Tag Archives: Peter Robinson

The Intel: Stephen Booth

9780316743297 (532x800)A sense of place is as important in crime novels as the characters, and the extraordinary landscape of the Peak District permeates every sentence of Stephen Booth’s hugely-popular Cooper and Fry series. In the latest, Secrets Of Death, Booth writes about a bizarre string of suicides in the area.

When Roger Farrell is found dead by his own hand in a car overlooking the beautiful Heeley Bank, he is the latest in a long line of people who have come to the Peak District to die. Although DI Ben Cooper is reluctant to use the phrase ‘suicide tourism’, he is aware that the rate of suicides in the area is sharply increasing. And a number of them, like Farrell, are in possession of a business card that simply says The Secrets Of Death.

Is somebody ‘managing’ these suicides? And how would Cooper even define this crime? Unfortunately, the one survivor is refusing to cooperate with the police, and leads are thin on the ground. The answer may lie with Cooper’s prickly former colleague Diane Fry, who had been about to arrest Roger Farrell before his death. Can the two of them find whoever is coordinating the suicides before more people die?

Secrets Of Death is the 16th in this incredibly popular series of crime novels. Booth is a generous and engaging interviewee, and in this fascinating intel he tells us about the evolution of his characters, about ‘suicide tourism’ and his beloved Peak District — and something of an expert on the subject, he reveals the secret personalities of goats…

Tell us about Ben Cooper and Diane Fry…

I conceived these two characters as young and junior police detectives, in a reaction to all the middle-aged alcoholic loners I was reading about in crime fiction back in the 1990s. Ben Cooper is the local boy who grew in the Peak District and knows everyone. He’s from a farming family and has a real love for the area and its way of life. Diane is the outsider, a city girl and completely out of her element in a rural setting. She’s rather a damaged person who’s developed a protective shell because of what’s happened to her in the past. Ben is a character everyone loves because he has such humanity and compassion. The relationship between the two characters started off quite badly in the first book, ‘Black Dog’, and has become more and more complex ever since.

How have the characters changed since the series began?

Ben Cooper was very young and immature in the early books. But he made the break from his family and moved away from the farm, and we’ve watched him steadily mature over the course of the series. He’s been through a major personal trauma, and he’s also been promoted a couple of times so he’s now a detective inspector with responsibilities for his team. Diane Fry seemed like a high flier in the beginning and was very ambitious. But she was distracted from her ambitions (largely by her unpredictable sister Angie), and one day she realised Cooper was leaving her behind. To some extent, they’ve gone separate ways, but they both remain very conflicted over their relationship.

Secrets of Death tackles the subject of ‘suicide tourism’ – what is that?

Many people have a favourite location they like to spend time in. One day, I was looking at some benches installed at a Peak District viewpoint overlooking a stunning landscape. Each one had a plaque commemorating a deceased person who was said to have loved that particular spot. It occurred to me that if you’d decided to take your own life and you were planning it carefully, as some people do, you might choose to do it at your favourite spot and spend the last moments of your life looking at that spectacular view. That’s how I came up with the concept of ‘suicide tourism’. Ben Cooper and his team from Edendale CID are faced with a spate of such suicides. They don’t know where the next dead body will turn up, though it’s bound to be at a tourist hotspot. It isn’t doing the tourism industry much good! And of course there’s the question of whether one of those deaths wasn’t actually a suicide at all…

9780751559989How much does the mysterious character of the Peak District permeate your books?

I think of the Peak District as beautiful but dangerous. It was the perfect setting for the type of book I wanted to create. I was interested in writing about a rural area, but giving my books a darker feel and dealing with serious contemporary subjects. I recall a line from a Sherlock Holmes story, in which Holmes tells Dr Watson: “There is more evil in the smiling and beautiful countryside than in the vilest alleys of London”. That pretty much sums up the idea. The Peak District is full of wonderfully atmospheric locations, along with thousands of years of history and all the legends and folklore that go with it.

I was intrigued by the two distinct geological halves of the Peak District, known as the White Peak and Dark Peak, which are very different in character. The white and dark seemed to me to symbolise good and evil, right there in the landscape. This is also one of the most visited national parks in the world because of the cities all around it, creating conflict between millions of visitors and the people who actually live and work there. Sometimes the landscape plays a physical role in my books. The hills can be very dangerous, and people sometimes disappear or meet an unexplained death. In one book, Dead and Buried, the backdrop is of raging moorland fires, which is almost like a vision of Hell.

What are your favourite locations for your novels?

