I fell in love with classic American crime fiction when I was around twelve or thirteen years old. There was no such thing as "Young Adult" literature back then – we had to go straight from Biggles to Balzac – and while I’ve always loved reading anything and everything – from poetry to Westerns, comics to physics – my first true love was, and always will be, the traditional American crime novel. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M Cain, Ross MacDonald, John D MacDonald … I’d read them all by the time I was fourteen or fifteen, and they’ve been in my heart ever since. They have their heirs, of course – James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, Denis Lehane, Robert Crais (to name just a few) – and the wonderful thing for me, as both a reader and a writer, is that authors like these are not only keeping the tradition alive, they’re constantly improving it, developing it, taking it in new directions. In fact, in many ways, contemporary American crime fiction is not just as good as the classics, it’s better. And that’s why it’s so wonderful: because it allows my love affair to remain as fresh and vital as it was when I was thirteen years old.
So when I started thinking about my first adult crime novel (A Dance of Ghosts), after ten years of writing crime-based Young Adult fiction, there was really no question as to what kind of story I wanted to write. It was always going to be founded on the traditions that mean so much to me – the roman noir, the hardboiled detective novel … call it what you will – and, more specifically, my main character was always going to be based on (or, at least, descended from) the kinds of characters I’ve always loved – the private detective, the loner, the flawed but essentially decent individual. Of course, I was perfectly aware that while there’s nothing really new in any kind of fiction any more, there are nonetheless elements of characterisation, plot, setting, etc, that are more liable to cliché than others, and there’s no denying that the main character/hero/narrator of my novel, John Craine, comes straight from the drawer marked Troubled Loner, Maverick, Lost Soul Burdened with Demons. In John Craine’s case, these demons include a murdered wife and unborn child, depression, addiction, suicidal tendencies … he is a troubled soul. And, yes, that’s nothing new. But good crime fiction, to me, is not about where you start from, it’s about the journey. It’s about taking something that on the surface might appear quite simple – a character, a place, an idea – and then letting that initial simplicity evolve into something else, something different, something that comes alive. Something that is – in the end – much more than just a tradition.
So welcome then to the world that is A Dance of Ghosts. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope that John Craine comes alive for you in the same way that he has for me. This is his story, his life, his journey …
And it’s only just begun.
A Dance of Ghosts by Kevin Brooks is published by Arrow, £6.99.