Tag Archives: Ed McBain

The Intel: Peter Lovesey

Peter LoveseyPeter Lovesey is crime fiction royalty. The author of nearly forty novels – featuring Sergeant Cribb, Peter Diamond and Hen Mallin, among others – he’s been nominated for nearly every award worth having, and in 2000 won the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger for his lifetime achievements.

His latest Supt Peter Diamond novel is called Down Among The Dead Men and features the consequences of what happens when a car thief makes off with a stolen BMW. When the police pull him over, a nightmare discovery in the boot earns him a life sentence for murder.

Years later, Diamond finds himself investigating that old case, and his formidable colleague Hen Mallin, and dealing with with spirited schoolgirls and eccentric artists. But more people are going missing…

We’re all kinds of thrilled about this intel – Lovesey is an engaging and generous interviewee. He discusses the evolution of Peter Diamond since his first – and last – appearance 25 years ago and the series’s debt to Ed McBain – and he reveals the one question fans always ask that always makes him uncomfortable….

Tell us about Supt. Peter Diamond… 

When he first appears he is asleep on a trolley outside the post mortem room while an autopsy is going on inside. This helps to establish him as a stubborn yet sensitive man who does his own thing regardless of what is expected. His ample shape suggests a dinosaur luring in a primeval swamp. I wanted to suggest he was one of the old school of detectives, an anachronism in modern policing. He’s overweight and dresses in a raincoat and trilby as if he’s stepped out of one of the black and white movies he loves. I’d know him if I met him, but if he knocked on my door I’d think twice about inviting him in.

Diamond made his first appearance in 1991’s The Last Detective – how has he changed down the years?

As the title implied, that first book was intended to be a one-off. By the end of it Peter Diamond had quit the police. End of, I thought. Unexpectedly it won the Anthony award for best novel (I wasn’t in Toronto and didn’t find out till later, which meant I didn’t even have to make an acceptance speech). Diamond was already middle-aged. When asked if I would write another story with this character I revised my writing plans and did one called Diamond Solitaire, with him getting involved in crime as a civilian. By then I saw he had potential for a series, so The Summons was my way of getting him back into the police. He has now been a detective superintendent at Bath for another twenty-five years. How has he changed? Not at all. Peter Diamond is a portly, middle-aged Peter Pan. He has the gift of eternal middle age.

Down Among The Dead Men features Diamond investigating the disappearance of an art teacher – what was the inspiration for the novel?

They say you should write about what you know. I went to university to study fine art. I would have applied for English, but in those days they insisted everyone studied Latin and I was so abysmal at it that I didn’t even take the exam. The art was my back door route to an English degree. I wrote some essays the English professor saw and after a couple of terms he invited me to switch – with nothing said about Latin. Later I did some teaching in technical colleges. I was wary of writing fiction about art and teaching in case an old colleague recognised herself, but I’ve finally bitten the bullet.

Down Among the Dead MenYou’ve said your supporting cast of detectives is a nod to Ed McBain – do you have any favourites among Diamond’s colleagues?

Yes, Ed and I shared the same agent and became good friends. Under the name of Evan Hunter he’d written The Blackboard Jungle, so we had teaching in common as well. He was the father of the police procedural novel and his writing doesn’t date, even fifty-eight years on from Cop Hater. I learned a lot from him about handling a team of detectives rather than just the sleuth and his sidekick. Among my characters I liked Julie Hargreaves, but she couldn’t stand Diamond and asked for a transfer.

The main female interest now is Ingeborg Smith, formerly a freelance journalist. I’m hoping she will tough it out with the old curmudgeon. Among the men, there’s John Wigfull, an enemy of Diamond’s who does PR for the police. And I enjoy writing scenes for Leaman, the inspector who does everything by the book and is the eternal fall guy.

DCI Henrietta ‘Hen’ Mallin – who spun off into two of her own books – makes another appearance in Diamond’s life. Do you have any plans to return her to the limelight in another novel?

I like Hen and enjoy making sparks when she works with Diamond. Nothing is planned and she doesn’t have a spot in Another One Goes Tonight, the next book. People sometimes ask if I have another book inside me. I tell them I don’t. It ‘s uncomfortable.

How did you start writing?

