MW: It’s been a while since the last DI Spicer novel, Sleeping Dogs, what have you been doing?
CS: I’ve been busy, scribbling away in my shed – but not on detective novels. I’ve always enjoyed writing dark psychological thrillers (my first two novels fell firmly into that category), so I decided to take some time away from Spicer to write two more that had been festering in my head. Sing Me To Sleep is about a lady called Laura Wilkinson who moves to an isolated cottage and immediately starts hearing faint echoes of a bird singing. She fears tinnitus. But Laura’s also suffered psychological problems in the past and can’t be sure if the noise isn’t a manifestation of mental illness or something more sinister… It’s just been optioned for a film.Dead Gorgeous follows a beautiful and fame-hungry young woman, Mandy Cost. To attract the attention of the paparazzi, she has a salon fit her with the longest, palest hair extensions they can find. Mandy appreciates the best extensions are made with human hair – but doesn’t question where hers came from. It’s something she comes to regret. Bitterly.
MW: Where did DI Spicer originate?
CS: As is often the case with characters, Spicer is a blend of various traits I’ve seen in different people. He’s one of those men who, though powerfully built, exude a strength that’s more than just muscular. He’s fiercely loyal, highly tenacious and not good at etiquette. A lot of people – characters in my books and readers of them – find him quite infuriating. Not that he’d be bothered.
MW: You’re known for writing your stories by hand, explain your process.
CS: The truth is, I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of an artist. So my initial planning is on A3 sheets; I’ll sketch the principal characters and add little comments and observations, all in pencil. Then comes mind-maps of the plot. It seemed natural to extend this approach to the actual writing – so I use a lined A4 pad and only write on one side. (With a Blackwing pencil.) That leaves the facing page free for later amends, additions or general thoughts. I love doing it this way – until I have to type up 90,000 words of spider-like scrawl.
MW: Manchester is key in your novels. Do you create the setting around the plot or the other way round?
CS: Both. Hell’s Fire came about because my train into Manchester passed what looked like a massive, derelict, charred church. Who would wreck such a majestic building, I began to wonder. In Savage Moon, I wanted to explore the scenario of someone being killed by what, at first, appears to be an Alien Big Cat (like the Beast of Bodmin). For a setting, you don’t get much more bleak and creepy than Saddleworth Moor that overlooks the city.
MW: Death Games is a change of direction for DI Spicer. What made you decide to move him on?
CS: His own pig-headedness forced me into it! Essentially, he ran out of bosses in the Major Incident Team willing to have him as their responsibility. Kicked out and demoted to Detective Constable, it was a case of ‘any port in a storm’ when the Counter Terrorism Unit made contact.
MW: For your new novel you’ve brought together your two series characters – DI Spicer and DC Kahn – why?
CS: DC Khan was already in the CTU – and struggling with its macho, testosterone-fuelled culture. I thought: what a great pairing. Her: measured, intuitive and diminutive in size. Him: a great big bull in a china shop. Plus, the CTU allows me to deal with plots on a grander scale than before.
MW: You write many short stories, very different to the crime novels, which do you prefer to write?
CS: I love short stories for their brief, self-contained nature. Before the actual writing, you can hold them in the palm of your hand and look at them from every angle. If you want to experiment with something, you can. Novels, in contrast, are vast, sprawling things. George Orwell said writing them was like a long bout of painful illness. But when it’s finished? The scene of achievement is mighty.
MW: What are you working on next?
CS: The screenplay of Sing Me To Sleep is almost done. I got a short story in the bag over Christmas. So next…it’s novel time. I have a nice Manchester-based idea, but can’t decide whether to toss it Spicer’s way or hand it to a brand new character.
Manchester: an injured survivor from a motorway pile-up flees the scene, leaving behind evidence that a terror attack is being planned…
Jon Spicer, newly trained as a Specialist Firearms Officer, has joined Manchester police’s Counter Terrorism Unit. Thrown out of his previous department and demoted to Detective Constable, he is being kept in the force only because he’ll take on the most dangerous of jobs.
Iona Khan is struggling to find respect and recognition in the male-dominated Counter Terrorism Unit. Her mind might be sharp, but many of her colleagues value physical strength above anything else.
As the investigation quickly snowballs, Spicer and Khan are thrown together. The two officers must learn to trust each other – and fast. Because in this chase, any wrong move could be your last.
Who can say where stories come from? For me, they start with a tiny core, a single idea. Maybe a character or a single situation, a point of crisis or a relationship I want to know more about. Wrap a few more ideas around the core, then a few more, check its pulse to make sure it’s starting to live and breathe. Then sit down and start writing.
The core idea of LIES came to me while we were driving to Brittany for our summer holiday. I was supposed to be navigating but got so caught up with the idea – and scribbling it down in my notebook before it disappeared – that we got lost. We had to go on a bit of a magical mystery tour to pick up our route again, but the story of LIES was already starting to live and breathe (in my head, at least).
Like everyone else, though, I’ve been inspired and influenced over the years by thrillers that I’ve loved and the people who have written them. My favourite authors include Michael Connolly, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Tana French, Lee Child, Sophie Hannah, Bernard Cornwell, Peter Swanson, Stephen King, Gillian Flynn and Ken Follett. I’ve missed lots out, but that might give you an idea of the kind of stories that I love to read – and write.
