The Dying Minutes is the seventh book in the Jacquot series, which means that after six previous outings with Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot, and nearly eight years in his company, there’s not much I don’t know about my lead character. And after years of visiting Marseilles, where Jacquot was born and raised, and Cavaillon in the Lubéron where he now lives with his artist partner, Claudine, I know his surroundings too – coastline and countryside alike.
But that’s as far as it goes. I may have a lead character – currently on sick leave, recovering from gunshot wounds received in ‘Blood Counts’ – but what I really need is a story. What’s going to happen next? What’s the game this time? So last year I did what I always do before starting a Jacquot book. I packed my bag and returned to Marseilles and the Lubéron for a week or two of gentle wandering, just soaking it all up, knowing that sooner or later something would lodge in my mind and spark off the whole process of putting words on paper.
On this occasion it happened sooner than expected.
My very first day in Marseilles, after lunch at one of Jacquot’s favourite restaurants, I witnessed a savage and brutal beating. Two men on the corner of a shopping street blocked off by stone bollards. An argument had broken out. There were raised voices, some shoulder pushing. And then, suddenly, the taller of the two men clasped his hands behind the other’s head and smashed his face down onto the top of a bollard. Not content with this devastating blow, he then picked the man up, raised him over his head like a weight-lifter, and slammed him down onto the pavement, the limp body hitting the kerb with a horrible crunch. A final, running kick to the head and it was all over. One man broken and bleeding on the pavement, the other high-tailing it down the street. Two minutes, if that. In the centre of town. In broad daylight.
I didn’t know how this appalling incident would feature in the new book, but as I waited for the ambulance to arrive, and watched the paramedics set to work, I knew for certain that it would, wondering what could possibly have led to such a lethal, merciless attack. Jealousy? Revenge? Drugs? Money? A woman? Chances are it would be one of these, something the Marseillais would call ‘un règlement des comptes’, a settling of accounts.
And as I walked away, shocked and disturbed by what I had seen, I suddenly realised that as well as a scene for the new book I also had my title. For the man lying on that pavement was surely as close to death as it is possible to come. That point where the line between a hospital bed and a body bag is as thin as it gets. Will he make it, or won’t he? Thumbs up, thumbs down? The dying minutes, or not?
The Dying Minutes is published by Preface on 5 April, £12:99