Like everybody else, at school. I won a prize at 15 for writing a history of my town . The first book I wrote was about long distance running and the first novel  was also about running and called Wobble To Death. It was used to launch the Macmillan crime list in 1970. Being set in Victorian times, it was different and got me started on a series of eight books that eventually appeared on Granada TV as Cribb, starring Alan Dobie as the detective.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Never get too excited about the promise of getting onto the big screen. Wobble To Death was optioned by Carl Foreman (of High Noon fame) and The False Inspector Dew by Peter Falk (Columbo). I was lunched by the great men and started counting the days (‘It won’t be long, Peter’) but ultimately neither project went into production.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

It’s unfair to mention living writers. I still enjoy Ed McBain because he was such an innovator and a stylist. And Donald E. Westlake, whose Dortmunder books are the funniest crime series ever. Who else? Patricia Highsmith, who didn’t invent the inverted crime plot, but made it into high art. And Arthur Conan Doyle, who is undervalued as a comic writer.

Give me some advice about writing…

Always have the next book written (or well under way) before the previous one is published.

What’s next for you?

Another One Goes Tonight is the seventeenth in the Diamond series and appears in July. Number eighteen is under way. I can’t say well under way, but hell, there’s plenty of writing to be done between now and then. This is where I stop answering your questions and get back to work.


Down Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey is published by Sphere, price £8.99 in paperback.

You can find out more about Peter at his website www.peterlovesey.com

The Intel: David Hewson

David Hewson

Photo credit: markbothwell.com

Earlier this week we reviewed acclaimed author David Hewson’s latest foray into Eurocrime, his second Vos and Bakker thriller, The Wrong Girl. You can see that review right here if you so choose, or you can just scroll down and save your most important finger a lot of unnecessary work.

Hewson is a restless soul, the author of the Nic Costa series, set in Rome, and the adaptations of Scandi crimes The Killing I, II and III. His latest series is set in Amsterdam. So, yes — you know where we’re going with this — we’re delighted that Hewson has agreed to give us the intel on his work. He talks Dutch cops, adapting The Killing, and how he sets about getting under the skin of a new city…

Who is The Wrong Girl?

The Wrong Girl (and I know there are a lot of books with ‘girl’ in the title at the moment but in this case it is a girl) is Natalya Bublik, the eight-year-old daughter of a Georgian single mother working as a freelancer prostitute in the Red Light cabins of Amsterdam. She’s been snatched at a huge public event in October, the arrival of Sinterklaas – St Nicholas, a bit like our Santa Claus – which is a public holiday that ends with Sinterklaas addressing the city’s children from the balcony of the theatre in Leidseplein. It appears the kidnappers – a terrorist group trying to force the release of one of their supporters – have seized Natalya in mistake for the daughter of a wealthy Amsterdam family. But it soon becomes apparent all is not as it seems.

Tell us about Vos and Bakker…

I wanted to write a book which has a man and woman in it without any hint or possibility of romantic attachment. There is no ‘will they? Won’t they?’ in any of this. They’re both likeable slightly dysfunctional characters in their own right. Vos a loner with a failed relationship in the past, happy to live in his houseboat and his dog, wary of getting close to anyone. Bakker, fifteen years younger or so, comes from Friesland in the north of the Netherlands so she’s treated like an outsider – a bucolic idiot – by some, even though she’s very smart. Vos is a city chap, sophisticated, liberal, easy-going. Bakker is judgmental and uneasy in the city at times. They both think the other needs fixing so it’s a relationship that at times can be a bit edgy, though there’s genuine affection and respect in there too.

How do Dutch cops differ from our own?

They don’t. All the things British police moan about – management, bureaucracy, targets, political correctness – happen in the Netherlands too. Probably everywhere.

The Wrong GirlYou’re known for your European thrillers – how well do you have to know a city and a culture before you can write about it?

Personally I have to know it pretty well – and that means taking an apartment, reading a lot about it, talking to people, taking photos. With the Vos books I had my Dutch publisher on board from the outset which was incredibly helpful and saved me from lots of stupid mistakes. However much you work at it you’re bound to let something through that you couldn’t possible spot. My Dutch publisher saved me that embarrassment thank goodness.

Your research must be extensive — how do you organise it all?

Logically. A camera, a smart phone, lots and lots of notes, 90% of which probably won’t be used. Research is the bit of the iceberg you don’t see though so I never know whether something really was wasted. I do have a little bell that rings when the research is taking over though. It’s important to remember the story comes first, and you don’t have to put in an interesting fact simply because it’s interesting.

You recently completed your novelisations of The Killing series – how does it feel to be once again working on your own characters?

