I always like to be as familiar as I possibly can be with the backcloth to my books, which is why my sagas are set in the salt mining village in which I grew up, the Woodend and Paniatowski books in industrial Lancashire (where I used to teach), and the Paco Ruiz novels take place around Madrid (a city I lived in for over twenty years).
When I decided to write my books about a Victorian detective in London, I did not know the capital at all, so before I put one word on paper, I spent two weeks walking the streets of Southwark – so if I say it takes fifteen minutes to get from Lant Place to New Cut Market, believe me, that’s how long it takes.
It was familiarity which made me decide to set my Jennie Redhead (private investigator) books in Oxford – I knew the town, and, as a member of my college darts team, I’d visited most of the other colleges (or, at least, their bars). Since I felt I already knew Jennie well, I decided to do what I hadn’t done in any of my other series, which was to tell the story through first person narrative. This is trickier in a detective novel, it seems to me, than it is in most other sorts of books, because a detective novel, by its very nature, is a delicate balance of intricately interwoven strands, secrets and discoveries, and in the interests of advancing the plot, the author may sometimes feel the need to reveal some of those strands, secrets and discoveries to his readers – either directly or through other characters – while keeping the central character in ignorance. But guess what – in first person narrative, you can’t do that, so if Jennie doesn’t know it, then neither do the readers, however convenient it might be to put them in the picture!
I always end up wanting to bang my head against the wall when I’m writing a book, but on this occasion the urge was stronger and more frequent. But in the end – and against all odds – it was finished.
Am I pleased with it? Yes. Do my regular readers like it? Based on the reviews they’ve posted and emails they’ve sent to me, they seem to.
Will you like it? There’s only one way to find out. Read an extract now.