Published by graham on Thu, 10/24/2013 - 11:22
Shipping my fictional detective, D/S Jimmy Suttle, to the West Country was never going to be easy. As a callow Detective Constable, new to CID, he’d survived seven busy years on the Portsmouth Major Crime Team, learning his craft at the feet of the legendary D/C Paul Winter. After the excitements of trying to nail big city villains, how would my hero respond to sleepy Devon?
My publishers, Orion, asked exactly the same question. Mention of the West Country left them deeply unimpressed. Cutting-edge crime fiction, they pointed out, was getting darker, nastier and more metropolitan by the day. Why would anyone want to read about thatched cottages and cream teas?
Jimmy Suttle ignored them, setting himself up in a draughty, near-derelict cottage on the western flank of the Otter Valley. The roof leaked. Armies of dormice patrolled nightly. The heating never worked. Then his wife Lizzie followed with infant daughter Grace in tow and Suttle’s problems multiplied. An investigative journalist by trade, she’d abandoned a job she loved. Now she faced an eternity of incessant rain and a daughter who never stopped crying.
The book that launched the series, Western Approaches, charts the rapid disintegration of the marriage. Maddened by life in rural Devon, Lizzie takes a fancy to a member of the local rowing club who turns out to be the prime suspect in a murder enquiry in which her husband is playing a key role. A wealthy go-getting entrepreneur has fallen to his death from his trophy penthouse apartment in Exmouth Quays and only Jimmy Suttle senses the involvement of someone else. As it turns out, Suttle is right to trust his instincts – but the price of cracking the case is his own marriage.
The book has done well: good reviews, decent sales. The follow-up, Touching Distance, publishes this month. By now, D/S Suttle – like me – has become wiser to the ways of the West Country. Crime down here, to risk a pun, may be subtler than the sharp-elbowed bedlam of Portsmouth but bad stuff still happens. People still get jealous. And desperate. And – in the case of a mystery serial killer who leaves a litter of bodies across East Devon – seriously damaged. No clues. No leads. Just victim after victim despatched with chilling effficiency.
How did I happen across a set of circumstances like these? Come to our book launch on Friday 22ndNovember, at Best Books on Exmouth’s The Parade, and I’ll tell you. Crime fiction in sleepy Devon does, after all, have a future.