Mary McCluskey is a journalist and a prize winning short story writer. Her short stories have been published in The Atlantic, the London Magazine, Story Quarterly, Salon.com, London's Litro, Sunday Express’s S Magazine, and literary magazines in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong. She divides her time between Stratford upon Avon in the UK and Los Angeles, California.
What is the most exciting thing about being a debut novelist?
The fact that what started as just an idea is now a real, solid thing, a book, out there making its own way in the world! There have been a number of other exciting moments. The first was when I received a box of books and could actually hold a copy in my hands. The second was when I read the Starred Kirkus review of INTRUSION. I was absolutely thrilled about that. I did the adult thing – I burst into tears.
If you had to describe intrusion in one sentence, what would it be?
A once loving couple, made vulnerable by grief, find their marriage in free fall when a beautiful and manipulative woman from the past becomes a part of their lives.
Where did the title Intrusion come from?
The intrusion of Sarah Cherrington into the story and into my characters’ lives. I began writing a story about a marriage after the loss of a child. A peripheral character, Sarah Cherrington, intruded into the story and began to take over. Thus – Intrusion.
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives.
Kat and Scott Hamilton are dealing with the hardest of losses: the death of their only child. While Scott throws himself back into his law practice in Los Angeles, Kat is hesitant to rejoin the workplace and instead spends her days shell-shocked and confused, unable to focus.
When an unwelcome face from Kat’s past in England emerges—the beautiful and imposing Sarah Cherrington—Kat’s marriage is thrown into a tailspin. Now wealthy beyond anything she could have imagined as a girl, Sarah appears to have everything she could need or want. But Sarah has an agenda and she wants one more thing. Soon Kat and Scott are caught up in her devious games and power plays.
Sarah Cherrington is such a sneaky, evil character. Where did the idea for her character come from?
Sarah is partly a combination of people I have known over the years, their worst qualities exaggerated, of course, and partly a creature created in my head.
Why did you decide to set the story half in LA and half in the UK?
I know both locales well and it was important to me that Kat, while grieving, felt the isolation that is common to expats in crisis so that Sarah’s influence would have more impact.
The book is really exciting and thrilling but you couldn’t really describe it as a ‘crime thriller’. What genre would you define the book as?
No. It’s not a crime story at all, nor is it a page turning thriller! I worry that readers who are expecting a thriller will be disappointed. Little A, the publisher, has variously described it as Women’s Literary Fiction and Psychological Suspense. I think both of those are reasonably accurate.
What can we expect from you next?
The novel I’m working on now, just going through a final revision. It’s called Deception and is about deception in all its forms. It deals with secrets, lies, infidelity, one apparent suicide, the interaction of four memorable characters, the uncovering of a secret that binds two of them and a doomed love affair. It’s pretty dark!
Intrusion by Mary McCluskey is out now published by Little A. And thanks to Mary's publicist I have an extract from Intrusion to share with you.
The private ballroom of the spa hotel, designed with Italian marble and crystal lights, had French doors running along one side that were open to a pool, softly lit and surrounded by rocks, palms, and cacti. Kat, nervous, paused at the entrance.
“Come on,” Maggie said. “It’s an open bar.”
A couple of dozen people milled around, sipping cocktails, and the noise level was at an animated conversational pitch. Mike Miyamoto, the managing partner of Scott’s law firm, stood just beyond the open doors with his wife, Phannie. He greeted Kat warmly, welcomed Maggie.
“Thank you so much for inviting me,” Maggie said. “It’s an impressive place.”
“It is indeed,” said Miyamoto, before turning back to Scott. “Lafitte’s here already. We should make introductions.”
Scott glanced at Kat. She read his concerned expression and nodded.
“Go ahead. We’ll get a drink.”
“An excellent idea,” said Maggie.
Kat found that with Maggie close by, and a regular supply of drinks, she was able to survive the first hour with surprisingly little discomfort. She endured the bear hug from one of the older partners, and a tight, sad hug from his wife, their sympathy for her making them virtually inarticulate. Most of the younger partners and their wives said hello, chatted a little, and then moved on. Glenda, Scott’s bright, Harvard-educated associate, came over, kissed Kat on the cheek, murmured a welcome, and then drifted off toward easier company. A few minutes later, one of the young male associates did the same.
