I spent an ungodly amount of my early childhood and teenage years watching – and more often than not, loathing – horror movies. The problem was, I got hooked early on some really great ones, masterpieces of psychological suspense and terror like Psycho, Alien, The Exorcist, and the original Halloween. To find them, I had to wade through hundreds of cheaply made affairs that were light on plot and character, heavy on cheap scares, gore and torture. The female characters – each one sultry and provocative – screamed and cried on cue, and died horrible, gruesome deaths.
But I did find a handful of gems along the way, movies that portrayed real women – strong, complex and intelligent women – in lead roles: Ellen Ripley in Alien and Aliens; Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs; Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. These female characters weren’t stereotypes or story devices, and they were not victims. Vulnerable, yes, and oftentimes afraid and reluctant, but not stupid, and definitely not powerless.
This was the headspace I found myself in when I sat down and wrote The Missing. I wanted to write a strong, female character and found one in Darby McCormick. As a teenager, she experiences two horrific traumas. What interested me – what drew me to the story, to Darby – was what happened after, how these two events clung to her like a virus, constantly shaping her throughout high school and college, where she studied forensic science, and later, when she earned her PhD in abnormal and criminal behavior while working for the Boston Police Department.
I wanted to write a strong, female character and found one in Darby McCormick.
Like those who came before her – Starling, Ripley, and Connor – Darby uses her time to hone her mental and physical skills to prepare herself to do battle with the next boogeyman, and the next. It’s the only way she believes she can prove her worth to herself – to confront the terror over and over again and, hopefully, grow stronger from it.
My favorite boogeymen are the ones who look like so-called “normal” people. The truth is, they’re not actual monsters, or at least they don’t appear to be. They’re men and women who dress well, have good manners and solid marriages, even kids. They often appear as a friendly and helpful neighbor, maybe even a priest – which is exactly who Darby encounters in The Snow Girls.
I found, and find, Darby’s intensity unsettling. She’s a nomad now, roaming the country and living out of a single suitcase in hotels, constantly on the hunt for the boogeyman. But it is the plight of the victims that drives her. It’s never-ending, this cycle, and while she’s smart enough to realize this, and knows how much her obsession has cost her personally, she’s drawn to the hunt because she has become, in her own way, a predator herself. I, for one, wish there were more people like her.
How many of Chris Mooney’s Darby McCormick books have you read? Let us know in the comments below…