Brand New Friend by Kate Vane
Friend. Liar. Killer?
BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.
Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends.
What did he miss?
Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.
Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?
Guest Post: Inspiration
The inspiration for Brand New Friend
Do you ever look up friends from years ago online to see what they’re doing now? Not to get in touch, not because you want a big reunion with a mobile disco or an ill-advised affair, just out of curiosity?
I must admit I’ve done it. It’s fascinating to see where people I knew as a student in eighties Leeds have ended up. I was on the fringes of animal rights and other political campaigning (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it activism, most of it was social and inactivity seemed a big part of our lives then.) A lot of my friends were on the dole after graduation, some living in squats.
Now, many of them are in responsible jobs or running creative businesses or writing for national media. Ironically, it could be the downtime that helped them get to where they wanted, because they had the space to think about what mattered to them.
I wanted to write a novel that captured the mood of that time, featuring a group of fictional characters who would be my contemporaries, and see where they are now. The hook for the story came when I read about the undercover officers who infiltrated animal rights groups in the eighties. I wondered how it would be if my characters had known someone like that.
The story is told from the point of view of Paolo, who is a BBC journalist. He is already grappling with a crisis in his career and dealing with significant change. He has barely thought about his student years until he learns that someone who was a key influence on him was actually an undercover officer. Knowing that his ‘friend’ Mark lied to them leads him to reassess not just his past but the present.
For me writing a novel is about asking a lot of questions. And answering some of them – crime fans tend to want to know who committed the murder! But I think the themes can be more open, leaving the reader to make up their own mind. How much are we shaped by our memories? What if everything we thought we knew about a significant time in our past was thrown into doubt? How does that change what we believe in now?