NJ Cooper Stepping Out Of The Shadows




N.J. Cooper (aka Natasha Cooper) is well known for both her Trish Maguire and Willow King series; now she is giving us a gripping new series under a new writing name. The first, now in paperback, is No Escape (the Simon & Schuster imprint Pocket Books, ISBN 978-1-84739-422-4, £6.99), with Karen Taylor, a forensic psychologist, as protagonist. With the new name comes a new approach of psychological suspense, one that succeeds so well that the next Karen Taylor case is a must for the shopping list. In No Escape Karen is working and living on the Isle of Wight, a pleasant holiday venue, but one in which a family of four enjoying a picnic at an idyllic spot has been brutally and apparently pointlessly murdered. Karen, in pursuit of her research project, visits the convicted psychopathic killer in Parkhurst prison. What happens then – well, don’t delay. Read it!


Q. Does the advent of N. J. Cooper mean adieu or au revoir to Trish Maguire?  Your fans would hate to think that Trish has hung up her wig for good.

A:        I think the easiest way to put it is that Trish is taking a break.  I like her too much to abandon her for ever, but she reached a kind of safety in her self and her life at the end of A Poisoned Mind, and I realised that I needed someone in an edgier state for my next few novels.  Karen Taylor is the result.  Perhaps they'll meet in court one day …


Q.  With two successful series established, what was it that inspired you to give us Karen Taylor and No Escape, and why did you decide to differentiate this series by a new writing name?

A:        I've always been interested in why – why people cross the line between fantasies of revenge and real violence; why some siblings turn out contented and successful when others are irreparably damaged in the same family setting; why tiny triggers that some people would hardly notice can drive others into extreme anguish; and so on – and I decided that I needed a psychologist to deal with them.  After a lot of discussion with my agent and publishers, we took the decision to use a new variation on the Natasha Cooper name to make it clear that this was a new series, with a new character, and a different style.


Q. You have laid the groundwork for this new series with some splendid characters, some of which are clearly going to be ongoing. I particularly liked Karen’s robust encounters with DCI Charlie Trench. Will we be meeting him again – or is this either a trade secret or an unanswerable question until the series develops?

A:        Oh, we'll definitely be meeting Charlie again: I find him riveting!


Q. You have cleverly constructed the novel so that Karen’s own personal fears and previous life are wound into her investigation of the case through the psychological profiling of Spike Falconer, who has been convicted of the murder of the family at the picnic site. Which character came first in your planning for the novel: Karen or Spike?

A:        Karen came into my mind before Spike because I was looking for her.  As I've said, I wanted a psychology specialist, and I decided she had to be relatively new to the work so that she wasn't in a position to lecture readers – or me – but would need to ask and work out and probe.  But once I had her, Spike presented himself almost at once.


Q. The novel begins with a chilling nightmare which will strike a chord with most of us: the catastrophe that strikes out a clear blue sky. The catastrophe in No Escape is the idyllic picnic spot. Some authors write out their own fears in their work, others choose those that are unrelated to personal experience. Do you find yourself living your characters’ nightmares?

A:        What an interesting question!  My nightmares are in fact more closely related to other aspects of the story.  I don't find myself worrying about a lone gunman on a blissful summer's day in the country.  But I do have a lot of nightmares about injustice and mental cruelty and people hiding terrible secrets.


Q. In discussing one of your earlier novels, A Greater Evil, on your website, you say that it’s not always clear where the main impulse behind the writing of the novel comes from. Does this apply to No Escape?

A:        The main impulse behind No Escape has been with me for a long long time.  To explain it in full would be to give away too much of the story. Suffice it to say that I once knew someone, now dead, who had quite a lot in common with Spike.


Q. The emphasis on the psychological approach is naturally very strong in this novel, as regards both Karen’s personal problems and Spike’s. Have you always had an interest in what shapes character and the psychological effect of background?

A:        My interest in the forces that shape – and misshape – people's minds and characters has been with me for as long as I can remember.  I can't think of any more important subject.  The ways in which our minds and personalities are formed affects absolutely everything else.  To understand even a fraction of those forces makes life so very much easier, as well as much more fascinating.


Q. Your descriptions of Karen’s visits to Parkhurst are graphic and compelling. Have you had personal experience of such visiting?

A:        I'm really glad that the scenes in Parkhurst are convincing.  I haven't actually been inside that prison, but I have talked to inmates of various other prisons and, indeed, once spent a fund-raising night on A Wing in Brixton.


Q. I liked the way that the psychology behind the crimes commands the development of the case, rather than being only an explanation for it or one contributing ingredient. Did you begin the novel with that approach in mind?

A:        Definitely.  I think to tack on a psychological explanation at the end of a successfully solved crime wastes a lot of dramatic potential – and risks being unconvincing.


Q. Karen is full of self-doubt over her physical appearance although it is clear from what you write that this is unjustified. How much do you think physical attraction adds to the main characters’ appeal and is it an essential ingredient?

A:        When I first started writing, someone said: “You have to make same-sex readers want to be your main character and opposite-sex readers want to sleep with your main character.”  I haven't always followed the recipe, but I think it can be hard to engage readers' affection for a wholly unattractive – or arrogantly self-confident – character.


Q. Has Karen appeared in any of your short stories or do you use that medium for experimentation into different fields? For instance, you wrote historical fiction at one time – do you employ your experience from that field in your crime writing?

A:        Karen hasn't yet appeared in a short story, but that's probably because I am still getting to know her.  Short stories form in my mind in a quite different way from full-length novels, and I need to know the characters very well before I write one.  I think the only way that I use the experience of writing historical fiction in my crime novels and stories is in the way I try to weave the research into the narrative.


Q. You mention Hannibal Lecter in the novel, as an arch manipulator of psychologists who visit him in prison and tell us that all Karen’s previous interviewees have had similar attempts.  No Escape has a powerful theme throughout in the riveting and ongoing verbal battle that Karen has with Spike, who is a very different kettle of fish to Hannibal. Was this battle the way you planned the relationship to develop, or did it develop on the page/screen as you wrote?

A:        I can't at this stage remember precisely how I planned the struggle between Spike and Karen.  But people of Spike's type become very manipulative – partly because manipulation is their only means to power once they have been convicted, and, intelligent and bored, they often find much-needed pleasure in manipulating authority figures.  Who wouldn't?


Q. Finally, time to get my diary out with pen at the ready. When will we be able to read the next N. J.Cooper, please? 

A:        I'm so pleased that you enjoyed No Escape so much and that you want to know more of Karen and the others.  The next novel in the series is Lifeblood and Simon & Schuster will be publishing it in the summer of 2010, so not too long to wait now.


Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Natasha  – and thank you for No Escape.

And thank you, Amy, for such interesting questions.




Willow King

Festering Lilies (1990)  aka A Common Death

Poison Flowers (1991)

Bloody Roses (1992)

Bitter Herbs (1993)

No Escape by Natasha Cooper

Rotten Apples (1995)

The Drowning Pool (1996)  aka Fruiting Bodies

Sour Grapes (1997)


Trish Maguire

Creeping Ivy (1998)

Fault Lines (1999)

Prey To All (2000)

Out of the Dark (2002)

A Place of Safety (2003)

Keep Me Alive (2004)

Gagged and Bound (2005)

A Greater Evil (2007)  aka Evil Is Done

A Poisoned Mind (2008)


Karen Taylor

No Escape (2009)



No More Victims (2008)




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