Marking the publication of The House On The Hill- the second in Kevin Sampson’s new crime series to feature DCI Billy McCartney- Raven Crime Reads is delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the release. Having previously reviewed the first in the series, The Killing Pool , and having just read this new one (reviewed below), I’m sure that you will not only enjoy Kevin’s piece posted here about his multi-faceted character, the mercurial Billy McCartney, but will be more than keen to seek this series out for yourselves too! So with no further ado it’s over to Kevin..
On DCI Billy McCartney
“My concept for the McCartney series was that Billy should be as complex and as much of an enigma as any of the cases he works on. I had (and have) in mind an initial 5 novels, with each instalment revealing a little more about Mac. Only once we’ve digested and understood all 5 ‘episodes’ will the full picture emerge. Until that point, it’s a process of putting all the tiny clues together as we try to get a sense of who Billy McCartney really is.
Having said that, I had a very clear notion of McCartney, his history and what drives him on, right from the start. Mac’s persona is absolutely central to each case, and the way he goes about solving it. He is defined by his own experience, and by his own distinctive morality. Mac perceives himself more as an old-time Lawman than a sophisticated modern detective. He regularly refers to himself putting on ‘the cape’ or ‘the mask’, and these nuances shine a light on Mac’s idiosyncratic approach to the job. He’s the Lone Ranger, dressed in white, chasing the lawless baddies out of town; making it safe for ordinary decent folk. Above all, he wants to make the streets safe for women.
McCartney’s very specific worldview is both informed and challenged by his perception of women. Again, there is something of the old-fashioned hero in him, racing to aid the damsel in distress. In The Killing Pool Mac risks everything in his determination to find and rescue the young runaway, Misha. And in his latest case, The House On The Hill, his obsession with a murdered colleague, DS Millie Baker, drives him beyond the rational remit of the job. He’s in Morocco to infiltrate a major hashish production gang high in the Rif mountains, but it’s the recurring flashbacks about the circumstances of Millie’s death that haunt Mac and spur him on.
Yet McCartney himself is anything but a traditional square-jawed knight in shining armour. He never, ever gets the girl. There is a loneliness that eats away at Mac – a resignation that “for McCartney, it always ends this way.” This, in turn, informs his solitary approach to his work. All too often, Mac’s fairy tales morph into nightmares, and it’s his seeming inability to find love that recurs in his moments of reflection. His consolation is that, through his diligent and often brilliant detective work, he makes the city a safer place to live. As a child he witnessed his own father being shot by armed robbers. If he can prevent other kids going through similar trauma, it has been a Good Day for McCartney.
DCI Billy McCartney presented himself to me well-defined but not quite fully formed. Just as with real people in real life, he is a work in progress, growing and changing as he reacts to different challenges. I have a pretty good idea who he really is. By the end of the fifth book we’ll know for sure. For now though, enjoy more clues about Mac in The House On The Hill.”
Kevin Sampson began his writing career reviewing bands for NME. Based in Liverpool, he wrote about gangs and subcultures for The Face, I-D, and Arena. A lifelong fascination with the criminal underworld, led to Sampson’s Liverpool-set crime novels, Outlaws and Clubland, and his debut film Surveillance. Outlaws was also made as a feature film titled The Crew. Sampson is the author of eight novels and one work of non-fiction. The Killing Pool was the first in the series of the Billy McCartney novels, with a TV adaptation just announced here Follow him on Twitter @ksampsonwriter.
DCI Billy McCartney has gone to ground, disillusioned with his job. When a runaway turns up on his doorstep, her story plunges Mac back to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases. McCartney and his partner DS Millie Baker are in Ibiza, on a joint venture with the Spanish serious crime agency. Their objective: to infiltrate the Liverpool-based drug gang responsible for a wave of ecstasy-related deaths. But their stakeout takes both Mac and Millie to the heart of a dark empire whose tentacles stretch from Ireland to Morocco, and whose activities include industrial-scale drug production – and terrorism. They’re close to their big bust when Millie is abducted by the gang, and killed. McCartney never quite recovers from it. The waif who knocks on Mac’s door twenty-four years later has escaped from those same captors; a dynasty of international dope dealers based high in the Moroccan Rif. What she tells McCartney blasts his apathy away, and sends him on a mission that goes far beyond law and order. This is his chance for redemption.
