July 2024

“I’m used to being haunted by characters”

Behind the Book by
Why Flynn Berry wrote Trust Her, a surprise sequel to her 2021 bestselling suspense novel, Northern Spy.
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A woman is standing beside me at the swings. I can see the exact expression on her face; I can hear her voice as she chats with her son. Her name is Tessa, and she isn’t real.

Like all readers, I’m familiar with the way reality and fiction can blur together. I remember visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, and walking around feeling absolutely giddy at being surrounded by, basically, characters from Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I sometimes find myself wondering about Rachel, from Caroline O’Donoghue’s The Rachel Incident, the way I might if we’d been friends in college. And I find it easy to forget that Karamat Lone, from Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, is not an actual British politician. I’m used to being haunted by characters, and Tessa has been a very stubborn ghost. 

“It’s still hard for me to believe that Tessa doesn’t exist, in some corner of Dublin, just out of sight.”

I first wrote about Tessa and her sister, Marian, in Northern Spy. After turning in the book, I noticed that Tessa’s story kept spinning in my head. Her relationships with her family, her former handler and the IRA kept shifting with new complications and revelations. I wanted to write them all down, and I loved returning to her voice in Trust Her

As a reader, I appreciate when authors return to characters or settings. I love the deep familiarity of a duology or trilogy or a long series, the heft that comes from sticking with a detective across 10 or 20 books, as a career shifts, relationships fall apart or come together, children grow. I’m fascinated by Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, and the way each installment twists the kaleidoscope, revealing a different view of past events. That sort of casting back offers so much energy for a plot. I don’t outline my books, which means spending a lot of time wondering if what I’m writing will make any sense. There is a big twist near the end of Trust Her. When I checked back in Northern Spy, all of the clues were in place, like I’d been writing toward that moment all along. 

Read our starred review of ‘Trust Her’ by Flynn Berry.

I wanted Trust Her to echo with Northern Spy, but also to be its own complete story, with its own specific landscape. For research, I spent time in Dublin wandering around Tessa’s neighborhood, walking up and down her road in Ranelagh, hearing the Luas light-rail trams go past behind her back garden. I had breakfast at The Fumbally, a restaurant Tessa visits in The Liberties. I browsed the shelves in Hodges Figgis, her favorite bookshop, and sat on the top deck of the bus she takes home from work. I rode another bus out of the city towards the Dublin Mountains, looking out at the snow on the rooftops after a rare winter storm. Following Tessa has brought me to places I’d never have seen otherwise. It brought me into the politicians’ canteen hidden inside the Irish Parliament, and, earlier, into a production booth at the BBC during a live radio broadcast. 

It’s still hard for me to believe that Tessa doesn’t exist, in some corner of Dublin, just out of sight. Maybe she does, and I’m the one who has been haunting her.

Photo of Flynn Berry by Sylvie Rosokoff.

Flynn Berry

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Trust Her

Trust Her

By Flynn Berry
ISBN 9780593490327

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