My sixth Johnny One Eye novel, A Taste for Blood comes out in June, which is almost a surprise to me. John Hawke is my private detective operating in London during the Second World War. As explained in the first novel, Forests of the Night, Johnny was a young policeman working at Scotland Yard in 1939 at the outbreak of the war. He swapped uniforms and joined the army to fight the Nazis. In training, during target practice, a rifle blew up in his face and he lost an eye. Invalided out of the army and offered only a desk job by his old employer, Johnny – now Johnny One Eye –decides to use his compensation money to set himself up as a private detective hoping to enjoy some action and adventure in the beleaguered city.
That was the format for the series that saw Johnny through five novels, published by Hale. There were other regular characters in the series including Detective Inspector David Llewellyn, an old comrade from the Yard; Benny, the Jewish café owner, who mother-hens Johnny; and the little boy Peter, a runaway orphan, adopted unofficially by Johnny. The novels were written partly in the first person from Johnny’s perspective, in what I hope is a dry, witty fashion, and partly in the third person covering those scenes where Johnny is absent.
When I came to write the sixth novel I decided on two things: to give Inspector Llewellyn a bigger role in the plot and to toughen up the story line. This latter decision caused problems. Hale didn’t like the book: they thought it was too dark and violent for their readers. They recommended I shelve it – which, reluctantly, is what I did. Then a year later when Sparkling Books were handling the foreign rights to my Sherlock Holmes novels, they decided to take on my Johnny One Eye books. When they learned there was one unpublished, they asked to see it. They liked it and had no qualms about it being too violent. They also liked the idea of the two plots which slowly but inextricably become entwined in each other. The novel presents two mysteries. Johnny is engaged to investigate the death of an old lady who is believed to have committed suicide and he soon comes to realise that she was murdered. Meanwhile his friend Inspector Llewellyn is faced with the task of tracking down a vicious cannibalistic killer he captured ten years before. The murderer has escaped from a mental institution and has begun committing his horrific crimes again – or has he? Gradually, the two lines of investigation begin to merge, leading to a frightening climax where the lives of both detectives are placed at risk.
I never thought one publisher would be brave enough to carry on a series started by another – but, bless ’em, Sparkling Books have. A Taste for Blood will be available as an ebook in May and becomes available in print form in June. Give it a whirl. Johnny is an attractive character – Val McDermid referred to him as ‘a hero with a heart’ – and the mystery is suitably dark and bloody like the war that is raging in the background.
A Taste for Blood
by David Stuart Davies
is published by Saprkling Books