Candice Fox on true crime, James Patterson, and “Troppo”
When Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake published back in 2018, we selected it as a best book of the month, and raved, “Fox does a superb job of weaving past and present murders together, setting up a literary shell game to keep the reader guessing who’s guilty and who’s innocent,” expressing hope that it would be a continuing series. Luckily for readers, there are now three excellent books in the series, and the first of those has been adapted for screen with a new title, Troppo. Starring Thomas Jane as disgraced cop Ted Conkaffey, and Nicole Maroun as his quirky partner, Amanda Farrell, this Freevee original is now streaming. We were delighted to catch up with Fox via phone to ask her about the show and the book.
I didn’t write it, but they asked for my opinion. They had very specific questions: What kind of car would he drive? And what kind of whiskey would he drink? And for those questions, I just said, what kind of car do you want him to drive? I think people can get too precious about their art and be like, Ted would never wear that shirt. What you end up with is a carbon copy of the book, which is nice, but I think you've got to let other people do things with your art. Everybody added something wonderful.
But the entire series was filmed while Sydney was in lockdown! I couldn’t get to the set to meet anyone or enjoy any of my own TV show. Of course, that is something that you cannot complain about to anyone.
But I just think Nicole Chamoun is amazing the whole way through, and I loved her. I loved Thomas. I loved the geese. The mother goose’s name was Lucy. I asked Thomas, “How do you like working with birds? I'm sorry I didn't make them dogs.” He's like, ”No, it’s fine. She doesn’t bite.” We could never have changed from geese to dogs though; readers are so attached to those geese. They weren't in the trailer, and people wrote to me, asking if the show had geese and if not, telling me we should stop production and add them, saying they wouldn’t watch it if they're not there.
A little bit. There was a terrible murder in Queensland. A 12-year-old boy named Daniel Morecambe—a beautiful child, an identical twin—was going to the local shopping center to buy Christmas presents for his family. He was at a bus stop. And he disappeared. And for 14 years, the police worked on that case. The number one lead in that case was the sighting of a blue car. Seventy people testified to seeing this blue car at the scene at the time. But when they finally found the guy after 14 years, he was driving a white Ford, and he said, “I didn't park on the road; I would have been seen. I went up, and I parked behind a bush, and I lured him through the bush."
So, I thought about that and about the blue car and wondered if that were just someone who pulled over to take a phone call and didn't see the abduction happening in the real world? Or was it somebody who just pulled over, like Ted does, to investigate a noise, and then he pulls away again? And I extended those questions out. What if he was a criminal? What if he was a cop? You keep going and you keep going and you keep going, and that's how you start a novel
My mum had four kids, and then she adopted two, and then she fostered 155 kids. That's not hyperbole. That's the actual final count: 155. She just loaded the house up with people and children and animals who were suffering and needed her. I would come to her and I'd say “Hey, I'm having this problem,” and she'd go, “Yeah, cool story, bro. But this kid here, his uncle has been abusing him for the last year. So, he has problems. You don't have problems.” And I’d go, “OK, good chat.” You end up having this pathological level of cheerfulness where you just deal with everything with good humor, and then you explode.
And so, when I was writing Amanda, I knew she needed to be cheerful, almost like a robotic doll, with her little rhymes and her hair. But underneath, there is so much darkness.
Well, thank you. I'd add humor to it because sometimes when people were talking on the page, I’d think, “I just can't miss the opportunity to make this joke.”
I spent a year living in LA, and oh my God, I loved it. I did everything I wanted to. I met a serial killer!
I was watching a documentary series about murderers, on Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris. They're not well known. And I think that's because their crimes were just so unpalatable, people don't want to hear about that kind of stuff. But I watched it, and I thought that this is the worst thing I've ever heard of in my life. It's hard to disturb me because I've been reading true crime since I was seven, but I was really disturbed.
I looked them up, and I saw that the ringleader of this pair of murderers, Lawrence, was only an hour and a half away, up in San Francisco. And I told my husband I was thinking about writing to Lawrence and saying, "Hey, I have some questions to ask you. Can I come and ask them to your face?” And then, if he said yes, I would go visit him on Death Row, and my husband said, "Well, have fun. I'll stay here. Let me know how you go."
So, I wrote to Lawrence, and I said, “I am very interested in evil and monsters and you appear to be one of those. There's no romantic interest here whatsoever. I'm very happily married, and that's not my thing. I really want to ask you about what you did and why.” He agreed and I went to San Quentin. I assumed it was going to be an hour, and it was going to be me, talking through the glass on the phone. I get there, and I say, “Hi, I'm here to visit Lawrence Bittaker the serial killer—which one of these windows is mine?” and they say, “He'll be in that cage there.” And they pointed to this large steel cage, floor to ceiling with bulletproof glass all around the inside of it, and mesh holes.
Exactly. I'm thinking I'll drag a chair over, like Clarice Starling. But they put him in the cage. And then the guards hold open the cage door, and they say to me, “In you go.” And of course, I don't want to be rude to the serial killer. I thought to myself, “I'm gonna die here. This is how I become his next victim.”
I was there for five hours, asking him everything I could think of. Regardless of me saying there was no romantic potential there, he was very invested in trying to get me to be his new girlfriend though he already had four. Meanwhile, after three hours, my husband's googling San Quentin riots, San Quentin hostage, and San Quentin Candice Fox.
That he was just your classic narcissist. He really wanted me to see him as this poor misunderstood creature. He said when he was arrested he had been a law-abiding citizen for 33 years, had lots of friends, “and then I murdered some women.” He said, “Look at my life as a whole. You know, I really don't deserve to be thought of as just a murderer.” And I thought, “It doesn't really work like that.” Fascinating. But flawed, very flawed.
So, I could get away with things in my household, like reading true crime when I was seven. But when I went to school, I told all my friends about this book I'd been reading, about kids who kill their parents. And I got in big trouble because I made them cry. And my mum took all the true crimes and she put them on the top shelf and she said I wasn’t allowed to read them. But she left all these James Patterson books, and I was like, “Hey, these are cool.” So, I've been reading him for years and years and years.
There's an author called Richard Lloyd Parry, and he wrote a book about the murder of Lucy Blackman in Japan, called People Who Eat Darkness and it’s amazing. It goes right into the culture, the loneliness of men who pay women just to listen to them, and it questions it.
Author photo courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia