The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Graham Hurley

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with British crime writer Graham Hurley, whose books include the Faraday and Winter series and the Jimmy Suttle novels.

Considering your reputation as one of Britain’s finest police procedural writers, I was surprised to learn that the early Joe Faraday books were written at the behest of your publisher – not because of any particular enthusiasm for crime fiction. In hindsight, does it surprise you that the series went on to span twelve novels?

The short answer is yes.  I agreed the first three-book contract because there was nothing else on offer.  I didn’t (and still don’t) like crime fiction, and rarely read the stuff.  Prior to the Faraday books, I’d been writing so-called international thrillers – nine in all – but Orion were unhappy with their sales performance and thought they could do better for both of us by repositioning me in the commercial marketplace.  The challenge, of course, was what to put on the page.  Without any knowledge of the genre, I was obliged to take a different approach.  Happily, in a previous life, I’d spent twenty years making documentaries for ITV and loved the process of putting real lives, and real stories on the screen.  This, especially at the research stage, involves getting into other people’s heads and winning their confidence – exactly the same approach I’d used as a novelist – and so I set out to become a working detective.  The research was the toughest assignment I’d ever set myself, but the harder I looked, the more I realised that the real drama lay not in serial killers and high-speed car chases, but in the minor key.  Sit in a volume crime CID room for weeks on end, and you begin to figure out just how these guys stay sane.  In a teeming city like Portsmouth, drug-ridden, full of feral kids on the make, that isn’t easy.  But day by day, I began to recognise and understand the undercurrents – both professional and deeply personal – that flowed through that CID office, and I was very happy to stir some of that stuff into the fictional mix.  There’s a nice irony here. Workings cops are what it says on the tin – deeply suspicious of any outsider – but after the publication of the lead title in the series – “Turnstone” – they decided I’d got their world right, and after that there was no longer a problem.  To my delight, Orion recognised that there was something new here in cri-fi, and began to put serious resources behind the books.  That led to climbing sales figures, excellent reviews, a deal for a wonderful series of adaptations on French TV, and three more three-book contracts. My biggest asset by far, aside from an exploding list of contacts, was Portsmouth itself.  It’s an extraordinary city in all kinds of ways and in the end, thanks to Faraday and Winter, I had the feeling of writing about a society caught in freefall, as all the post-war support structures fell apart.  I’d invested a huge amount of time and effort in research and was determined to make those books as authentic – almost as documentary – as I could.  In this respect, I guess the final irony was that it was me who brought the series to an end, not because of sales (which remained buoyant) but because my lead cops had aged year by year, book by book, and were now due for retirement.  Shafted by my own USP?  Well, yes…

Your books are widely praised for their authenticity – how hard is it to maintain the required level of realism? Presumably research is crucial?

Absolutely right.  You’ll guess from the above that I don’t put pen to paper until I’ve got to know everything I can about the world my characters will inhabit.  In the Faraday series, that applies equally to the cops and the Dark Side.  The best cops, before policing became impossibly risk-averse, had a little of the successful criminal about them and I was lucky enough to get to know some of these guys. They understood the criminal mentality, the juice that fuels the successful drug dealer, and it showed in the way they drove an investigation.  That was a pleasure to watch, full of the best kind of surprises, and I think it began to show as the series developed. For me, writing fiction – by definition – is an act of trespass, and unless you want to get nicked (mostly by the reader), you have to get it right.

Nowadays, what type of books do you read for pleasure?

I read all the time, and always have done.  I’m addicted to current affairs, especially now, and I hoover up anything that might shed fresh light on what’s turning out to be a huge moment in our island story.  With this, unsurprisingly, goes a passion for recent history, especially the Thirties and Forties.  I’ve been lucky enough to find a publisher to indulge this passion, and I’m currently penning a series of WW2 novels, set in the shadows of the intelligence war (see below).  Research-wise, as you might imagine, this demands reading on an industrial scale, and I love it.  Fiction?  My tastes were framed by Graham Green, Ernest Hemingway, John Le Carre, Len Deighton, and now Robert Harris.  You get the picture…

I understand that the Jimmy Suttle series started after you relocated from Portsmouth to Exmouth after more than 20 years. How long had you been living in Devon before you felt comfortable working on these books?

