Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Eamonn Griffin to discuss his book, East of England (Unbound Digital).
Hi Eamonn, how would you pitch East of England to potential readers?
Ah, I’m notoriously bad at this kind of thing. So I’m cheating slightly here by quoting from a couple of reviews that folk have kindly left on Amazon. “A tale of violence and various dodgy dealings” was one summary. A story of “betrayals and violence without mercy” was another. A third and final one was “a modern gangland novel in the Chandler/Hammett tradition”, which is good to hear. Then again, someone just put “A good down-to-earth novel” which I really like too. It’s a Lincolnshire noir, and by “noir” I don’t mean any old crime or thriller novel being loosely grouped together under that banner, but one which takes note of at least some of the conventions of the noir novels and movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s – that period between The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil and which works in that kind of tradition.
Many of the key scenes in East of England take place in the type of locations that are rarely seen in crime fiction. How important was it to you to give an authentic depiction of the area?
Folk are fond of saying that the setting is a character in the story, and in lots of good writing that’s certainly the case. East of England’s set in Lincolnshire in part because it’s a place that I know quite well, and in part because it’s underused in fiction. That means that you can bring something slightly different to readers, and it also gives to a chance to deal with the specifics of what happens in rural and post-industrial communities. There are some commonalities with the kinds of crimes and dark dealings that you might find in London or Los Angeles, but those sorts of places are well-served by other writers.
What I’m doing is hopefully a little different in a way that’s interesting to readers. Also, the countryside is often treated in a bucolic, semi-comic and backward kind of way; an idealised area that’s largely harmless, sometimes charming, and where the crime writing is perhaps approached with an eye as much on the humour as the drama. Again, there are plenty of other writers doing that, and doing it better than I could ever do, so taking a hard-boiled approach to the countryside felt appropriate.
The East Lindsey part of Lincolnshire is interesting; it’s flat, being largely reclaimed from the sea, and has been struggling economically for generations. And hardship can be a precursor of and driver of crime, as well as of related activities. Also, there’s some tourism here along the coast, with several resorts, plus a scattering of market towns between the farms and abandoned RAF stations left behind after the second World War. You don’t have to make too much up. One area that I have played about with is in semi-fictionalizing some place names. That is deliberate (and a decision that a couple of readers who know the area haven’t liked); it gives me some wiggle room, so I can fictionalise some details without compromising the reporting of the geography of the area.
Dan Matlock’s actions are highly methodical and he doesn’t second-guess himself. How easy was it to establish his voice and his persona?
It was fairly straightforward, and driven by a clear understanding of the character from the beginning. Dan Matlock is something of a loner, and he doesn’t work in partnership with others. Some writers have their detectives work in pairs – a classic trope from Sherlock Holmes stories onwards – so that questions of detection and decision-making can be dialogue-driven. With Matlock, this is largely internalised, so we experience him in real time, working out problems, assessing situations, responding to current threats. He spends a lot of time in his own head out of necessity, and there’s something of the writer there too – we tend to be the same as a breed, so there’s a little of drawing on my own approach too things, pus some inspiration from other characters and from the sort of crime and noir fiction that I tend to respond best to myself.
Did you know how the book would play out before you started writing it?
Yes. I had the ending first, and wrote towards it. That’s how I tend to work.
What do you hope that readers take away from the story?
That they enjoyed it, that they liked both the writing and the story, an that they’d be interested to read about what Dan Matlock got up to next. I’ve plenty of ideas for more books, and I’m writing a follow-up (though stand-alone) novel at the moment. And also, that they’d consider some of the detail about the setting, both in time and place, and about how they felt about both.
Who are your prime influences?
My first crime and noir-related loves were Gregory McDonald’s Fletch and Flynn novels, and Robert B Parker’s Spenser series. I read those before I delved back into the likes of Hammett, James M Cain, and Raymond Chandler.
More recently, there’s so much great stuff out there that it’s hard to list them all. Here’s a few though. Michael Connelly is – as plenty will appreciate – fantastic as a popular novelist, and his Bosch novels (as well as the recent TV adaptation) are fantastic. Two writers whose work has been of more direct influence are Donald E Westlake and Lawrence Block. Block’s Matt Scudder books are an inspiration, and there’s something of Dan Matlock in the Parker books written by Westlake under the pseudonym of Richard Stark. Matlock is perhaps half of each character – Parker is a stone-cold amoral bastard, and all the more enjoyable for it, whereas Scudder is a very human unlicensed private investigator. The character trajectory in the Scudder books from self-loathing alcoholic ex-cop to becoming settled and secure is one of the marvels of the genre; the books are worth reading in sequence for that alone.
Inevitably, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a touchstone, if only because of his and Matlock’s similarities in their loner status and in their methodical nature; there are straightforward comparisons to be made, though the two characters – and the moral and physical universes that they inhabit – are somewhat different. That said, if you like Lee Child’s books (and who doesn’t?) then hopefully you’ll find something to appreciate in East of England. I’ve recently read Andy Martin’s books on Lee Child (Reacher Said Nothing and With Child), both of which follow the writer and which examine his writing and publishing process and experiences. They give great insights into what it’s like to be a successful and distinctive author.
There are others as well. Off the top of my head: Lou Berney, Don Winslow, S Craig Zahler, and Manda/MC Scott are all writers who’ve worked in the genre that I’ve taken some inspiration from. It’s only right also that there’s acknowledgement given to Ted Lewis, whose Jack Carter books are set not a million miles away – the south bank of the Humber, with occasional forays deeper into Lincolnshire – and are key British noir works. The biography of Lewis by Nick Triplow is well worth a read.
Also, with a local-ish connection are David Mark and Nick Quantrill. Mark’s books are Hull-based, as are Quantrill’s, with a detective and a PI protagonist, respectively. As such, they’re just over the Humber from Lincolnshire. Both sets of novels are interesting in their own right, and in the ways that they treat both their locations with seriousness – in ways that mark them out as being a little different from standard genre offerings. Both authors are well worth your reading time!
And that’s before we get to non-genre writers who’ve been influential. Let’s leave it there for the time being!
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Blimey. I’ve no idea. I’m old enough to not have career plans for my writing as such. I’d just like to keep having books published and for there to be at least one reader out there who likes them and would like to see more.
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
There are at least two more Dan Matlock books on their way. First up is Piece of Work, which will hopefully be out before the end of 2019. Second is Canine Jubilee, which – like East of England was – is being crowdfunded via Unbound. You can find about more about that here: https://unbound.com/books/canine-jubilee/.
In addition, I’ve got outlines for several more Matlock novels; hopefully there’ll be enough of a readership out there wanting the books to make them a reality!
Outside of Matlock, I’m working slowly on a couple of non-noir projects. One of them has been a few years in the researching, and is a historical procedural thriller in the court of Elizabeth I.
Bio: Eamonn Griffin was born and raised in Lincolnshire, though these days he lives in north-east Wales.
He’s worked as a stonemason, a strawberry picker, in plastics factories (everything from packing those little bags for loose change you get from banks to production planning via transport manager via fork-lift driving), in agricultural and industrial laboratories, in a computer games shop, and latterly in further and higher education.
He doesn’t do any of that any more. Instead, he writes fulltime, either as a freelancer, or else on fiction.
Eamonn has collected a PhD, an MA, an assortment of teaching qualifications, and a BSc along the way. He really likes biltong, and has recently returned to learning to play piano, something he abandoned when he was about seven and has regretted since.
Twitter: @eamonngriffin / https://twitter.com.eamonngriffin