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September 2012

Interview with Ed Chatterton- A Dark Place To Die

 Absolutely delighted to introduce a Q&A with Ed Chatterton. Ed is the prize-winning author of more than twenty children’s novels (published under the name Martin Chatterton). A Dark Place to Die is his first crime novel and he is already hard at work on the second novel in the DI Frank Keane series. Here’s what he had to say and read my review of this gritty debut here: A Dark Place To Die.

 Obviously this is a bit of a transition of style going from a successful career as a children’s author to a gritty crime novelist. How cathartic was it as a writing process as the book is brilliantly visceral and earthy in tone? And why the change of direction or have you always had a hankering to write in the crime genre?

It is a big change, that’s true. I have always been a massive crime fiction reader and always felt I had a crime book (or more) ‘in me’. It took a long time for that book to arrive but I like to think that while it was gestating I was getting better and better at being a writer. Several of my children’s books were for a Young Adult readership and were, essentially, crime fiction. The difference was that there was no sex and definitely no swearing. I’ve written thirty one books prior to ‘A Dark Place To Die’ so I must have learnt something along the way. My children’s fiction is all surreally comedic so this was a definite shift in tone and content. And yes, it was extremely cathartic to let it all hang out after years of editing out the grit. Another reason for the change was that I felt I had a significant amount of life experience to give weight to the book.

As with my beginnings as a children’s writer it started by thinking I could do better than a lot of stuff that’s out there. I’m aiming high: my writing heroes are Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos. If I can get within touching distance of Leonard I’ll die happy.

How fully formed were the differing characters of DI Frank Keane and his former boss Menno Koopman in your mind when you started writing? Were they the starting point for the book?

I stole the names for most of the characters from friends. Menno Koopman is a Dutch guy I play football with (I did ask him and everyone else for permission). He bears no relationship to the character of Koopman but I wanted to give him a ‘non-Liverpool’ flavour of some sort. This was because I didn’t want the series to be too ‘scouse’. I have ambitions for the books that extend beyond Liverpool and giving Koopman Dutch heritage – not to mention having him live in Australia – helped with that.

Keane is based on a number of cops I know or who I used to know. They were, usually, self-contained, undramatic and professional. They don’t like to be showy and I was determined that while he should be human he shouldn’t be laden with deep character flaws and ticks as so many crime characters seem to be.

The real starting point for the book was the idea of writing about someone who, like me, had emigrated. I’d done it twice; first to the US and then to Australia. There’s something about moving away from your home city/country that gives you a perspective on the place. I have a foot in both places (painful, sometimes) but that was important in the development of the story. I also wanted there to be several strong characters who could (and will) become lead characters. Without being too much of a George Pelecanos worshipper, that’s what he does so successfully. So while Koopman might arguably be the dominant character in ‘A Dark Place To Die’, in the sequel it is Frank Keane who I focus on. Further down the line I’d like Em Harris to become a lead character.

One thing I loved about the book was how the differing locations of inner city Liverpool and the lush green rolling landscapes of outback Australia took on a character of their own. How important was this to the book in the light of you personally uprooting in the same direction as the character of Menno Koopman?

I heard from a detective friend of mine who lives locally that the area I live in (the Northern Rivers) has the highest murder rate per capita in New South Wales. Given that this area is all very lush, with white sand beaches and clear blue ocean that might be surprising. But I subscribe to the view that wherever humanity is there is violence. We are a violent species and our surroundings don’t stop that. From a dramatic point of view there was a nice counterpoint between the two locations. It’s hard enough to write a book of this complexity and have it take place in an unfamiliar setting so it made a lot of sense to place the action in both Australia and Liverpool. And I placed the Australian sections in the areas closet to me. The Gold Coast is about an hour north from where we live and has a thriving criminal fraternity. Once I had a plot device that made sense – a large scale drug deal between Liverpool and Australia – then everything else fell into place. Clearly too, because I had emigrated, there was empathy with Koopman’s mindset which made him easy to write.

At times the book strayed from the normal conventions of crime writing with the emphasis on critical theories and art as expounded by the wonderfully evil character of North. How did the idea of having a well-read if totally psychotic killer come about? And is art a particular interest of yours?