We’d been down here a couple of years before Orion agreed a two-book contract for a Faraday spin-off.  East Devon very definitely isn’t Pompey – one of its charms – and I knew from the start that the books would need a very different focus.  That focus lay in the relationship between the lead cop – D/S Jimmy Suttle, a young  survivor from the Faraday series – and his wife, Lizzie.  Book by book, the crimes were important, and I constructed them carefully so they were full of back story and the invitation to trespass (yet again) into other peoples’ worlds, but Suttle carried a lot of narrative weight and towards the end, much like Faraday, I sensed he was starting to struggle.

The Suttle books tackle crimes in locations such as Exmouth, Topsham and Lympstone. During the creative process what typically comes first, the location or the crime?

The location.  One of the first things Lin and I did when we moved down to East Devon was join the local rowing club.  We’ve both been water babies all our lives – swimming, dinghy sailing, kayaking – but this was a new adventure.  Thirteen years later we’re still at it, part of a crew of five reprobates, and we row silly distances twice a week.  Conditions permitting, these outings either take us out to sea or up the river Exe, where Lympstone and Topsham await.  I owe the last book in the Suttle series, “The Order of Things”, to a breakfast call we made a while back.  We always take coffee and stickies and we were parked on the beach at Lympstone, just in front of a terrace of cottages.  I’ve no idea why but the upstairs window on the end one took my eye.  It was obviously a bedroom with an incredible view out over the water, probably small, probably over-furnished.  Maybe the house belonged to a divorcee.  Maybe she lived alone.  Maybe she’d met a guy from the Met Office (in nearby Exeter).  And maybe there was more to him than she’d ever realised.  Read on….

Devon feels curiously underexplored by contemporary crime writers – why do you think that is?

I’ve truly no idea except, perhaps, one.  Writers, as a breed, need a little grit in their oyster and it often helps to live somewhere that winds you up.  Big cities – especially the likes of Pompey – can do this in spades.  Too many people in your face.  Too much pollution.  Too much clamour.  Devon, thankfully, has none of these things.  Low blood pressure, in short, can be no friend of the writer….but would I ever live anywhere else?  No way….

You have amassed a significant back catalogue – do you have a favourite title among your own books, and if so why?

My favourite book is always the one I’ve just finished.  It’s called “Amen” and happily it’s set in – yes – Exmouth.  It’s number three in a series I began last year, featuring a 39 year-old Anglo-Breton actress called Enora Andressen (she was once married to a Scandi film director).  These are first person accounts, contemporary settings, and a revelation to write.  In “Amen”, Enora makes a very bad call and falls in love with a man called Deko.  Six weeks ago, I’d never heard of him.  Now, he commands an entire book.  And that’s why I write.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Severn House have just recommissioned me for the Enora Andressen series (see above), which will mean at least four books.  My other fictional adventure, very different but equally important, is “The Wars Within” series for Head of Zeus.  To date, I’ve published four novels – “Finisterre”, “Aurore”, “Estocada”, and “Raid 42”.  “Blood of the Wolf” will be published next year, and I’ve just started work on “Kyiv”, which is already deeply promising.  After that will come “Yalta”.

Bio:  Born Clacton-on-Sea.  Wrote a number of mercifully unpublished novels before ending up at Cambridge.  Spent twenty years making documentaries for ITV, winning a number of awards.  Sold my first novel to Pan/Macmillan in 1986 on the back of an ITV commission to write a six-part contemorary drama, “Rules of Engagement”.  To date, thirty six published novels.

