Your novel is set in 1914 on the eve of the First World War and is published in 2014, on the eve of the centenary of the war. Was this a deliberate strategy on your part?
Not really. The other two Silas Quinn novels are also set in 1914, on the eve of the First World War and they came out in 2012. I’d wanted to write a crime novel – or series – set just before the Great War for a long time. It’s the idea of all these horrors which are about to happen – the whole world is about to be turned upside down by the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century. Obviously, the reader knows it’s going to happen but the characters don’t. I felt it was an interesting territory to explore, long before I even thought about the centenary.
What makes your detective, Silas Quinn, different from other fictional detectives?
One thing he has in common with other detectives is this sense of a troubled past, and a slightly idiosyncratic personality resulting from that. Someone once described him as a kind of Edwardian Dirty Harry, which I quite like, though I’m not sure it’s totally accurate. His father – a well-loved and respected family doctor – committed suicide when Quinn was a medical student. As a result, Quinn had a breakdown, which happened to coincide with his first, unhappy love. Unable to accept that his father killed himself, he tried to investigate what happened, without much success, and this led him into the police force. Oh, and he’s very awkward around women. Also, he is a man of his time – so the unique pressures of the time are working on him.
The first Silas Quinn novel, Summon Up The Blood, was set in the world of male prostitution, the second, The Mannequin House, in a department store. What’s the milieu for The Dark Palace?
It’s the world of motion picture production, which of course was in its infancy at the time of the novel. Quinn is drawn into it because, as international tension increases, his department is briefed to keep an eye out for suspicious German nationals. A notable German film producer and a notorious Austrian film director come to his attention. A lot of my research consisted of watching silent movies online. There’s quite a lot out there – and it was a lot of fun!