Echoes of Old Savannah
Bestselling author C.J. Daugherty’s new book draws inspiration from her time prowling the streets of Savannah.
Long before she released the echo killing, C.J. Daugherty had made a name for herself as a bestselling author in the highly competitive young adult market. Her “Night School” series held its own against the Twilights and the Hunger Games, launching her star in the publishing realm.
The Echo Killing is decidedly not a young adult novel. Unrelentingly dark and gripping, it takes readers inside the life of Savannah crime reporter Harper McClain, and a chilling series of murders that begin to take on more and more of a personal tone for McClain as she investigates. There is an authenticity to both McClain and the disturbing portrait of Savannah after dark that Daugherty paints through this novel, one borne from her years spent as a crime report for the Savannah Morning News.
With the mannerisms of her native Houston lightly gilded with a British accent thanks to nearly 20 years spent living overseas, Daugherty shared with us some of her experiences in Savannah and how they shaped her new novel.
Harper McClain has been obsessed with crime ever since her mother was killed when Harper was twelve years old. The killer was never found, and that unsolved murder haunts her as she spends her nights wandering the dark city streets of Savannah, Georgia, searching for criminals.
Now a crime reporter for the struggling local newspaper, Harper’s life remains tangled up in crime. Most of her friends are cops. She works nights, so she has no social life. Her work consumes her. One day, she stumbles upon the scene of a homicide that looks hauntingly familiar: a young girl with bloody hands being led away by a detective, a nude, female victim stabbed multiple times, and no evidence pointing towards a suspect.
Harper has seen all of this before in her own life. The similarities between the murder of Marie Whitney and her own mother’s death lead her to believe they’re both victims of the same killer.
At last, she has the chance to find the murderer who’s eluded the police for fifteen years. She can make sure another little girl isn’t haunted forever by a senseless act of violence.
South Magazine Q & A
South magazine: First off, how did a crime reporter from Savannah wind up living in the U.K.?
C.J. Daugherty: I actually was working for a British company when I worked in New Orleans in the late ’90s. They offered me a job in London for two years. I thought, ‘Two years, that’s not so bad. I’ll take that. That will be kind of exciting.’ And that was nearly 20 years ago.
South: When the time came to branch off into crime novels, what made you choose Savannah?
Daugherty: I think because I was so young when I was working as a crime reporter there, it made a bigger impact on me than a lot of my journalism did. That stayed with me because I was 21 and covering some pretty serious crimes.
South: What sort of crime were you seeing at the time?
Daugherty: There was a big crime outbreak at the time related to crack cocaine. I kind of arrived in a sleepy town and within six weeks it was a murder almost every other week and shootings every night. It was nuts. I went from working to my student newspaper to basically working homicide.
South: How much digging into old notes did you have to do as you were writing?
Daugherty: It was really funny because for a long time I hadn’t thought about those years at all. In fact, when I decided to write about it, I thought I’d look at old pictures and I couldn’t find the photo album because I’d moved so many times. I had to dig through my attic and when I finally found it, it all came back in this rush, having not thought about it in so long.
South: And how much did you wind up drawing real-life inspiration for your story?
Daugherty: Remembering the crimes of the book are completely invented, what I tried to draw from was remembering the adrenaline of that. Harper’s hours are my hours, so I’d work from 4 p.m. until almost 1 a.m. five or six nights a week depending on how bad things were and I had a photographer I worked with quite closely who was addicted to his scanner. Those things that are in my book are universal. I think every crime reporter starts this way. The rest, the crimes and how her life unravels, that’s very different.
South: And of course, Harper works at a fictionalized version of your old paper that is still headquartered downtown. (The actual Savannah Morning News moved more than a decade ago).
Daugherty: I feel like I came in at the end of the old newspaper days. When I started, every desk still had a typewriter on it that nobody used. It was just in the way – I used to put my feet up on it. There were still tubes on the walls where they used to send copy to the copy desk or the printer through these pneumatic tubes. They didn’t work, but you could see the bones of the old newspaper world still there.
The romance of that, I wanted to work that into the book because I remember being very influenced by that as a young woman. It’s really a shame to me that that’s all moved out to the suburbs. I didn’t want to write about a writer who’s out in the suburbs. I wanted to write about that writer on Bay Street, right there with the river in front of her.
The Echo Killing is available wherever books are sold.