pandora’s Box of prejudices, greed and consequences. Sadly, all a far cry from the film version with Tom Hanks. Anyway, Sherman’s car incident obviously stuck with me, and like many things in the kaleidoscopic mind of authors, it got unconsciously shaken out (and adapted) during the writing process.

Thinking about cars and driving made me do a little research and reflection. The consensus of online opinion is that there are about a billion drivers in the world, with the US and China vying for the greatest number of registered vehicles on the roads. China is currently ahead with something in excess of 300 million, while the States has around 270 million (I guess per capita the US wins hands down, given its population is about 325 million v China’s 1.3 billion).

Apparently, the average American will own a dozen cars during their lifetime, with poorer cousin Brits, owning only nine. I’ve had two minis (one built by someone off Noah’s ark), two Triumph Spitfires (one stolen, the other such a wreck I had to sell it for scrap), a Ford Anglia (which unlike the Harry Potter one, barely moved, let alone flew) two Mercedes (both company cars), a Ford Escort, a Capri (which was a rear-wheel death trap in Winter), a Honda People Carrier Thing (baby time, and so boring that I can’t even remember the name of the model), an Audi A4 Cabriolet (maybe my favourite car), an A6 that got stolen off the driveway and was used in a robbery before it was found abandoned with changed plates and gun in the boot,  and a Porsche Boxster, that I lost control of and crashed backward into a forest. I had to be cut out of the wreckage and the car was subsequently written off, but as a consolation, I did get to see air ambulance teams and fire crews in action.

Car accidents, it seems, are one of the biggest killers of our times. For some groups, they vie for the very top of the death threat table, along with usual champions, cancer and heart attacks.  Buckle-up for some shock statistics.  Globally, 1.3 million people a year die in road crashes (more than 3,000 a day), with more than 20 million seriously injured or disabled (that’s like a whole country the size of The Netherlands wiped out every year through road kill). Road traffic accidents (statisticians quote RTA’s because more than just cars are involved) are now the leading cause of death of 15-25 year olds. Numero Uno. Half of all road fatalities concern 15-44 year olds. They’re also the 9th highest cause of death among all people, and account for 2.2% of all deaths, worldwide.  Ironically (maybe that’s the wrong word, perhaps I should say horribly) 90% of all fatal vehicle accidents happen in low and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world’s vehicles on their roads.

All of which has made me vow to drive more slowly, more attentively, and get less annoyed when some idiot cuts me up, stops without indicating or drives too close to the back of me. Advice that would have served Sherman McCoy well, and also some of the characters in the opening of Dead and Gone.

In a world bulit on lies, who can you ever trust? A nail-biting thriller introducing DI Annie Parker.  

Paula Smith could have had it all. Hugely successful in her fashion business, she lives the kind of life she could never have imagined. Her world should have been an idyllic one if it weren’t for her husband Danny who is resentful of her success and increasingly prone to alcoholic rages. Paula knows she should leave him but she if she did, he would pick up the phone to the police and her life would come crashing down around her.

Sarah has found the kind of happiness with Martin she never thought possible. He is everything she could have wished for in an man. Caring, sensitive and loving, yet he has a secret that could threaten everything they share. But he is not the only one with a secret….

DI Annie Parker, mother, grandmother and widow, has plenty of baggage of her own, but she’s still determined to be the best police officer she can be. When she and her sergeant Nisha Patel hear about a 20-year-old murder that nobody knew about, nothing will stop them from tracking down the killer, even if it brings them up against one of the most dangerous crime families in the country.

D.L. Michaels is a former award-winning TV executive, who married in Tuscany, has one teenage son and lives on an old converted farm in the Peak District. Favourite writers include Harlan Coben, Patricia Cornwell and Nicci French.

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