James Dempsey found them eventually and stopped to talk. Introduced to Maggie, he studied her, shaking his head.
“It’s amazing. You two are not a bit alike. Not in looks, anyway. One blonde, one redhead. My brother and I are just peas in a pod. Of course,” James added, grinning, “you’re both gorgeous.”
Kat and Maggie exchanged looks and smiled just as Scott joined them.
“Going well, boss,” James said. “Ted Lafitte’s pleased. Where’s the head honcho of that European group? I thought we were getting an introduction.”
“It’s a woman,” Scott said. “Miyamoto said she’s on her way. Wait, is that her?”
James turned and looked in the direction of the door.
“Oh, Christ. Oh, bloody hell,” said Maggie sharply.
Kat turned to look. There was an obvious stirring at the edge of the room from the arrival of a late guest. A slender brunette stood alone in the entrance. She posed with her chin tilted, as if expecting photographers. Her hair was swept to one side, held back with an emerald clasp, and she wore an elegant cream silk gown. A beautiful woman, quite used to attention. She smiled serenely as Miyamoto, his wife close behind, hurried forward to greet her. Kat, rigid with shock, simply stared. The same smile, the same air of absolute confidence. A natural grace that Kat had once envied and tried hard to copy. Sarah Cherrington, twenty years later.
“Sarah,” she whispered. “I don’t believe it.”
“What the bloody hell is she doing here?” asked Maggie.
Scott looked from one to the other. “You know her?”
“Knew her years ago,” Kat said. “We were at school together.”
“Hey, that could be good.”
“Do not be so sure,” Maggie said.
“Think she’ll remember you?” Scott asked.
“Oh, yes,” Kat said. “We were at the convent school together. Then, at university we were flatmates. We were best friends once. Good grief, what a surprise.”
“Shock, more like,” said Maggie.
Scott placed an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “You moved in gilded circles, sweetheart. She’s a possible new client.”
“I thought it was a conglomerate or something,” Kat said.
“It is. She heads it. She’s Sam Harrison’s widow. She inherited the entire estate.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Maggie said. “Sarah was destined to marry some old geezer and inherit everything.”
Scott looked at his sister-in-law, frowning.
“He was not exactly an old geezer, Maggie. He was in his fifties, I think, when he died last year. Had cancer. And she’s quite the businesswoman herself, according to Miyamoto.”
Maggie, unrepentant, shrugged, and Scott caught the look she flashed to her sister.
“You don’t like her?”
“No. I don’t,” said Maggie. “But don’t mind me. A client’s a client. Rich widow or not.”
“Mags,” said Kat in an undertone, “she’s probably changed.”
They both looked over at Sarah, smiling warmly at the group surrounding her. The clear green eyes, slanting slightly, the golden skin, had seemed exotic, Kat remembered, to the other schoolgirls with their freckles and English rosebud looks. Rumors about her had swept the convent school regularly. It was said she was from one of England’s oldest aristocratic families, that she had been expelled from four previous schools, including Elmwood Hall, the exclusive girls’ school in Sussex. She was an orphan; there was talk of her mother’s death as a suicide and speculation as to her real father. She had been thirteen years old when her mother died, just one year before Kat met her. At fourteen, she had riveted an entire convent school. At twenty, as a university student, she attracted both gossip and envy, and had almost as many enemies as friends. But she had always commanded attention, just as she did now at the Palm Island Country Club. Sarah looked older but essentially unchanged.
“You want to go over and say hi?” Scott asked.
As he spoke, Sarah turned her head. She seemed to stiffen, looking hard at Kat, then she gave a smile of recognition and a small shake of her head. She patted the arm of Mrs. Miyamoto, excusing herself, and moved across the room, the green eyes never leaving Kat’s face.
“Caitlin! Dear gods, how is this possible?” she asked, hugging Kat.
The voice was the same: low and melodic. A voice so soft it indicated gentleness and was dangerously deceptive. Sarah was unusual at St. Theresa’s Convent School because she had no discernible accent: not the cultured caw of the upper-class girls, nor the rough Midland of the few day girls. Private tutors and a mother educated in European finishing schools had modulated her voice.
“Sarah, you look exactly the same,” Kat said. “I don’t believe it.”