It doesn’t feel terribly different to be honest. The Killing adaptations were just that: adaptations. I made lots of changes, killed some characters who lived on TV and vice versa, and for the last book I revived a character, Troels Hartmann, who didn’t even appear on TV. I wanted the books to work as a trilogy about the character of Sarah Lund and I was writing with hindsight. The TV people didn’t have that advantage.

All of the challenges I have with my own books were there. Even down to the dialogue which doesn’t follow the TV much at all.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I don’t know if it’s the hardest lesson but it’s the best lesson – you never learn this craft. You’re always a beginner in some ways, because if you’re not you’ll start turning out books that are just like the last one. I wipe the slate clean with every book and start with a blank page determined to do something that’s not like the last book. The Wrong Girl is quite different to The House of Dolls in many respects. That first book was introducing Vos and Bakker and in a way was about Bakker rescuing Vos from his solitary life. In The Wrong Girl they’ve got a real and nasty case on their hands, and it’s only personal because they’re the kind of people who care about the dispossessed and the downtrodden – unlike some others in authority.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I only ever mention dead authors in this respect because if you mention living ones the living ones you don’t mention can get punchy. Robert Graves for writing one of the best examples of pure tragedy around – I, Claudius. Crime/thriller is simply a new name for what the Greeks call tragedy so there’s lots to learn from there.

Ed McBain for introducing the idea that books can work with an ensemble cast, not just a single all-knowing, all powerful protagonist.

Robert Louis Stevenson because he managed to get away with some fantastic genre-crossing, from horror to kid’s stuff to out-and-out adventure. Something it would be very hard to repeat today.

Give me some advice about writing…

It’s easy really. All you have to do is find the right words and put them in the correct order.

What’s next for you?

A new Italian standalone set in 1986 Florence, The Flood, from Severn House in July. Then a nine or ten hour audio adaptation of Macbeth for Audible in Germany (it’s not yet recorded so I’m not sure of the finished length). It’s not an adaptation of Shakespeare but an adaptation of an adaptation of Shakespeare I wrote into book form with A.J Hartley, a Shakespeare professor, which was recorded by Alan Cumming a few years back.

This adapting thing seems to be catching.

The Wrong Girl by David Hewson is published 7th May by Macmillan, priced £12.99 in hardback.

The Intel: Tom Callaghan

Tom Callaghan

Earlier in the week we walked the charming streets of Bishkek in Tom Callaghan’s excellent debut, A Killing Winter, which features the debut of Inspector Akyl Borubaev. Callaghan’s brutal post-Soviet noir is brutal and muscular and funny. In a corrupt state full of bad eggs, Borubaev is as hardboiled as they come.

We promised you Tom Callaghan would give you the intel on Borubaev, Kyrgyzstan and his writing, and here at Crime Thriller Fella, we deliver. Born in the North of England, Callaghan is quite the gadabout. An inveterate traveller, he divides his time between London, Prague, Dubai and Bishkek. Me, I get a nose-bleed crossing postcodes.

Tell us about Akyl Borubaev.

Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad in Kyrgyzstan is tough, honest and dedicated. Having recently lost his wife to breast cancer, he is in mourning, unsure that he does any good, caught in a deep depression. But the murders continue, and he has to solve them.

Where did you get the inspiration for A Winter Killing?

I’ve always loved crime fiction, hard-boiled noir for preference, and so that was always going to be the kind of book I’d write. But who needs another crime book set in NYC, or LA, or Miami? Kyrgyzstan is an unknown place, with a lot of problems – what more could a crime writer ask for? As for the plot; (whispers) I made it up.

In the novel, Kyrgyzstan is a state engulfed by gangsters, corruption and sleaze – what do you think the good citizens of Bishkek would make of it?

After two revolutions in ten years, it’s clear that the Kyrgyz will put up with a lot as long as there is food on the table, but when corruption becomes too overt, they act.

A Killing WinterWhat’s your own relationship with the country?

I was married to a Kyrgyz woman, I have a Kyrgyz son, and a home in Bishkek. It’s a country I love, for its beauty, for its culture, for its people. It’s a unique place, in an increasingly homogenised world.

It’s a very timely novel, what with many of the post-Soviet satellite countries afraid that Russia is flexing its muscles again. What do you think the future holds for Kyrgyzstan?

Now that the US air base at Manas has closed, following troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and with Kyrgyzstan signing trade agreements with Russia over import and export tariffs, people are worried about a decline in living standards. Only time will tell. But I don’t see Putin moving eastwards.

How did the spellchecker on your computer cope with some of the more challenging, consonant-heavy names?