The House On The Hill is the second in the DCI Billy McCartney series following the excellent opener The Killing Pool (which I waxed lyrical about last year) and can easily be read as a standalone. This new book sees Mac gone to ground, disillusioned with his job, but fate has a surprise a store for him when a young runaway turns up on his doorstep. The tale she has to tell plunges Mac back in time to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases, both professionally and personally. The trail she sets him on, takes him and the reader back to the investigation rooted in the 90’s club scene in Ibiza, to his present day pursuit of a drug dynasty in the hills of Marrakech, where extreme danger awaits…
I would say from the outset that what Sampson achieves with ease, both in this and his novels to date, is the ability to so quickly make us so comfortable with the characters he lays before us. Even if you have not read the first book which established the depths and quirks of DCI Billy McCartney’s character, I guarantee that you will take to him, and his rough charm from the earliest beginnings of the book. In this character, Sampson has conjured up a man of sublime contradictions. He has an easy manner, flecked with humour and a cynical eye, but equally is a man haunted by events in his own childhood, and in his professional career as a police officer. Although he is to all intents and purposes a bit of a rough diamond, the wrongs he has born witness to, particularly in the historical case in Ibiza which proceeds the contemporary investigation, has affected him greatly on an emotional level. Both cases call on him to be somewhat of a knight in shining armour, but on a more basic level, are driven by his pure ambition to right the wrongs of the past, and assuage his own sense of guilt. He has a strong moral core, despite his tough guy attitude, and even when up to his armpits in danger retains this outward strength, but is man enough to confess to his inward fear. He is gallant when the female of the species is involved, but our hearts go out to him, as in the true spirit of the moral defender, he is destined to carry a sense of loneliness and isolation about him.
Equally, Sampson roundly characterises the surrounding protagonists in the book, good guys and bad guys alike, in a realistic and vital way. There are some truly horrible antagonists involved in Mac’s investigations, like drug dealer JJ Hamilton, whose nefarious dealings with the equally hideous drug lord Hassan El Glaoui, a particularly cruel and violent individual, lies at the root of Mac’s troubles. These two men are greedy, ambitious and unrelenting in their manipulation and abuse of others (in particular women) to keep a stranglehold on the drug trail they control. Also, amongst Mac’s police counterparts at home and abroad, over the course of the two cases, there is a nice mix between the good, the bad and the ugly, and of course Al Glauoi’s and Hamilton’s henchmen are carved out in true pantomime baddie style. Boo. Hiss. On a slightly lighter note, I particularly enjoyed the characterisation of the young and in a lot of ways naïve, Yasmina, the runaway who comes to Mac with her personal tale of woe. To avoid plot spoilers, I won’t divulge how she is connected to him, but her resilience (when pursued by the bad guys), balanced with her heart-warming incidental journey to a grand love affair with the spiky, and thoroughly entertaining kick ass Jessica, is a joy.
The dual timelines are powerfully and realistically presented, from the atmosphere of the heyday of Ibiza, underscored with some real trip back in time references to the essential music of this period, and the very unique and sensual casting of Morocco, leading to the breathless denouement. Sampson’s attention to location is one of the real strengths of the book, so much so that the contrasting landscapes he portrays, seem to take on the role of a character in themselves. I found the descriptions of El Glaoui’s hillside hideaway, particularly cinematic, and the events that transpire in its locale, added to the foreboding atmosphere it imparted in the book. The plot is perfectly controlled, with neither half on the dual narrative, weakened by the other, fuelled by tension and danger in equal measure. In common with The Killing Pool, Sampson does not hold back on the more sordid details of the piece, to unsettle us throughout, but like the first book, I rather enjoyed the more grubby and violent aspects of the plot, which further involved me emotionally in this theatre of danger Mac finds himself embroiled in. All in all a terrific follow up to the first book, and if this is only book two of a planned five book series, I cannot wait to see what Mac gets up to next. Bring it on…
BLOG TOUR IN FULL:
August 7th DEAD GOOD BOOKS
August 8th RAVEN CRIME READS
August 9th SHAZ’S BOOK BLOG
August 10th CRIMETIME
August 11th READER DAD
August 12th THE CRIME WARP
(With thanks to Jonathan Cape for the ARC)