By Roz Kay
“This book is a blueprint for what I would do if I were running from the law,” Lisa Lutz says.
The Passenger is Lisa’s ninth book, a crime thriller published on March 1, 2016 by Simon & Schuster.
We start with Tanya, stepping over the body of her dead husband whom she assures us she didn’t kill. But we just have to take her word for it.
And before long we realize her name isn’t Tanya, or any other name that she assumes as we get to know her, and we have no idea who she is or what she’s running from.
“I wanted to write a book about identity,” Lisa says. “If you aren’t anyone, if you have no real place in the world, how do you make an identity?
“And if you’re running from your past, what past are you running from? As Tanya, and whatever her subsequent names are, these new identities that she then leaves behind also become problematic.
“So she is a product of all the people she’s been, even the fake ones.”
As Lisa researched the book, trying to figure out how you acquire a new identity in this day and age, she took the approach of writing it as if she herself were looking for a new identity.
“I don’t know anyone who could give me new papers,” she says.
“I ultimately wrote a book about living off the grid, because it is so impossible to live legally under a fake, an assumed name.
“And that was the most interesting thing about this process. You can’t become someone new anymore. You just have to hide.”
From comedy to crime
Lisa lived in San Francisco for a number of years and spent some time working for a private investigator. In her New York Times bestselling Spellman Files series, Lisa takes a quirky and comedic approach to crime writing—they are, as she puts it, primarily comedic novels that borrow much from the detective genre.
But as a writer, she pushes the genre boundaries and keeps her readers guessing in more ways than one.
“I think a lot of people tend to stay in a similar genre,” Lisa says. “If they write comedy they stay in comedy, which was never my intention.”
After the Spellman Files series, Lisa wrote How to Start a Fire, a very different novel. She’s also written a children’s book, How to Negotiate Everything, and Heads You Lose with David Hayward.
“I have lived in the world of crime writers for so long and been called a crime writer, even though I hadn’t really written a proper crime novel,” Lisa says.
“I read them abundantly, and always had intended to write something that was very much part of that genre.
“So, arguably The Passenger is the first book I’ve written that can be easily labeled in terms of genre … it’s a crime novel.”
The right way to tell the story
Many authors writing in different genres use different names, and that was a consideration for Lisa.
But if you’re shifting genre focus with each new book—Lisa doesn’t plan to write another series, for example, and the book she’s writing now is less a thriller and more a straight crime novel—taking on a new name each time isn’t practical (despite what Tanya does in The Passenger).
“When I think of a story that I want to tell, I never think in terms of genre,” Lisa says. “I just think, what’s the right way to tell this story?
“The Spellman Files felt like a comedy. And with The Passenger being a crime novel and being about isolation and loneliness, I felt like the writing had to be spare.
“Even though there may be some humorous moments, it’s a much darker novel and it doesn’t make sense to tell it in a comedic way.
“So you have to figure out the right way to tell a story. And it’s always about the story more than it is anything else.”
As readers, we fall in love with certain characters and want to keep reading about them. Or we’re attuned to a certain type of book from an author and we can run through an airport bookstore, see the author’s name, and know what we’re in for.
With The Passenger, Lisa’s Spellman Files readers might be in for a surprise—a good one.
“I know that you disappoint readers who want the same thing,” Lisa says.
“I think you just have to hope that you find the readers who are little bit more flexible with what they like, or open to new things.”
But despite The Passenger being a darker psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end, it still has its moments of humor.
“I couldn’t forsake it completely,” Lisa says, and laughs.
© Roz DeKett
About the author
Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of the Spellman Files series, Heads You Lose (with David Hayward), and How to Start a Fire. Lisa won the Alex Award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel. She lives in upstate New York.
About the book
Simon & Schuster
Publication date: March 1, 2016
Hardcover price: $25.99
Hardcover ISBN: 9781451686630
E-book ISBN: 9781451686654
Also available on audio