I ignore it: I know how to spell, to parse a sentence and the rules of grammar. Orwell’s rules are ones I live by.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Laundry and doing dishes always seems more important when you stare at a blank screen.

How do you deal with feedback?

As a professional writer, I have no problems with other people reading what I’ve written. I like to think I’m reasonable and open-minded to fair comment. At the same time, I’ll defend my work if I think I’m right. If I can improve my work through someone else’s suggestions, I will.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

The Classics: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson. Murder taken out of the drawing room and put down a dark alleyway, where it belongs.

The Hard-Boiled Americans: Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Robert Campbell, Michael Connolly, Robert Crais, James Ellroy, Carl Hiassen, Joe R. Lansdale, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, George Pelecanos, Peter Spiegelman, Andrew Vachss. Crisp dialogue, more twists and turns than an electric eel, great locations.

The Bold Brits: Mark Billingham, John Connolly (alright, Irish, but I had to list him somewhere), John Harvey, Mo Hayder, Simon Kernick, Val Mcdermid, Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson. Murder doesn’t just happen in the USA, you know.

Foreign Settings: John Burdett (Thailand), Sebastian Fitzek (Germany), Stieg Larrson and Henning Mankell (Sweden), Jo Nesbo (Norway), Mike Nichol (S Africa). Because murder happens to non-English speakers as well.

What’s next for you?

The sequel, A Spring Betrayal, is with my agent and publisher, both of whom are very encouraging, and I’m plotting the third book now. Both of them feature Akyl Borubaev. A Killing Winter is already out in German, UK paperback and US publication is in the autumn, and Spanish and Portuguese editions follow next year.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t talk about it  –  nothing diminishes the desire to write as quickly as having told everybody the story. Read a lot. I mean a LOT. Read every day. Write every day. Ask for criticism, not praise; that’s what mirrors are for.

Follow Kingsley Amis’ advice: apply the seat of your trousers to the seat of your chair. Learn to spell and use grammar correctly; if you can’t make yourself clearly understood, how is your reader going to cope? Love one genre, but explore others; everything is an ingredient, to use or not, as you see fit.

Try not to be afraid of the blank page/screen, but don’t be over-confident either.

The Intel: Jim Ford

We’re never sick of saying it: we love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them.

Jim Ford2Jim Ford is the author of The Bug House series, featuring DCI Theo Vos and his Tyneside-based team of detectives. The trilogy is due for publication by Constable & Robinson in 2014.

Born and bred in Newcastle, Jim worked on local and national newspapers before turning freelance. Under another name he has published a four-book crime series set in Kenya as well as over a dozen non-fiction titles. He now lives in the north of England with his wife, daughter and ageing dog.

Jim has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing process.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

It’s usually the first scene! As a young journalist I was schooled in the art of writing an attention-grabbing opening paragraph, and I’ve stuck with it in my fiction work. Obviously I’ve got a pretty good idea of the plot in my head going into the book, but that opening scene tends to set things off on a path of their own.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m very much a night owl. During the day there are too many distractions – and in my other life I still work as a freelance journalist –  but after 7pm the email, Facebook and Twitter interactions tend to die down and I can get on with it. Trouble is, next thing I know it’s 2.30am and I’ve got to be up in four hours for the school run.

Bug HouseWho are the authors or you love, and why?

For my forthcoming Bug House series I have leaned heavily on Ed McBain for inspiration, but I can happily spend a couple of hours in the company of any of those stripped-down, hard-boiled American writers from the 1950s and 60s. Elmore Leonard said he left out the bits that readers skim through, and that’s become my motto too. I’m a big fan of Jake Arnott – I like the way he combines fact and fiction, and Harry Starks is a great recurring character in his novels. Like most teenage boys I began a love affair with Martin Amis’s tour de force Money which has endured to this day, and once or twice a year I always dip into my dog-eared Woody Allen anthology for a good laugh.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The beauty of writing is that you’re always learning, and I’ve been lucky that my career has been largely pain free largely because I love what I do. The blank page is always a challenge, but in a good way.

How do you deal with feedback?

I thrive on it. There comes a time in the course of every novel when a fresh pair of eyes is required, and for me the editor’s notes are an essential part of the creative process. I’ve also got an ace copy editor who is a whizz at untangling strangulated prose and making me sound better. In the past I’ve had some great reviews and some stinkers, but then in the past I’ve been a reviewer myself so I know how subjective it is. As long as they’re not all stinkers I don’t lose sleep over it.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

The Bug House series is set in Newcastle, where I grew up and worked for the local newspaper for many years – so I know the city, its people and its stories very well. But the journalistic discipline of being able to fill the empty page continues to prove invaluable.