There are so many fascinating and quirky places in the Peak District. One Last Breath is set around one of the my favourite locations, the small town of Castleton. It’s in limestone country and sits on top of thirteen miles of caverns, some of which are open to the public. Frankly, there’s nothing more frightening than a deep, narrow cave in complete darkness! And there are some very creepy stories about the Peak Cavern system. I also think of the ‘plague village’ of Eyam, which features in The Kill Call. It’s become a macabre tourist attraction, with people going to look at plaques listing the names of people who died there from an outbreak of bubonic plague. They even sell souvenir plastic rats in the visitor centre!

You breed pedigree dairy goats – – what kind of personalities do goats have?

Sadly, we no longer have the goats, though we did breed them for a number of years. I always found them fascinating animals. They’re very intelligent and independent-minded (unlike sheep), and they have a wicked sense of humour. They relate to people very well, and our goats always loved being taken to shows, where they had a wonderful time showing off to the public. Remarkably, they’re also more productive than cows, size for size, and their milk is much better for people who can’t take cows’ milk. I do miss not having them any more!

How did you start writing?

I started writing stories when I was very young – pretty much as soon as I could read, I think. I went on to produce my first novel when I was 12 years old. I’m sure it was quite a short novel, and it was about astronauts landing on a planet and meeting aliens (well, it was the 1960s!). But from the moment I finished it, I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. Obviously, you can’t just leave school and become a novelist, so I figured out the way to earn a living by writing was to be a newspaper journalist. I did that for a long time, but I gave it up and I’ve made my living from writing crime novels for the past 16 years or so. So I suppose I’ve always been a writer.

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

Taking criticism is hard for a lot of writers. But I learned about it very early on. I’ve got an older brother, who read that first novel I wrote when I was 12 – and he was so disparaging about it that he remains the worst critic I’ve ever head! But I wasn’t discouraged by his harsh comments. And I think it was great experience for me to learn about taking criticism at such an early age. It doesn’t bother me now.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are many of them. I was a huge fan of crime fiction as a reader before I started writing the Cooper & Fry series. One of my great heroes was Ruth Rendell, who was capable of subverting the conventions of the genre. She was constantly able to come up with something new and exciting right to the end. I thought Reginald Hill was a great writer too, and I also like John Harvey, Peter Robinson – in fact anything with a really strong, believable central character.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read a lot, keep writing – and never stop!

What’s next for you?

I’m starting work on a new Cooper & Fry novel, which will be the 17th in the series. But I don’t have a title yet!

***

Secrets Of Death is out right now, published by Sphere in hardback.

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The Intel: Elena Forbes

Elena ForbesJigsaw Man by Elena Forbes is the latest in the series to feature DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan. It kicks off when Tartaglia has to investigate the death of a female victim — a woman he had previously spent the night with at a West London hotel. In another investigation, the body of a homeless man found in a burnt-out car turns out to be a corpse assembled from four different people. Enter the Jigsaw Man. A bad day at the office, indeed.

Elena’s first Tartaglia novel Die With Me was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. Four novels later, we’re delighted that Elena, who lives in London, has agreed to give us the intel on her leading man, the challenges of writing a series, her journey to publication — and, of course, her writing regime.

Tell us about DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan…

Tartaglia was born and brought up in Edinburgh, of Italian background. I like the fact that he is an outsider in London, which gives him a fresh perspective. He and Donovan have worked together for a few years and the dynamic between them is a major strand of the stories.

How have the characters developed over the course of the series?

The first four books take place over a year and the relationship between Tartaglia and Donovan has changed dramatically over that period. They have both been tested by their experiences together and the arc of their story has been important to me. Jigsaw Man shows them both at a very low point and at their most disillusioned, although there is some light at the very end of the book.

Where did you get the inspiration for Jigsaw Man?

To be honest, I really can’t remember. As with my previous books, the story develops in little fragments, which gradually grow together until I’m ready to start writing. It then evolves further during the course of the writing.

Jigsaw ManWhat are the challenges of writing a procedural series?

There are many pluses – you know your characters and it’s exciting to begin a new story with them. I really enjoy the research, which carries on from one book to another. I guess the challenge is to keep it all fresh but I’ve only written 4 books in the series, so this hasn’t been something I’ve needed to worry about so far.

What was your journey to becoming a published author?

My first two books weren’t published. I have no gripes about it – they were terrible! Tartaglia started off as a minor character in one of them and I discovered I liked writing about him. My third book Die With Me was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger and was eventually published after many re-writes.

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

It’s the same as any type of work, there are good moments and bad moments and a lot of it is about not trying to make it perfect first time. It’s also about sitting down at the desk every day and seeing where things go. Some days are really bad and most of what I write gets deleted, but when I’m on a roll, it’s the best thing in the world. It’s very difficult to interact with family sometimes – I really just want to be locked away at my desk writing.