I am interested in art, yes. In fact, the character of North came about as a device in which I could discuss the locations that are important in the narrative. I needed someone who could talk about or reflect on the artistic content so making him an ex-art student made sense. The opening location which takes place amongst Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ sculpture installation was a vital component of the book. Without giving anything away this artistic setting is echoed later in the book. I’m a big admirer of Gormley’s work, particularly ‘The Angel of the North’ and I wanted a way to express that. As a reader I’m always a sucker for art-themed crime fiction (although I was bitterly disappointed by ‘The DaVinci Code’). I went to art school and became an illustrator; something that I still do for both my own children’s books and for other people.

A quite standard question but who are your writing influences and any crime writers in particular who really ‘shake your tree’ so to speak?

I’ve already embarrassed myself by fawning over Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos so I won’t add to that particular eulogising. There are tons of other writers who I admire: people like PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Richmal Crompton. Many of the writers who I think are truly incredible are comedy writers; Larry David and Ricky Gervais spring to mind.

In crime fiction I love Patricia Highsmith – the Ripley books are incredible – and I also have a fondness for some of the Nordic writers. I’m enjoying Asa Larsson’s ‘The Black Path’ right now which might also be because I shared a panel at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival with her last week (she’s terrific). I like Carl Hiassen and Don Winslow and Joe Lansdale. I have something of a man crush on Elliot Perlman after crossing paths with him at a dinner although again I think this may simply be fan madness on my part. Michael Connelly is a wonderful crime writer too. It’s one of my biggest thrills that I was recently taken on by the same agent in LA as him and Dennis Lehane. And I can’t namecheck crime writers without mentioning Arthur Conan Doyle.

What next for DI Keane- is there another book in the pipeline as this was such a strong and punchy debut?

Frank is back, yes! I’ve just completed the first draft of the sequel to ‘A Dark Place To Die’. Myself and Random House are still arguing over the title so I can’t help out on that, but I can say that in this one the action is split into two distinct halves; the first part takes place in Liverpool and the second in Los Angeles. Keane has been promoted to DCI and is a little uncomfortable in the role. When an apparently simple murder-suicide in a leafy Merseyside suburb takes place, he doesn’t imagine for a moment where it will end.

The Liverpool sequences centre on an edgy movie being shot in the city (Liverpool has long been a thriving movie location). the movie centres on the Williamson tunnels. These tunnels – which are real – were built in the 1800’s by an eccentric philanthropist called Joseph Williamson to provide work for unemployed builders. Instead of creating something useful, Williamson built miles of pointless caverns and tunnels under the Edge Hill area of the city. Some of the tunnels are still to be explored. The location echoes the theme of the book which is loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

I’d like Frank to run for a number of books and I think Random House have every intention of doing that. If not, I guess I can always keep drawing.

‘A Dark Place To Die’ has been optioned by a movie production company so I guess that if that eventuates we’ll definitely be seeing more of Frank. 

Ed Chatterton on Twitter

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Ed Chatterton’s official website

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Ed Chatterton- A Dark Place To Die

On a freezing October morning, Detective Inspector Frank Keane is called to the scene of a crime on Liverpool’s shoreline.The body of what looks like a man, brutally tortured and burned, has been tied to a pole on the beach. With very little evidence to go on, Keane and his partner, DS Emily Harris, rely on their gut feeling that this murder is gang-related and their investigation takes them, once again, into the murky underworld of organised crime.Over in Australia, ex-Liverpool Police detective Menno Koopman – Frank’s former boss – is enjoying his retirement. He has no plans to ever return to England but when the body on the beach turns out to be his son, Stevie – whom he only ever met once as a baby – he knows he has to go back and seek justice for his horrific murder. But there’s a fine line between justice and revenge…

 Opening with the discovery of a body against the desolate backdrop of a windswept beach amongst the naked figures of Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ installation, I was instantly engaged with this dark and visceral thriller. The action pivots between Liverpool with the murder investigation under the auspices of DI Frank Keane, a world-weary but utterly realistic detective and Australia, home to Frank’s retired boss Menno Koopman who is forced to return to Liverpool when the victim’s identity is revealed. What struck me most was the singular attention to plotting in this book as dual-sited crime novels are not always perfectly weighted between two locations and due to the author’s personal experience of life in both locations the authenticity rang true throughout. The story seamlessly moves from one side of the globe to the other as the Liverpool investigation leads to the uncovering of a drugs trafficking operation between there and Australia with the relentless pace giving rise to a gripping read as more than one character finds themselves in peril with Chatterton ratcheting up the violence. Not a read for the more faint-hearted I would warn, but personally I loved the more graphic scenes.