Website: http://www.grahamhurley.co.uk

 

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Book Review: Sins of the Father by Graham Hurley

SINS OF THE FATHER

Author: Graham Hurley

Publisher: Orion

Release Date: 2014

The eponymous patriarch in Sins of the Father is Rupert Moncrieff – a wealthy elderly man murdered in his Topsham mansion. The case falls to DS Jimmy Suttle, a solid cop tormented by the abduction of his own daughter. Suspicion immediately falls on Moncrieff’s adult children, who still live under his roof – each nursing their own festering grudges. But does the murder relate to the dead man’s complicated family life, or is it connected to his twisted past?

And now for something entirely different… whereas most of the books featured on this blog lurk in the murkier depths of the independent crime fiction scene, Sins of the Father is a genuine mainstream proposition. This book was an entirely random second-hand purchase, which hooked me with its reference to ‘a rich old man beaten to death in the silence of his West Country waterside mansion’. Contemporary Devon crime novels are something of a rarity, so my interest was piqued.

Sins of the Father is an engrossing mystery that sees Suttle and his colleagues dragged deep into Moncrieff’s past – as far back as his National Service in Africa. Moncrieff himself is a true grotesque – fascinatingly rendered despite his pre-book demise. Grim details of the decades-old regime of terror waged against his family (and other unfortunates) are teased out by Suttle, and everybody that the detective encounters during the course of his investigation is memorably fleshed-out.

Factor in the quietly devastating parallel storyline involving Suttle’s estranged wife and her search for answers about their daughter’s fate, and you have a fantastic book, and one that packs significant emotional clout. As with the best whodunnits, there are no easy answers, just bitter truths and queasy revelations.

Review by Tom Leins

Criminal Records #7 – Tom Leins on Boneyard Dogs

In the latest instalment of the Criminal Records series, Dirty Books curator Tom Leins puts together a playlist to accompany his new book, Boneyard Dogs (Close to the Bone, 2019).

BONEYARD DOGS by Baxter Dury

My book Boneyard Dogs is the sequel to Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, which was soundtracked here last year. Whereas that playlist featured a raucous mixture of punk, hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass, this time around the tone is more subdued. Boneyard Dogs features its fair share of unhinged, pulse-pounding scenes, but the mood is also unusually contemplative in places – by my standards anyway.

This track – which inspired the book’s title – was included on Baxter Dury’s debut album, Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift, from 2002. I was very hungover very often that summer, and this woozy album takes me back to that era in an instant. Unlike my protagonist, Joe Rey, I didn’t have to go toe-to-toe with scumbags in smoke-choked pubs while nursing a succession of brutal hangovers – I just had to hire out deckchairs to holidaymakers!

Tonally, my book is nothing like this gently psychedelic album, but this song title was too good not to recycle, with its unwitting echoes of Matt Scudder and Quentin Tarantino.

RENTED ROOMS by Tindersticks

Tindersticks were one of the more unusual English bands to emerge during the Britpop era, and they are probably as well known for their soundtrack work as they are for their conventional albums. (Interestingly, since leaving the band, multi-instrumentalist Dickon Hinchcliffe has composed the soundtracks for all manner of cool stuff, including Winter’s Bone, Out of the Furnace, Red Riding and Peaky Blinders.)

Anyway, this is another slow song – about grubby sexual encounters – something that Joe Rey is no stranger to, especially in this book, where he attempts to use his dubious charms to his advantage on more than one occasion.

Right, are you ready for something to set your toes tapping?

MARSHA MOXLEY by Nixon & The Burn

Nixon & The Burn were the best band to ever come out of Paignton, and their presence on the Boneyard Dogs soundtrack is a no-brainer. In a just world, their songs would be playing on the jukeboxes in pubs across town on a daily basis, but Paignton was no more ready for them than it is for my books!

This video features Paignton Pier and the Palace Place Social Club (two locations which haven’t yet featured in my books), but I would definitely use this song in one of the Dirty Lemon scenes (an old band hang-out) – probably to accompany the first ‘discussion’ between Rey and his nemesis, Detective Inspector Butcher.

Enjoy!

