I resemble David Bowie in the same way that Wayne Rooney resembles David Beckham but that didn’t stop The Thin White Duke becoming one of the main inspirations behind Down Among the Dead Men, the second of my loosely Liverpool-based crime novels. The relatively recent reawakening of my long dormant man-crush on Bowie meant that if I didn’t go as far as painting a lightning bolt on my face (as I did when I was twelve to the unbridled hilarity of the local skinheads) I could at least use him as muse. The Bowie connection won’t be readily apparent to readers but I know it’s there, both in the music I was listening to when preparing the story, but more tangibly in the form of one of the main characters; this charismatic, yet vaguely reptilian dark centre of the narrative was one of the starting points in writing the book.
To get the psychology correct I called on Andy Peden, a clinical psychologist friend of mine (and one-time stud poker kingpin) who also has a taste for crime fiction. Andy, along with other friends who work in that field, was invaluable in making sure that my Bowie-inspired character made decisions that were in line with the boundaries and behaviour typical of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that I quickly became interested in after talking to my cop contacts about a murder that had happened opposite my old school a couple of years ago.
In my very humble opinion, when it comes to the psychology of killers, all too often crime writers are too lazy, creating pantomime monsters who act unlike any human who has gone before. My creation in this book, I hope, is ‘real’ in that he is not interested in ornate sadism or sexual gratification but reacts to events without any real consideration other than his own immediate needs. Like Patricia Highsmith’s wonderfully realised Tom Ripley, I’d like to think that my central villain is both simultaneously creepier and more complex than those of most hack job freaks.
The other big inspiration was my discovery of the Joseph Williamson tunnels in Liverpool. In Down Among the Dead Men, the story unfolds against the shooting of an independent movie in Liverpool (and, later, Hollywood) and the tunnels made a perfect setting for both the fictional film and the novel.
I had, loosely, heard about the existence of this seemingly pointless subterranean Victorian labyyrinth under the city, but until a couple of years ago, had never visited. They have not long been rediscovered and much of the tunnel system, lovingly hand dug and lined with redbrick archways, is still undiscovered. This opened up possibilities for me as a writer to use the location as both a setting and as a mult-layered core metaphor throughout the book. The original title (and the one used in Australian editions) was ‘Underland’ and that title conjures up some of the ideas and influences that I wanted to explore. The link with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is there in that I wanted to place my main protagonist, Frank Keane, in a radically altered world. Initially this was the physical environment below ground. As the story unfolds however, the idea is expanded as a metaphor for a wider psychological and political labyrinth. Like Theseus in the Cretan Maze, Frank must take on a fearsome opponent, unarmed and in an alien landscape. Pretty much the way I feel about getting this series in front of readers.
‘Down Among the Dead Men’ by Ed Chatterton is published by Arrow at £6.99