Another enjoyable aspect of the book was the dark and earthy characterisation, with Chatterton unafraid to shock and disconcert the reader at every turn, from the unconventional living arrangements of the wonderfully foul-mouthed Menno Koopman to the brilliantly disturbed character of North who, although clever and extremely well-read, is totally psychotic and takes far too much pleasure in meting out violence throughout the book. Our erstwhile hero, Keane is a very well-realised character and it was good to see a focused police officer with little emotional baggage and a healthy disregard for his superiors (with good cause as it turns out) portrayed so realistically, and equally his partner DS Emily Harris, ambitious and hardworking but sometimes confused as to where her loyalties should lie.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the book with the juxtaposition between the mean streets of Merseyside and the rolling serenity of outback Australia and the violence which permeates both societies. With great characterisation, a well-paced plot and a wonderfully seedy edge to the whole affair this was a gripping debut and I, for one, look forward to the next in the series…

Read my Q&A with Ed Chatterton here:

Interview with Ed Chatterton- A Dark Place To Die.

(Thanks to Random House for the advance reading copy)

 

Liza Marklund- Last Will

A frosty December night in Stockholm. A thousand guests attend the prestigious Nobel Prizewinners’ dinner. The evening is one of prestige and glamour. Until two shots are fired on the dance floor. Crime reporter Annika Bengtzon is there, covering the event for the Evening Post. As the police realize she caught a glimpse of the suspect, she is far more interested in getting back to the newsroom. But as more brutal murders follow, Annika finds herself in the middle of something far larger than she had anticipated. No longer just a reporter but also a vulnerable key witness, she begins to close up the gaps linking these crimes, just as the suspect starts closing the net on Annika herself…

 Intrepid journalist Annika Bengtzon is back in the latest crime thriller by Swedish author Liza Marklund set in and around the world of medical academia and Nobel Prize selection. Annika not only finds herself witness to a shooting at the Nobel Prizewinner’s dinner but finds herself professionally ostracized from her job at the Evening Post unable to report on the events she has witnessed and placed on enforced leave. Needless to say Annika persists with her enquiries and as the body count rises finds herself embroiled in a plot amongst the higher echelons of the world of medical academia that leads to threats against her own life and that of her family.

 With an incredibly multi-stranded story line I thoroughly enjoyed the depth of research that Marklund brings to this book in the realm of medical science and the intense rivalries and secrecy that exist amongst this group of elite scientific professionals and gratifying that there was such a good representation of women amongst this elite group. Throughout the course of the novel much is learnt about scientific investigations into diseases that continually defy cure such as MS, dementia and so on and Marklund effortlessly weaves what could be quite dense scientific jargon into easily understood and fascinating detail. She also sheds light on the whole convoluted process of selection for the accolade of the Nobel Prize and there is an incredibly interesting subplot centred around the life and scandals of Alfred Nobel’s life that is central to the main plot and the motivations of both victims and murderer.

 Likewise we have a greater depth of characterisation of Annika who once again is juggling the demands of family and career but who is encountering extra personal stress carrying the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity, the problems that her young son is encountering at the hands of bullies and their move out of the city next door to a frankly deranged neighbour.There is also an intriguing ‘will she won’t she’ situation with the temptation of the gorgeous reporter Bosse who drifts in and out of the plot tempting our erstwhile heroine. Annika has much to deal with…

 Marklund once again proves her credentials amongst the Scandinavian crime posse presenting the reader with not only a perfectly researched and gripping plot line where much can be learnt about a subject not normally addressed in the crime genre, but fuelling the plot with her wonderfully observed characters intermingling the constraints and challenges for Annika in balancing the demands of her job with her emotional life and the danger that this places her in. An excellent read.

 ‘Last Will’ to be published 27th September, Corgi

Visit the author’s website at: http://www.lizamarklund.com/

Read Maxine’s review here at Petrona: Last Will by Liza Marklund.

