In The Thing Itself, the final part of my Brighton crime trilogy, there’s a scene set in 1934 in which an unidentified woman is murdered by an unidentified man in an anonymous flat. It might seem familiar to readers of the first part of the trilogy, City of Dreadful Night. (The second part is called The Last King of Brighton.)
It should, because the scene is, word for word, the Epilogue of City. Except that, this time, the scene has a continuation. It’s a beginning not an end.
Actually, it wasn’t really an end in City either. It was more of an open ending. I always knew I was going to return to the scene in book three after the apparent digression of book two.
Some readers didn’t like the fact that I didn’t resolve absolutely everything at the end of book one, nor that I seemed to go off at a tangent in book two. (In fact, to see how much a handful of readers hated it, check out some of the reviews on Good Reads.)
But I’d realised early on in my planning – and I began this trilogy six years ago – that the two main stories I wanted to tell couldn’t be contained in a single volume and that, therefore, some denouements would need to wait until book three. I believed – I still believe – the reading experience would be enriched by what I jokingly called the deferred gratification of some of the delayed resolutions.
The two main stories running through the trilogy are: a fictional contemporary armed police raid gone horribly wrong (the “Milldean Massacre”); the real-life, unsolved Brighton Trunk Murder of 1934.
Concluding these stories – and others that came up along the way – required an almost epic approach in The Thing Itself : the narrative linked to the Trunk Murder moves from the Great War, through the rise of Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts in the Thirties, into World War II. The contemporary narrative takes the reader to the South of France, Italy – and Whitby in Yorkshire.
When I realised I had to deal with the Great War I groaned at the thought of trying to write something fresh about this much-covered conflict. Ditto World War II. But if you do enough research you’ll always find new angles. And so it proved. I hope.
One consequence is that although The Thing Itself might sound epic, I think of it as intimate. And whilst there are scenes set in continental Europe, Brighton is always a brooding presence, then and now: gaudy and glamorous, seedy and slum-ridden, cutting edge and always exceedingly criminous. It’s where the story began; it’s where the story ends.
The Thing Itself does stand alone as a pacey thriller, a twisty whodunit. But those who have read the first two should enjoy it even more. The trilogy is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
I think the pay-offs work in The Thing Itself. I hope they all come as surprises because I had fun making unexpected connections and turning a couple of things from the earlier books on their heads.
Although The Thing Itself is the final part of the Brighton trilogy, it’s not the end of the Brighton series. Some of the characters live on in The Devil’s Moon, my fourth Brighton book, due to be published in October 2012. You won’t need to have read the trilogy to enjoy it.
In the meantime, find out why, when you’re trying to describe something terrible, the only true account is the thing itself.
The Thing Itself by Peter Guttridge is published by Severn House