Punch Drunk cover1Give me some advice about writing…

It should always be a pleasure, never a chore. And, in the words of Faulkner “In writing, you must kill your darlings” – in other words, if you’re stuck don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Don’t take no for an answer. 

What’s next for you?

Crossing my fingers that the Bug House series is a success – and in the meantime  writing a stand-alone to keep me out of mischief.

Jim’s website is www.bughousefiles.com and he Twitters at @JimFordBooks

Criminal Minds: Alfred Hitchcock

Born in Leytonstone, East London, in 1899, Alfred Hitchcock directed more than fifty movies across six decades, and is as legendary as anybody in the crime thriller genre. Perhaps the most-famous film director ever, his timeless work is endlessly analysed.

1/ Many of Hitchcock’s films feature heroes who are  wrongly accused. Film historians have suggested this relates back to an incident when the five-year-old Hitchcock was sent by his disciplinarian father, a grocer, to a police station with a note asking that he be locked up for bad behaviour.

2/ Hitchcock always suggested that he found filming a chore, and famously imageslikened actors to cattle – in a sarcastic response, Carole Lombard bought some cows along with her when she reported for duty on set. Hitchcock said he saw the entire completed film in his head before he shot it, right down to the edits, and shooting lost 40 per cent of his original conception of it.

3/ The director’s practical jokes were legendary – he once served a meal of blue food to bewildered guests. But as his reputation has taken on darker hues, many of his more sinister jokes are perhaps more apocryphal. For example, Hitchcock reportedly bet his floor-manager he couldn’t stay handcuffed overnight in an empty studio, and when the fellow agreed, Hitchcock offered him a snifter of brandy to fortify him through the night – however, the alcohol was laced with laxative.

4/ Hitchcock worked with an incredible rosta of writers in his career, including Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker – his cameo in Saboteur was originally intended to be shared with Mrs. Parker – Ernest Lehman, Ben Hecht and John Michael Hayes. A young writer called Evan Hunter wrote The Birds – Hunter later become successful as crime writer Ed McBain.

5/ The director’s favourite of his own movies was Shadow Of A Doubt, starring Joseph Cotton as the sinister Uncle Charlie. Two of the scriptwriters on that film were Thornton Wilder, who wrote the theatre repertory mainstay Our Town, and Hitchcock’s own wife, Alma Reville.

poster_rear-window6/ For Rear Window Hitchcock built an extraordinary indoor set: forty feet high and 185 feet long, complete with more than one thousand arc lights. The courtyard of the five-storey apartment block set was actually the excavated basement of the studio. There were 31 apartments built for the movie, complete with running-water and electricity apartments, and many were fully-furnished.

7/ Psycho was something of an experiment for Hitchcock after a string of glossy, expensive movies such as North By Northwest. He filmed it in black and white to keep down costs, and used the crew of his television show. The shower-scene, perhaps the most-famous scene in the history of movies, lasts 45 seconds and includes 70, ahem, cuts.

8/ His cameo appearances in his own movies are well-known, but he appears in only 39 of his 52 surviving films – the joke really took off when he went to America. His first was in UK film, The Lodger, where he faces away from the camera. The longest appearance is in Blackmail, in which he appears on the London Underground. In Lifeboat, he appears in a newspaper advert, and he often made an appearance with a musical instrument case in tow. In Psycho II, which was made three years after his death, his silhouette appears at the Bates Motel, as a homage. And his daughter, Patricia, often appeared as an actress in his movies.

9/ Hitchcock’s appetite for blonde leading ladies is well documented. His famous quote is: ‘Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.’ Among his most actresses were: Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint. Many acres of print have been devoted to his alleged obsession with cool blondes, and his reputed manipulation and control of his leading ladies. Tippi Hedren said that Hitchcock ruined her career when she rejected his affections.

Unknown10/ Hitchcock had always wanted to film a French novel, which became the classic Les Diaboliques. Frustrated, he turned to another novel by Boileau-Narcejac, which became Vertigo. Hitchcock had worked several times with James Stewart, but their last collaboration was on that film. Over the years, Vertigo’s reputation has increased and it’s often cited as one of the best films ever made, but when it was released n 1958, it was reviewed badly and suffered at the box-office. As a result, Hitchcock went out of his way to avoid working with Stewart again, delaying production of North By Northwest until his former leading-man wasn’t available. Vertigo also has perhaps the greatest film poster ever.