CHARNEL HOUSE BLUES by Crazy Arm

A double-dose of Devonshire is called for, and this song by Plymouth roots-punks Crazy Arm is a cracker. A Charnel House is a vault where skeletal remains are stored – appropriate for a book with a body-count as high as Boneyard Dogs – and the lyrics are a great fit too, from the great “fucking up someone somewhere, fucking up someone bad” line to the references to a “coastal bruiser” and “trouble in Little England”. This one is my favourite track on the band’s second album, Union City Breath. Tremendous stuff!

BEYOND HERE LIES NOTHIN’ by Bob Dylan

‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ is a great title, and possibly my favourite Dylan song since ‘Things Have Changed’ in 2000, which was included on the Wonder Boys soundtrack. Odd video too – grubby, gritty and violent.

After hearing this track for the first time, I knew that I wanted to use the title for the closing chapter of this particular book. It feels entirely appropriate for a man who has run out of options, run out of friends and run out of luck. Rey kicks down doors for a living – what’s behind this one?

Bio:

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of Boneyard Dogs and Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (both Close To The Bone) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect) as well as the novelettes Skull Meat, Snuff RacketSpine Farm and Slug Bait. For more information, please visit: Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.

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Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Andrew Davie

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Andrew Davie to discuss his new book, Pavement (All Due Respect).

Hi Andrew, congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Pavement to potential readers?

Thank you so much! McGill and Gropper are unlicensed private investigators. McGill, the face of the operation, works out of a diner in Charleston, South Carolina. A former police officer, now incredibly out of shape, he rarely leaves the diner. Gropper is well versed in fighting, tactics, and does the heavy lifting. While protecting prostitutes from a trucker, they draw the ire of some dangerous and well-connected foes who will stop at nothing to settle the score and get revenge.

I’m intrigued by the blunt title – how did you decide on that name for the book?

A while ago, I learned that prostitutes who work at a truck stop are often referred to as “Pavement Princesses.” I thought it would be fitting. Also, it seemed like a good metaphor for being able to make a quick escape if necessary which suits Gropper’s temperament.

Your protagonists are unlicensed private investigators: is PI fiction making a comeback, or did it never go away?

I don’t think it ever went away. The genre has undergone some changes over time, but it’s always been there.

Who are your prime influences in that field?

I had read a lot of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser for Hire series when I was younger. Over time, I began to read Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Crais, and John D. MacDonald, among others.

What draws you to PI fiction ahead of other crime sub-genres?

I enjoyed reading and writing about characters who have a code, and the genre seemed to focus on characters who followed a code. They might be willing to get their hands dirty, but there were still some ground rules.

This book was published by All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I tend to go back and forth between the two, although these days I’m making more of an effort to read independent authors.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

I would suggest reading The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. This is the opening line: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

I would choose Rex Stout. His detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are similar to McGill and Gropper with regard to their business arrangement. Wolfe rarely leaves his apartment, and McGill rarely leaves his diner. Both Goodwin and Gropper do most of the legwork. Similarly, Stout was also prolific with his output.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I hope to write more about McGill and Gropper’s exploits, but I’ve also written another novella in the crime fiction genre which takes place during The Great Depression.

Bio: Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. He’s also taught English and writing in New York, Hong Kong, and Virginia. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His first book Pavement will be released in July of 2019 by All Due Respect Books. Links to his work can be found on his website.

Website: http://www.asdavie.wordpress.com

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Book Review: Bloody January by Alan Parks

BLOODY JANUARY

Author: Alan Parks

Publisher: Canongate

Release Date: December 2017

When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead – and then commits suicide – Detective Harry McCoy already knows that it wasn’t a random act of violence. With his enthusiastic new partner in tow, McCoy throws himself into the case, only to butt heads with his superior officers, who are suspiciously keen to divert his investigation away from Glasgow’s wealthiest family, the Dunlops. Unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer, McCoy is about to enter a world of pain…

First things first: Bloody January is bloody great! The pungent, enigmatic opening – set in Glasgow’s notorious HMP Barlinnie prison – is about as good a first chapter as I have read in recent years, and sets the tone for a grim trawl across the underbelly of 1970s Glasgow for Harry McCoy. McCoy isn’t a dirty cop, but he’s a man with a tangled history – and unsavoury connections – and he is willing to lean on these in order to further his own career.

