My second novel, Snapshot was published on June 9. A series of high-profile shootings by a lone sniper is terrorising Glasgow and police photographer Tony Winter finds himself, reluctantly, at the centre of it. Tony is a complex character with a tragic hidden past and an unhealthy obsession with the macabre subjects he photographs in the line of his work. As the body count of the city’s notorious drug lords continues to rise, Tony investigates a link between the victims and a badly beaten schoolboy.
DS Rachel Narey, the sole survivor from my debut novel Random, is taken off the vigilante case against her will but keeps getting drawn back to it. Along with Winter, their search for the truth takes them down some dark and dangerous paths.
That’s the gist of the plot but the themes that underpin it are revenge and the dilemma of how far it is justifiable to go to act against the worst aspects of society. If a good person does a bad thing to bad people, is that a good or bad thing? I’m not claiming to know the answers but I think it’s a fair question to ask.
Crime fiction tackles the great moral and philosophical issues far more often than it is given credit for. It is all too easily dismissed as having little to offer beyond a plethora of blood and violence but anyone who reads good crime novels knows this is far from the truth. Authors like Val McDermid, Reg Hill, Henning Mankel and Louise Welsh and a host others tackle topical and vital issues just as much – and at least as well – as supposedly weightier fiction. It doesn’t always appear obvious that they are doing so as the reader is engrossed in gripping plots but it’s all the better for that. God forbid that a book be entertaining as well as intelligent…
Does it not seem odd to suggest that a book can’t be violent as well as cerebral, that it can’t be enthralling and popular as well as having the ability to make people think? Good books are good books whether they centre on serial killers, supposedly "serious" fiction or sentimental romances. I’m not going to stop reading Flann O’Brien or Emile Zola because they don’t have enough murders in them so why should someone not read Mark Billingham because he fails to discuss existentialist angst? I’ll go with John Updike’s view that all his works are literary "because they are written in words". Anyway, off my soapbox before I sound like I’m paranoid.
The fact is that crime fiction doesn’t actually have to defend itself against accusations of being some inferior form of literature. All it needs is to point to sales figures that remain extremely healthy despite the general downturn in book sales. Why is it so popular? Well, apart from the fact that it is compelling, thrilling and engrossing, I have a theory…
They (whoever they are) say that you should do something every day that scares you. The problem is that most of us are too scared to do something that scares us so we read something that scares us instead. The vicarious thrill of witnessing murders, or solving them, is better and safer than a bungee jump or buying a Harley Davidson.
It takes us places that we otherwise wouldn’t dare to go, usually in the reassuring company of a capable cop or proficient private detective. We can journey into the darkest recesses of human nature without having to fully examine the parameters of our own capacities for wrongdoing. In my opinion, the potential for that exists in all of us but maybe reading crime saves us from the urge to commit crime in order to find out what it tastes like. There we go, philosophising again.
All that being said, I have to admit to not reading anywhere as much as I’d like to these days. Sadly, what used to be reading time has now become writing time and as a result my "to read" pile doesn’t seem to be diminishing at all. I certainly seem to be buying more books than I am actually reading, which is at least doing my bit for book sales. Belinda Bauer, Jeremy Duns, Chris Carter and Ian Rankin are currently occupying space in my bedroom and I’m not quite sure how they feel about that.
I have a few festivals coming up this summer – Harrogate, Edinburgh and Stirling – so that will thankfully force my hand and I will be able to get some reading done to make sure I am up to date with my co-panellist’s latest offerings. That means that the books of Denise Minah, Caro Ramsay, Stuart MacBride and GJ Moffat will all be on the agenda – and that can only be a good thing. I was already reading Stuart’s Dark Blood before I knew we were to be on together in Stirling so that is one off the list. It’s dark, funny, gripping and pulls no punches whatsoever. Although as it is currently on the longlist for Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year along with my own novel Random, I maybe shouldn’t talk it up too much!
The follow up to Snapshot is still being written and the first draft ought to be finished by the end of June. The title is Cold as the Grave and I guess there’s a few clues in the title as to what it’s about. My main protagonists from Snapshot appear again and the plan is for it to be the second in a series of three, possibly more. The story is partly cold case and partly the consequences of that case when the bones are metaphorically disturbed. It begins deep in the bleak midwinter of 1993 when a lake in central Scotland is frozen over. Two people walk together across the ice to an island in the centre of the lake which houses the remains of a medieval priory. However only one of them returns, his footprints melting into the lake behind him, all evidence gone. Nearly twenty years later, the truth of what happened returns to haunt the living with deadly consequences.
Snapshot is published Simon & Schuster and is released on June 9.