 (Thanks to Transworld for the advance reading copy)

Michael Robotham- Say You’re Sorry

My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago…When Piper and her friend Tash disappeared, there was a huge police search, but they were never found. Now Tash, reaching breaking point at the abuse their captor has inflicted on them, has escaped, promising to come back for Piper. Clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and his stalwart companion, ex-cop Vincent Ruiz, force the police to re-open the case after Joe is called in to assess the possible killer of a couple in their own home and finds a connection to the missing girls. But they are racing against time to save Piper from someone with an evil, calculating and twisted mind…

 After the disappointment of my last crime read it was heartening to seek sanctuary in the criminal bosom of Michael Robotham. Robotham is a firm favourite of mine and once again provides a fine lesson in the craft of crime fiction with an utterly absorbing read. Drawing closely on real-life incidences of child abduction Robotham weaves a compelling tale focusing on the case of two missing teenage girls and the changing public perceptions of the both the case and the two as individuals under the glare of media scrutiny and the heightened sense of purpose the police investigation gains when one of the girls turns up dead. Once again clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is called to assist in this troubling case and with the help of retired policeman Vincent Ruiz, seeks to determine the whereabouts of the remaining missing girl. The plot is taut and throws up many a quandary for our loveable duo as the investigation unfolds in different directions but what this book highlights more than most is Robotham’s consistently great characterisation.

This was particularly noticeable in Robotham’s portrayal of Piper Hadley a sporty and slightly ungainly teenager but who during her enforced incarceration is revealed as a very perceptive and thoughtful girl grappling mentally and physically with the challenges of the danger she finds herself in. The sections of the book where she narrates her day-to-day suffering at the hands of her abductor are truly moving and incredibly well-realised. I liked the way that her experiences are offset by the traumas caused by Joe’s own teenage daughter Charlie as she navigates her way through these difficult years, at times to the chagrin of her father, as she herself has been held captive in a previous criminal investigation involving Joe. Hence Joe draws on the feelings he had when his own daughter was abducted to aid his own mission to try and ensure the safe return of Piper to her family. On the theme of characterisation we are once again witness to the good-natured ribbing and heartfelt friendship and respect between Joe and Vincent. I adore Vincent despite his propensity for being an eminently unsuitable husband but totally counterbalanced by his mix of intuitive and ballsy approach to police work retired or not. Joe also finds himself involved in a little extra-curricular romantic action which added another facet to plot as well highlighting his slightly rusty skills with the fairer sex!

All in all this is a great read with a perfectly balanced plot, skilled characterisation and dialogue and just a twist or two along the way to add to the tense and thrilling denouement.

Visit Michael Robotham’s website at: http://www.michaelrobotham.com/ and love this quote on his author biog  “Michael can most often be found working in his ‘pit of despair’ (basement office) on Sydney’s northern beaches where he funds the extravagant lifestyles of a wife and three daughters.”
Downloaded digital galley from NetGalley http://www.netgalley.com/

Val McDermid- The Vanishing Point

Stephanie Harker is travelling through the security gates at O’Hare airport, on her way to an idyllic holiday. Five-year-old Jimmy goes through the metal detector ahead of her. But then, in panic and disbelief, Stephanie watches as a uniformed agent leads her boy away – and she’s stuck the other side of Security, hysterical with worry. The authorities, unaware of Jimmy’s existence, just see a woman behaving erratically; Stephanie is brutally wrestled to the ground and blasted with a taser gun to restrain her. And by the time she can tell them what has happened, Jimmy is long gone. But as Stephanie tells her story to the FBI, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems with this seemingly normal family. What is Jimmy’s background? Why would someone want to abduct him? And, with time running out, how can Stephanie get him back?

Right- so you read the synopsis of the book and think this sounds intriguing and what an excellent premise for a crime novel. Now excuse me if I’ve missed the point but what follows an initially promising first couple of chapters is an absolute flight of fancy and I think McDermid is just playing with her readers a wee bit!  I like to think that McDermid had her tongue very firmly planted in her cheek throughout the writing of the book as she shamelessly draws on the most nauseating aspects of ‘reality TV’ spawned celebrity with its attendant bad behaviour, press manipulation, ill gotten gains and the role of the ghostwriter in presenting a more acceptable version of these hideous people to their adoring public. The book centres on Scarlet Higgins, a Northern working class girl who comes to fame on reality TV show ‘The Goldfish Bowl’ ( a blatant hybrid of ‘Castaway’ and ‘Survivor’) despite her ill-behaviour, racist outpourings (counterbalanced nicely by her later relationship with an Asian DJ)  and generally lewd behaviour. Desperate to raise her public profile the hapless and incredibly naive Stephanie Harker-ghostwriter- is commissioned to write a book about the now pregnant Scarlet as a missive to her unborn child and Harker finds herself drawn into the duplicitous world of the scheming Scarlet. This is where it all goes a bit silly with a frankly ludicrous story line involving a Scarlet-impersonating cousin, a Romanian orphanage, a half-baked stalker and all manner of other silliness involving the FBI, a positively Greek Adonis of a policeman and eventually a murder which comes way too late in the plot to have any impact at all.