I’m one book into the series (a sequel, February’s Son, is out now, and a third book, Billy March Will Live Forever, drops in March 2020) and Parks’ storytelling already has echoes of David Peace’s seminal ‘Red Riding’ quartet – albeit with a more forceful moral code. The seeds for an overarching narrative are definitely sown in this book and I’m sure that McCoy will live to regret some of his actions – and his alliances – in due course.

Bloody January is a book with a defiantly … unreconstructed … sensibility, and Parks serves up a booze-fuelled story of casual violence, dirty sex and 1970s degeneracy for crime readers with strong constitutions. The story is so grubby you will feel like you need to wash your hands after turning the pages – and I read it on a Kindle, so that is really saying something! Highly recommended.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Man Standing Behind by Pablo D’Stair

MAN STANDING BEHIND

Author: Pablo D’Stair

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: May 2019 (first published 2011)

At the outset of Man Standing Behind, protagonist Roger is apprehended by a gunman while withdrawing money from a cash-point. It isn’t Roger’s money that the interloper wants, however, it’s his company – and the reluctant Roger soon becomes complicit in a series of seemingly random crimes perpetrated by his new associate. As the night unfolds, the affable gunman takes Roger on a twisted tour of the city, meeting his friends, enemies and lovers. Realising that one wrong move could mean a bullet in the head, Roger chokes down his nausea and accompanies the stranger on his increasingly bloody mission.

I’m sure there are a lot of writers out there who would cut off one of their fingers for a blurb from an author of the stature of Bret Easton Ellis, who has praised Pablo D’Stair’s knack for creating a ‘languid kind of suspense’. Ellis’s name is a slightly misleading indicator, as this book contains little that resembles his own lurid, transgressive storytelling style! That eye-catching blurb is just one of the many oddities that this quirky novella coughs up.

The low-key everyman noir set-up means that Man Standing Behind fits snugly into All Due Respect’s back catalogue, but the existential tone marks it out as something quite different. Unlike a number of ADR books – which hinge on memorable moments of extreme violence – D’Stair seems to purposely bleed the drama out of his major plot points. Significant developments are tossed out casually, in a matter-of-fact tone – so much so that I ended up re-reading passages to check that I hadn’t lost the narrative thread altogether!

Roger’s deteriorating physical and mental wellbeing is convincingly rendered throughout, and while the unbroken, chapter-free style helps to maintain the eye-rubbing nocturnal vibe, the result can be disorientating.

Man Standing Behind is interesting and enigmatic, and D’Stair has a unique way with words, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. That said, I’m intrigued by ADR’s planned reissues of D’Stair’s other books in 2020, some of which focus on a petty con artist called Trevor English. I’m not sure whether these other books have the same tone as this one, but a mixture of downbeat existentialism and petty cons could prove to be a potent mix. Consider me intrigued.

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Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Histories of the Dead by Math Bird

HISTORIES OF THE DEAD

Author: Math Bird

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: August 2018 (first published November 2016)

Set in the borderlands of northeast Wales – a landscape of forests, hills and ruined small towns, Math Bird’s short story collection Histories of the Dead (which comprises work first published between 2013 and 2016) is a bruising excursion into small-town noir. Bird’s protagonists are a mixture of taciturn tough guys and wide-eyed youngsters, and while revenge figures heavily, it is rarely anyone’s first course of action.

Damaged men with dark secrets may be his stock-in-trade, but the stories don’t follow typical hardboiled narratives, and emotions churn like the River Dee in winter. Admittedly, when slotted in alongside the five longer, anthology-length pieces, the two pieces of flash fiction have less impact, as Bird specialises in cultivating a creeping sense of dread – which builds up slowly in the meatier stories – as he edges the reader towards a grim narrative precipice.