In no particular order, here are a few of the stories that inspired LIES:
I remember being bowled over by Harlan Coben’s Tell No One. It was the first time that I’d read one of his thrillers and it featured his trademark combination of a cracking story, great dialogue, compelling bad guys and a protagonist you’re rooting for from page one. Coben is also adept at bringing in technology and making it a turning point in his story, as when the hero sees an image of his wife – supposedly dead for eight years – on his computer screen.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was one of many great recommendations from my wife, Sally. I loved this book. The slow unravelling of the truth about Amy Dunne takes the story in ways you can’t predict. Is she alive or dead? Is her husband involved in her disappearance? Is the truth simply what we believe it to be? The blurring of fact and fiction, the creation of different versions of the truth, feature strongly in LIES.
I have lots of favourites by Stephen King but Misery is at the top. It’s so simple, basically two characters in a house for 95 per cent of the story, and yet he manages to make it utterly gripping and terrifying. Stephen King is the master at that sense of ‘creeping doom’, at building the tension slowly, as Paul Sheldon comes to realise that there is something very, very wrong with the situation in which he finds himself.
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith grabbed hold of me in such a way that it became like an addiction. A real high concept premise – three guys find a bag full of money in the woods – but so many twists and turns that it was impossible to put down. At its heart it’s about the terrible things people will do in pursuit of what they think is right, and the crimes they will justify on the way.
Last but definitely not least (and not a book, either), I tip my hat to Les Diaboliques, a French film about betrayal, obsession, and murder. Check it out if you ever get the chance. It has a killer twist – when it was shown in cinemas, a title screen appeared at the end of the movie asking the audience not to reveal it to others, so they wouldn’t spoil the surprise. I hope the twist at the end of LIES has a similar impact!
What are your favourite thrillers? Let me know @TMLoganAuthor
WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS BASED ON LIES?
When Joe Lynch stumbles across his wife driving into a hotel car park while she’s supposed to be at work, he’s intrigued enough to follow her in.
And when he witnesses her in an angry altercation with family friend Ben, he knows he ought to intervene.
But just as the confrontation between the two men turns violent, and Ben is knocked unconscious, Joe’s young son has an asthma attack – and Joe must flee in order to help him.
When he returns, desperate to make sure Ben is OK, Joe is horrified to find that Ben has disappeared.
And that’s when Joe receives the first message . . .
When Father Peter Paterson is discovered crucified to the stone floor of his church, DI John Campbell leads the investigation in his first case in charge of the Cumbria Major crimes Team, while DI Harry Evans spends the last week of his police career attending the trial of his wife’s rapist.
With the Priest seemingly killed for no reason, the pressure on the team increases when a rape case and a con trick are added to their workload. Unknown to the police, members of the public are receiving blackmail demands.
Fearing more attacks on the clergy, Campbell does everything he can to solve the case, while Evans spends his evenings dispensing his own brand of supposedly helpful interference.
An absolute belter of a book…
Those of you who follow this blog will have seen me on the Matching The Evidence blog tour last month, celebrating the release of the novella that is literally crammed (timeline wise) between DI Harry Evans book one Snatched From Home and I Know Your Secret, the second novel in this increasingly addictive series.
As I said, I Know Your Secret is the second book in this series and coming hot on the heels of earlier tales, it’s worth noting that whilst you can happily pick up and read this book as a standalone novel, your experience is greatly enhanced by reading the previous installments as it improves your understanding of the characters and the motivations of the members of the Major Crimes Team.
The opening pages of I Know Your Secret are gritty, as they describe the brutal murder of Father Peter Paterson. while the method used to set up the scene, will not only leave its imprint on your mind, but ensure you are hooked into the story and keen to discover exactly whodunnit and why.
Easily read in one sitting thanks to its pacy, addictive and dare I say it “unputdownable” style, it’s an absolute belter of a book. With several interwoven plot lines to keep you on your toes, I know your secret is a fabulous story about a functional disfunctional team, interspersed with the just enough dark humour and not enough political correctness to ensure you engage fully with the story, and all of those involved.
I’m already excited to read more about Harry.
Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.
Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.
Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.
And they say nothing happens in August . . .
I’m a big fan of cosy mysteries, so it’s quite surprising to note that this was the first Frances Brody novel I have read, despite the fact that this is the eighth book in her series featuring Kate Shackleton. With that in mind it was no hinderance to my enjoyment of the novel. As far as I could tell there are no spoilers in here for previous books, and I felt no need to have read any of them before this one, although there are plenty of references to past events that have given me a keen interest in catching up with some of the earlier books.
It’s a great read that’s ideal for snuggling up in a cosy armchair on a wet miserable afternoon and transporting yourself to the beautiful seaside resort. I loved the genuine sense of time and place I felt when reading Death at the Seaside, falling completely for the 1920’s atmosphere, of this truly British seaside mystery.
There are delightful characters, and a an intriguing plot line to ensure you keep turning the pages, which you will clearly want to keep doing. If you love some good old fashioned escapism, this is definitely the book for you.