“Nonsense. I look older. And so do you.”
Sarah held Kat’s shoulders and stood back to study her.
“Though you’re still lovely.”
Maggie’s voice, clear, loud, interrupted her.
“Hello, Sarah,” she said.
Sarah turned, frowning.
“Maggie? Maggie, too? Oh, my goodness. This is just unbelievable.”
Maggie’s smile remained in place, and she extended her arms so that the two women hugged stiffly, barely touching.
“Quite a surprise,” Maggie said.
Sarah looked at her steadily. “Well, well, dear Maggie, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Honestly?” Maggie asked. “I thought I’d grown.”
“You don’t appear to be blushing, however,” Sarah noted. “I seem to remember you did that all the time.”
“I only blush with pleasure these days,” Maggie said.
“Of course you do,” Sarah said, and turned back to Kat. “It’s been, heavens, how many years since we—?”
Her question was directed at Kat, but Maggie answered.
“Twenty-one. Twenty-one years come the twenty-first of June.”
Sarah turned to look at her.
“The last time we saw you,” stated Maggie, “was on my wedding day. And our anniversary is June twenty-first.”
“Oh, you’re right,” said Sarah slowly. “Your wedding. I do remember. You were so young, Maggie.”
“Old enough,” said Maggie. Though her sister was still smiling, and her voice controlled and pleasant, Kat recognized her look. Maggie was alert, wary, clear dislike in her eyes. “Doesn’t seem like twenty years, does it, since you turned up on our doorstep that night?”
Kat, aware of Scott at her side, interrupted quickly.
“Sarah, do meet my husband. This is Scott.”
“Scott Hamilton,” he said, reaching to shake Sarah’s hand. “One of the partners involved in the project.”
“Really?” Sarah said, appraising him. “Delighted to meet you.”
“And this is James Dempsey, my associate.”
James shot forward, holding out his hand.
“Oh, don’t call me ma’am. It’s Sarah. Please.”
Sarah shook his hand, but her attention moved immediately back to Kat, and very lightly she tugged at Kat’s arm to move her away from the group.
“If you will excuse us? We haven’t seen each other in such an age,” Sarah said.
“Of course,” said Scott.
Kat allowed herself to be led away, risking a quick glance at Maggie. Her sister watched Sarah as one would a snake or a rabid dog.
“We must talk,” said Sarah, squeezing Kat’s arm. “It’s been too long.”
Sarah led Kat into the corridor. They were outside a conference room, in an open hallway lit with crystal wall lights and furnished with long linen sofas. She sat down on one of them, pulling Kat down beside her.
“So? Tell me everything,” she said. “How are you?”
Kat returned her look, noting now in the cooler, brighter light, the small age lines, a weariness in the eyes not apparent before.
“Oh, fine. It’s just—” Kat paused, not wanting to go on.
“It’s just? It’s just what? I knew there was something wrong. Knew the moment I saw you. That lost look. Tell me. What’s happened to you, Kat?”
“It’s—our son died,” Kat said. “In an accident.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry.”
“I really can’t talk about this now, Sarah.”
Sarah moved to touch her hand.
“Of course not. Not here. You must tell me later. When we have time. When we’re alone.”
“Yes. You’ve had a difficult time also? Scott said you lost your husband,” Kat said.
“I did. But I was prepared. He was ill for some time.”
“But that’s hard, too. A long illness.”
“Yes. Those last few months—” Sarah shivered. “He was at home, you see. I had help, of course. And a delightful doctor who came every day. But my nursing skills? Well, you can imagine. But please. Go on. Tell me other things. You’re still a journalist?”
“Not anymore,” Kat said. “I work in a PR agency now. Press releases, brochures. Not the kind of writing I used to do.”
“Then why do it? You were so talented. And such big dreams.”
“The hours are regular. Nine to five. Better than newspapers. When Chris came along, I wanted something less demanding,” Kat said. “And you? What about you?”
“My dreams were rather different from yours, remember? White weddings. Children. No. Not for me. I was tired of being poor. I wanted to change that. And I have.”
Sarah gave a small smile and looked down, twisting the cabochon emerald ring off her finger, then holding it for a few seconds, as if checking its weight, before replacing it.