US publisher All Due Respect specialises in lowlife literature, but these stories wouldn’t be out of place in a mainstream contemporary short story collection. They are all undercut with a noir sensibility, but the measured storytelling, sense of place and psychological turmoil suggests a writer not easily pigeonholed.

A cracking short story collection that comes highly recommended.

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Review by Tom Leins

Criminal Records #6 – Paul Heatley on Guillotine

In the latest instalment of the Criminal Records series, Paul Heatley talks us through some of the tracks that influenced his new book, Guillotine (All Due Respect, 2019).

PROTECT YA NECK by the Wu-Tang Clan

Guillotine tells the story of a young girl trying to escape from her criminal father with the man that she loves. It also tells the tale of her ex-boyfriend, a former army vet-turned-hitman who chops off the heads of his clients targets upon request. Mikey is the eponymous Guillotine. So, with that in mind, you’ve got to believe the Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal hit ‘Protect Ya Neck’ is pretty much his theme song. When Mikey makes an entrance, this is what’s playing.

RUNNING UP THAT HILL by Placebo

The aforementioned young lady is Lou-Lou, daughter of the dangerous Big Bobby Joe. When Guillotine begins she and her lover Leon are hiding out in a motel, laying low until they’re sure they can safely get out of town without being detected, awaiting a phone call from a friend of Leon’s who says he’s going to get them a car. ‘Running Up That Hill’ represents the obstacles before them, and their struggle to escape Lou-Lou’s tyrannical father.

Purists might be annoyed that I’ve opted for the Placebo cover as opposed to the Kate Bush original, but the Placebo version is the one I heard first and it’s the one I prefer. It has a darker, almost oppressive quality about it that fits right in at home in this nasty slice of noir. Oh, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I call it nasty. Rob Pierce, author of Uncle Dust, Vern In The Heat, and others, called me a sick fuck. I’m gonna wear that badge with pride.

HEADS WILL ROLL by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Obviously, the title of this song is some clear foreshadowing, but the disco-influenced song itself works very well when you picture Tommy – Leon’s friend who’s sorting him out the car – driving through the night coked-up to the gills. Tommy is a wannabe tough-guy who likes to tell people he used to be part of a dangerous motorcycle club, and so dresses himself in leathers and chains. He’s got a hard powder habit and is regularly snorting the shit up his nose.

BIG JESUS TRASH CAN by The Birthday Party

The manic nature of this track ties itself well to Guillotine’s fast-pace, and the coke-addled mind of Tommy, but it also contains the line “American heads will roll in Texas, roll like daddy’s meat”. The setting of the story is purposefully ambiguous, but Chris Rhatigan [All Due Respect publisher] and I both decided on it being vaguely southern. And heads rolling? Yeah, I’ve gone for a theme.

So, four songs and not a single Mark Lanegan track among them? Oh, go on then, just one…

RAMBLIN’ MAN by Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

There’s a real western vibe to this song (in fact, the whole Ballad Of The Broken Seas album has a strong western influence) that appeals to me. I love westerns, and I hope Guillotine shows some of that admiration. A strong influence upon the story itself was the description I read a long time ago for the Sam Peckinpah movie Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (which I’ve never seen). I have, however, seen The Wild Bunch. Bad men doing bad things – the very description of noir that I adhere to.

This song works on a couple of levels. Firstly, Mikey is a rambling man, regularly on the move due to the nature of his profession. Secondly, if this were a movie, this would be the closing track. When you get to the end of the book, you’ll see why. Just imagine this playing as the sun burns over the desert and the credits begin to rise.

Bio:

Paul Heatley is the author of more than fifty short stories published online and in print at a variety of publications including Thuglit, Mystery Tribune, Crime Factory, Spelk and Shotgun Honey, among others. He is the author of The Motel Whore & Other Stories, Guns, Drugs and Dogs, Fatboy, An Eye For An Eye, The Runner, Violent By Design and Guillotine.

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Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

Criminal Records #5 – Aidan Thorn on Rival Sons

In the latest instalment of my new series, Aidan Thorn talks us through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Rival Sons (Shotgun Honey, 2018).

