There are those who might say I’m something of an intruder on Crime Time’s soil, where – amongst the hard-boiled and the procedural, the psychos and the slashers – my claim to any tenure may seem dubious. My books, on the surface, are of softer, subtler stuff, reflecting the slower, timeless pace of the Greek islands where they’re set.
But they’re big on mystery – who is the fat man, this Hermes Diaktoros, anyway? – and my intention, in creating the Greek Detective series, was certainly bold. I’ve gone for fusion, crossed over, mixed it up, headed for the outer limits of Crime, and dared to place a foot across the borders of a second genre.
Crime fiction, as my editor often says, is a very broad church. The truth of that statement gives me, as a writer, a wonderful freedom to travel into terra nova, to lead my readers down rarely trodden roads, and present the time-honoured tenets – murder, and resolution – in a new mood. I offer you no courts, no forensics, no flashing blue lights; but I bring you crime, and punishment, and – in the fat man – a figure of natural justice whose origins are themselves hidden in clues within the novels’ pages. Think in straight lines, and Hermes Diaktoros will baffle you; think outside the box, think An Inspector Calls and Homer’s Odyssey, and it’s obvious.
My primary aim in my writing is, always, originality. I want to offer my readers something fresh, unique, a world far removed from the day-to-day and the mundane (though much crime fiction works excellently with exactly that: the day-to-day gone bad). The settings I choose – contemporary Greece – go a long way towards that aim, and the years I lived in a tiny island community – I married into a way of life and a moral code which have barely changed for centuries – bring authenticity to the places I create (I present, as evidence to support my case for authenticity, my Greek publisher’s assumption that I am, myself, a Greek. In fact I was born and raised in northern England).
And then there are the sins: seven of them, which, when deadly, are perfect pegs for an author to hang a hat on. At least, they seemed so, when I started on the series; as I limped across the finishing line of The Messenger of Athens, Book One in the series (featuring Lust, one of the most interesting sins), I felt six more novels to fit the six remaining sins would be a lifetime’s work. But now I’m finishing Book Five, and readers are asking questions – surely the fat man will continue beyond Book Seven? In truth, I’ve grown very attached to him, and I’d hate to say goodbye, so I’m thinking, now, we will carry on beyond the seven, he and I. The sins may be finite in number, but there are no limits on storylines.
As to what inspires storylines – for me, it’s human nature, every time. People behave badly, or act nobly; they exist for decades in perfect misery, or rise triumphant from the wrecks of shattered lives. I’m no spring chicken, and sometimes I think I’ve heard it all; then a snippet in the news, or even village gossip, persuades me otherwise. People are always surprising, and unpredictable; the most ordinary person in your street may hide vile secrets that you’d never guess.
But the beating heart of my fiction – of all crime fiction, no matter where it lies on the spectrum – is the puzzle, and its solution. I hide solutions in the dialogue; the clues are planted in the obscurest places I can find. Isn’t the whole draw of the genre the contest between reader, and writer – can the reader solve the puzzle before the writer reveals all? The challenge for me, as the writer, is to be subtle, even sneaky, so the reader, after all his guess-work, feels he never saw it coming; yet the solution to the crime must seem inevitable, and even, in retrospect, obvious.
My books aren’t run-of-the-mill. Even within crime, they defy categorisation. My work isn’t shocking, or terrifying, but its undercurrents are dark, and I hope my reflections on human frailty have depth. I’ve tried to push the boundaries of crime fiction, to introduce new facets to the genre, so if you’re ready for something different in your reading, I respectfully invite you to make the fat man’s acquaintance. What I ask of you, the reader, is an open mind – because in the many worlds of fiction, all may not be as straightforward as it seems.
The Lady of Sorrows is published by Bloomsbury