 But, and I stress this very clearly, as unbelievable and irritating as the whole thing is you can’t help being compelled to just read a few more pages, then a few more until before you know it you’ve read the whole book, and despite not having believed a word of it you realise you’ve had fun on the way, such is McDermid’s portrayal of a world of celebrity culture you recognise all too well backed up by an improbable but incredibly entertaining plot! So bad that quite frankly it’s brilliant…

‘The Vanishing Point’ is published by Little Brown 13th September

Visit Val McDermid’s website here: http://www.valmcdermid.com/

(Thanks to Little Brown for the advance reading copy)

Read Maxine’s review at: Petrona.

 

 

 

Kristina Ohlsson- Silenced

Fifteen years ago, a teenage girl is assaulted and raped as she picks flowers for a Midsummer’s Eve ritual. Cut to the present, and a man is killed in a hit and run. He has no identification on him, he is not reported missing nor wanted by the police. At the same time, a priest and his wife are found dead in an apparent suicide. Fredrika Bergman, along with Alex Recht’s federal investigation unit, is assigned to the seemingly unconnected cases. The investigations lead to a clandestine people-smuggling network: a new player on the international human smuggling market operating out of Bangkok. As the police slowly uncover the shocking hypocrisy behind the network, they begin to find a trail that runs all the way back to the 1980s, to a crime that went unreported, but whose consequences will reach further and deeper than anyone ever expected…
 
Another excellent offering from the newest addition to the Scandinavian crime stable following up on her exceptional debut novel  Unwanted. The plot, set in Sweden, centres on the currently prevalent topic of immigration with the murders of Jakob Ahlbin, a prominent supporter of immigrants rights and his wife Marja, with the story spiralling out to include an insightful addressing of the dangers facing immigrants in their passage to a new country and a better life. Ohlsson concisely exposes the issues from both sides of the arguments through the voices of her characters and weaves an utterly realistic and engrossing portrayal of not only the political and social implications of this thorny issue, but the inherent dangers to those involved in this field of work. With the dynamics of family loyalty and the tests of friendships woven into the main plot, the reader becomes totally bound up in this gripping thriller as people continually reveal that they are not as they appear to be with the skilful use of double-crossing and dark tension throughout.

 What I particularly admire in Ohlsson’s work is her innate skill at characterisation and how she so effectively draws the readers into the lives of her main protagonists. In ‘Silenced’ the character of Fredrika Bergman, still working with the police, spirals out as a new aspect is added to her character with the impending birth of her first child by her much older married lover of some years standing. There is a wonderfully drawn scene with Fredrika bowing to parental pressure and having to introduce Spencer to them over dinner with all the awkwardness and embarrassment of bringing home your first boyfriend/girlfriend as a teenager. On a more serious note, we get an accurate portrayal of an extremely focused and intuitive woman balancing the demands of the personal and the professional whose critical thinking always adds exponentially to the course of the investigation. Ohlsson’s skill is not limited just to her female characterisation as we follow the continuing path to self-destruction through Fredrika’s wonderfully tactless colleague Peder Rydh whose marriage has now deteriorated completely and whose lover has left him. Added to this is his conflict with a new member of the investigative team Joar Sahlin for reasons that I won’t spoil here and Peder’s steep path back to acceptance and reconciliation that the book takes us on. Alex Recht, the head of the investigative team is also subject to a heartrending and all too human story line throughout the course of a book whilst retaining his clear-headed and professional demeanour in the solving of this tricky investigation so this again adds another facet to Ohlsson’s consummate skill at characterisation.

 An extremely engaging read all round and yet another example of why the Scandinavian crime scene is producing such a fine body of work for crime fiction fans. Long may it continue…

See more about Kristina Ohlsson here: http://www.thedarkpages.co.uk/books

 (Thanks to Glen at Simon & Schuster for the advanced reading copy)

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