How do you deal with feedback?

It depends where it comes from. Like any creative process, criticism can be both beneficial and also destructive. Writing is a fragile process and I’ve learned who to trust and what to tune out. In the end, I am writing for myself – what I would want to read – and I am my first point of call as an editor. However, I get to a point when it’s all too familiar and I need a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. I have a wonderful agent and editor, both of whom have been enormously helpful in terms of feedback and helping me craft the books into better shape.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire a whole range of authors – Peter Robinson, Michael Connelly, Le Carre, to name a few. I like different things in their writing but probably the main theme is depth of characterisation. I’ve just finished Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. It’s about 20 years old but I’ve never read it before and it’s brilliant in terms of characterisation. I also really enjoyed reading Gone Girl recently. The idea of an unreliable narrator was fresh and interesting and her voice was very strong.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best advice I was given is to just get on and do it! And do it regularly. The main thing is to make a habit of it and if you do it regularly, you will find that it will start flowing through your mind and all sorts of interesting things will start to come. It’s very important to keep a notebook with you. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is really worth reading too.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a stand-alone thriller at the moment. It wasn’t a deliberate move to do something different, I just had this really good idea that didn’t fit into the mould of a police procedural. However, I’m going to see if I can bring Tartaglia into it somehow.

Jigsaw Man is published by Quercus in hardcover.

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.

TV Crime Log: Banks, Gently, Salamander

Some caring coppers return to television this week to help lift your weary spirit.

DCI_BANKS_0Stephen Tompkinson does a good line in grim looks in the series adapted from Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books. In those, Alan Banks is a former Metropolitan Police copper who downsized to the Dales. What I didn’t realise is that Robinson himself emigrated to Canada in 1974, and writes about the fictional town of Eastvale from Toronto.

Anyway, back to the telly, and the first case for  Banks and his team to solve in this new series involves a strange and sinister child abduction apparently undertaken by a man and a woman claiming to be social workers,

So that’s DCI Banks. Grim-faced, but compassionate,    of a 9pm on Monday nights for the next six weeks on ITV.

UnknownInspector George Gently is based on the novels of Alan Hunter – all 46 of them – published between 1955 and 1999. Hunter produced one a year for half a century, an extraordinary feat of writing stamina.

The fifth series starring Martin ‘Doyle’ Shaw ended on a cliffhanger with both Gently and his Detective Sergeant Bacchus shot. The blurb may, however, put your anxieties to rest:

1969: six months since the shootings in Durham Cathedral. Gently’s injuries in the shoulder and the leg are healed and he is pushing himself back to full fitness. Bacchus, shot in the stomach and seriously injured, has been completing his recuperation in a police convalescent home.

Gently is shocked when he learns of Bacchus’ resignation and annoyed that John hasn’t told him directly. He visits Bacchus in the convalescent home where he has been recuperating and realises that his sergeant has lost his confidence. Still suffering his own mental and physical scars from the Cathedral, Gently sets about fixing Bacchus – by insisting that he helps him with a case while he serves out his notice. Gently has been tasked with investigating a death in custody…

The latest series of Gently kicks off on BBC1, Thursday night at 8.30pm, and you’ll be able to lose yourself in the simple pleasures of the Sixties till the news comes on.

imagesHaving temporarily exhausted its precious reserves of Scandi thrillers with the conclusion of The Bridge II last week – oh, Martin, what have you done? – BBC4 goes Flemish with the beginning of political thriller Salamander.

The blurb wants to make a deposit:

Everyone has secrets. But these can bring down a nation.

Disguised as builders, a group of robbers descend on a top Belgium private bank – but the burglars have no eye for money or other valuables and target only 66 of 800 vaults in the bank. These 66 vaults belong to the country’s industrial, financial, judicial and political elite, and the safe-deposit boxes contained their most intimate secrets – secrets that could bring down the nation.

Who ordered this hack? Who wants to disrupt the state? The bank scramble to cover up the robbery and avoid the involvement of the police, but police inspector Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) catches wind of the affair. With his incorruptible, old-school morals and devil-may-care attitude, Gerardi throws himself into the investigation, and when some of the key players are murdered, commit suicide or vanish, he soon realises just how big the case is.

Gerardi discovers that the victims are members of a secret organisation called Salamander. As he becomes the target of both the criminals and the authorities, Gerardi must quickly find out what their agenda is – and who is behind the thefts…

Like The Bridge, the 12-part Salamander unfolds with two episodes every Saturday night. BBC4 has seen its Saturday night share rocket thanks to its imported crime dramas. Let’s hope the Belgians don’t let the side down.