(also known as ‘Probably not the right way to write a trilogy, part 1’).
THE HUNTED is the free prequel to THE DARKEST HAND trilogy. It’s intended to set the scene to the world of The Darkest Hand and primarily the main protagonist of the series, Inquisitor Poldek Tacit.
I always thought of this seven chapter novella as acting like one of those short James Bond films before the main James Bond feature, something to wet the appetite, to get you in the mood for the main event but not, as a reader, to take too seriously, even though there are a few significant bits within THE HUNTED which play their part later in the series.
WARNING: If you’ve not read THE HUNTED, stop here and download and read it first! There are SPOILERS ahead which will ruin your enjoyment of it should you read on! Thank you!
THE HUNTED was written after I wrote THE DAMNED. If honest, I never intended to write THE HUNTED. It was something my publisher at the time, Duckworth Overlook, suggested as a means of getting something freely available out into the public domain ahead of the paid for Book 1, something to build an audience and interest and hopefully fans.
As soon as they suggested I write something, I immediately knew it could be used to nicely bookend the start of world war one, just as Book 3, THE RISEN, closes the war. In essence, it would keep everything across the series nice and tidy and framed precisely on WW1. And it would also afford me the perfect scenario within which to set the story for this novella; Sarajevo and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
I wrote it over a single weekend in February 2015. It came together fairly quickly. At first it was written from the prospective of the Black Hand assassins, those out to kill the Archduke, Tacit discovering their plot by literally walking into them lying in wait for the Archduke on Appel Quay. But almost immediately that was shelved in preference for a police style investigation with Tacit following clues to help him solve, or so nearly solve, the crime.
By taking this approach, not only was the action ratcheted up a notch, essentially a race against time, but it meant I could show to readers that Tacit was a shrewd detective in brooding troubled religious clothes.
I wanted to write seven chapters (the number seven is key throughout all my books and an important number in the nature of the books, as will be revealed when you read the subsequent titles in the series!) that put the reader firmly in the place of Tacit, be it on the chase across the rooftops of the city, deducing the plan in the possessed man’s room, or the shuddering wrench at the very end when Tacit is told to abandon the hunt by Father Strettavario and attend to ‘another mission’. I didn’t worry too much about writing lavish detailed prose, as found in the main books. I wanted to write something that was easy and quick to read so the reader was really catapulted through the seven short chapters.
The race across the rooftops chasing the possessed man was inspired by a video my brother-in-law sent me of two free runners running across the Sarajevo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV6NF29Egs8). It instantly set the scene for me, the minarets, the old churches, the cobbled streets, the tiled roofs. In hindsight the chase is quite a long chapter in comparison to the rest of the book. The reason for this is I wanted to show, without telling, Tacit’s tenacity and stamina, but also to show his weaknesses (that he is slow on his feet and quick to anger and frustration), but that always, eventually, no matter what he gets his man.
Up until the point where he catches up with his ‘prey’ Tacit is never mentioned by name, only as ‘the Priest’. This again was intentional. I wanted his name to be finally revealed by the possessed man to underline the fact that the forces of evil know and fear him, that his name is legend amongst those he hunts. They are ‘the hunted’, he is the ‘hunter’. Immediately this sets him up and the main man, the supreme hero.
However, and this is key, whilst ‘a hero’ he is still subservient to the church and the faith he serves. This is revealed in the closing scene when he chases down Gavrilo Princip to stop the assassination. He has battled possessed heretics and assassins, broken accomplices and raced from one end of the city to the next. He has the would be assassin in his sights. And yet, in an instant, Father Strettavario tells him, ‘No’ and Tacit breaks off his hunt instantly and without hesitation. Whilst mighty in body and mind, he’s still a slave to the people he serves. And this ‘control’ is critical to the whole character of Tacit throughout the remainder of the series, control by those he loves, admires and serves and the conflict this causes.
The sudden halt at the climax was key. I wanted the reader to literally be thrown by the force of the chase and the ensuing halt. I wanted them to feel what Tacit felt. This wrench from doing the right thing, from stopping the assassination of the Archduke, to doing nothing and what you’re told. Doing the exact opposite.
And, of course, the Archduke is subsequently killed and the world slides into terrible world war. So who is responsible for giving the order for not allowing Princip to be stopped? Is it Father Strettavario? Is it the Holy See? Is it another hidden power within the Catholic Church? Or is it someone else, found away from Rome pulling strings? So we set up Book 1 and THE DAMNED.
I had a huge amount of fun, if that’s the right word, researching the assassination of the Archduke and his wife. I used to hate research. This trilogy (and prequel) taught me to love it. I’ve never been to Sarajevo, but Google Maps is amazing, as are the resources available online to get under the skin of a place, as well as one can without going there. One day I will go, and I’ll post photos to prove it!
One final point I must make on THE HUNTED.
The watchmaker, Zlatan Koroman, was one of the early characters in one of the very first drafts of THE DAMNED. He was a man who lived in Sarajevo who signed his son up to fight in the war, not because he was unpleasant or hated his son but because he was patriotic and felt he was doing the right thing, as did so many who did the same thing to their children. Anyway, he ran me around the houses for weeks on end and that first draft eventually came to nothing and finally got ditched and Koroman with it. So when I had the opportunity to write a prequel set in Sarajevo, I put Koroman back in the picture and had Tacit beat the living hell out of him – for all the anguish and wasted time he’d caused me!
I hope you enjoyed THE HUNTED and enjoyed this ‘companion’ commentary. I’ll aim to do the same for the three main books when they are published.