Music always plays a huge part in my writing. My first book, When the Music’s Over follows one time band member Benny Gower after he has murdered his business partner, a murder with its roots in the 1990’s when Benny was trying to break through in the music scene. My soon to be released novella, Worst Laid Plans, focuses on the accidently kidnap of a rock star. And Rival Sons, the book released by Shotgun Honey at the end of last year? Well on the face of it there’s very little to do with music here. It’s a dark and brutal tale of the Gordon family, a crime family at war for decades, a war that has laid dormant for 20 years but is brought sharply into focus by the terminal illness of the family’s mother. As I say very little to do with music there, apart from the fact that the whole thing was inspired by being at a gig in Southampton a few years ago. The band’s name appeared behind them on the stage, I of course knew the band I was going to see (I was, and still am, a big fan) but it wasn’t until I saw their name lit up behind them that I thought, that would be a great name for a book. The band was of course, Rival Sons.

ELECTRIC MAN

While Rival Sons were ripping through their opening track of the evening I was plotting out the idea of two sons, one who aspired to the family’s criminal ways, Graham, and one who wanted nothing to do with it at all, Kyle. That first track was ‘Electric Man’, I was already six or seven beers into a good buzz and my plotting didn’t get much further that night, but it was during this fantastic night of live music that the germ of an idea was born.

GOD’S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN

Rival Sons begins in a rundown pub on the outskirts of town – Kyle Gordon, a good son, has returned. The dilapidation of the town shocks him. He’s been serving in the armed forces for 19 years and he cannot believe what he’s returned to. This scene sets up the tone for what’s to come, Paul Brazill recently described Rival Sons as an urban Western. As Kyle finishes his drink and leaves the pub for me it’s soundtracked by the greatest country star of all time singing ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’.

THIS IS A LOW

When Kyle arrives at the family home, he is struck by how frail his mother is and he’s pulled in by a mixture of emotions. He’s concerned for his mother and he’s uncomfortable at being under his father’s roof – he despises his father, every move he has made as an adult has been to rebel against him. There’s also the nostalgia of returning to his old bedroom, unchanged from when he left in the 1990s. For me any of the early scenes in the family home trigger memories of the more melancholic Britpop tracks from my own youth, few sum up my feelings about these scenes better than ‘This is a Low’ by Blur.

HEY MAN (NOW YOU’RE REALLY LIVING)

Like most of my work, Rival Sons is a crime story wrapped around stories about relationships. One of my favourite relationships from this book is the one between Kyle’s teenage daughter, Zoe and her barman boyfriend. There is such a freshness about this pair, such an innocence that while they’re together they feel almost removed from all of the tension of the family. That they are pulled sharply into the focus of the trouble is what changes the course of everything for everybody, but in the moments these two are together there’s a lightness and bounciness that takes me to Eels, ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living’).

SCHOOL

The story of the Gordon family concludes at a fast pace. There’s no time to catch a breath as it races towards its bloody finale. It’s frantic, fraught and the body count rises quickly. There’s very little dialogue in these closing exchanges, there’s not much left to say. It’s a gritty finale and in my head its soundtrack is equally gritty, it all plays out to the driving bass and tortured vocal tones of Nirvana’s ‘School’, captured best here in this ’92 set from Reading Festival.

Bio:

Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England. His short fiction has appeared in Byker Books Radgepacket series, the Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest, Shadows & Light, Hardboiled Dames and Sin as well as online in numerous places.

His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts, was released in 2013 and his second, Tales from the Underbelly, in 2017. In September 2015 Number 13 Press published Aidan’s first novella, When the Music’s Over. In 2016 Aidan collated and edited the charity anthology Paladins for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, working with 16 authors from the UK and USA to deliver this project.

Website:

https://aidanthornwriter.weebly.com/

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Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

Criminal Records #4 – Kurt Reichenbaugh on Sirens

In the latest instalment of an occasional series, Kurt Reichenbaugh talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Sirens (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013).

When I wrote Sirens, I wanted to write my own version of a coming of age story, set in my Florida hometown during the ‘70s, and stock it full of songs from the soundtrack of my youth. The result was something quite a bit different than what I had intended. Instead of a coming of age story, it became more of a corruption of youth tale, complete with zombies, conspiracies, psychotic wrestlers, UFO folklore and deadly strippers. But the soundtrack remained. In the end, it’s something of a scruffy, undisciplined, novel with its share of sloppy notes, like a bootleg Jimmy Page solo. But its heart is pure.

VENUS

One of the oldest songs that inspired Sirens was ‘Venus’ from Frankie Avalon. Not exactly a hardcore rocker. Instead, what appealed to me in this song is the idea behind it. My lead protagonist, Kevin, dreams of finding a girl to love, a girl that doesn’t exist. Early in the novel he’s riding with his father in the family car and ‘Venus’ comes on the oldies station. To Kevin, ‘Venus’ represents the kind of girl he could wish for, yet never have. It’s a romantic ideal that is like that blue light across the bay from Jay Gatsby’s house. The lead siren and femme fatale, Suzie, sees the romantic ideals that Kevin has and uses that to toy with him throughout the story.

BIP BOP BOOM

‘Bip Bop Boom’ by Mickey Hawk and the Night Raiders is pure rockabilly rave-up. Our group of friends in the novel: Kevin, Brad, Nick and Otto are represented by this song in the spirit of youth and cars and rock n roll and abandon. Not a whole lot had changed for teenagers in the ‘70s from the ‘50s. Yet, the Vietnam War and Watergate separated the two generations, and ‘70s kids probably had even less of a reason to believe in authority than any generation before them. They came of age in a decade of rampant domestic terrorism. They knew they were being sold a lie, and from their cynicism Punk Rock was born.

CHERRY BOMB

In Sirens, Kevin does not find the girl of his dreams. ‘Cherry Bomb’ by the Runaways is the flipside to ‘Venus’. It’s the ultimate dirty girl song in a way. Instead of debutants with silver gowns and white gloves, Kevin and Brad get strippers and prostitutes. ‘Cherry Bomb’ is playing in the strip club they go to when looking for Suzie, the queen Siren of the novel. I used my own youthful experience for this part of the book. I’d managed to sneak into a few strip clubs in my teens, thanks to a “doctored” driver’s license, and had my own encounters with hard strippers and aggressive bouncers. There is nothing quite like the lure of a bad girl to get a (sometimes not-so) nice guy in trouble.

THE REVENGE OF VERA GEMINI

The sirens represent a variety of dreams and nightmares for our heroes. They’re either good or evil, and various shades of gray between. ‘The Revenge of Vera Gemini’, written by Patti Smith and Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult, inspired the mood of the book. Blue Oyster Cult was one of my favorite bands when I was a teen, in addition to the Rolling Stones, Santana and so many others. I don’t pretend to know what the lyrics of ‘Vera Gemini’ mean, but the mood and the spirit of the song is one of many that I attempted to feed into my writing of the book.

THE SIX TEENS

Lastly, I include ‘The Six Teens’ by Sweet. Adolescence ain’t easy for anyone; forget about zombies and murderous sirens from other worlds. In the opening paragraphs, our protagonists are in Nick’s bedroom and Desolation Boulevard is playing on the stereo. There is even a “Suzie” in the song. Its lyrics describe teenagers from 1968, nearly 10 years prior to the setting of Sirens. But adolescence is timeless. Life goes on and we’re all part of the sixteens, as the lyrics say. Not all of my characters make it to the end. No one gets through life unscathed, but we try to do our best along the way.

Bio:

Kurt Reichenbaugh is the author of the novels SIRENS and LAST DANCE IN PHOENIX.  His short stories have appeared in PHOENIX NOIR, Southwest Noir, HUNGUR and Out of the Gutter Online. His day job as a financial analyst interferes with his hobbies and his real life.

 Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!