Tony Black seemed modest when he got in touch to see if I’d be interested in getting a copy of his latest novel, Murder Mile, to review on Grift. Would I? Let’s see, the latest work from the guy Irvine Welsh calls his favorite British crime writer? A writer with four well-reviewed novels on the shelf? The man behind Pulp Pusher?
Oh yeah, I’ll take one of those, please and thank you.
It was a good choice. Black has moved on from his Gus Dury novels to tackle the story of Police DI Rob Brennan. In this, his second Brennan book, Black continues to brighten the corners of the detective inspector’s glum, work-centered life.
Brennan’s new case is one that hits close to home, the death of a teen-aged girl not that different from his own daughter. As Brennan investigates, he realizes there are other, similar cases, and elements that make the coincidence of age and circumstance with his daughter seem ominous at best.
It’s an assured, well-plotted tale that tackles hard truths about work-life balance, parenting and the faith we put in those entrusted with our childrens’ safety. Black deftly deals with social issues while his story pulses forward to a brutal conclusion.
For those craving more, Black also has a new novella, The Storm Without, available as an ebook from Blasted Heath. Written as a serialization, the work shows yet another facet of Black’s prodigious talent.
TB: Good question. In an ideal world I’d probably keep Brennan ticking along for a few more books but I’m out of contract with Random House and so will be starting a new series character for a new publisher. That’s what I’m working on now. The realities of publishing are that there are very few publishers who would be interested in a character whose first two titles are with another firm. But I’d never say never, there’s plenty of life in Brennan so you never know.
You tackle a serial killer in this one. Were you cognizant of the need to make it different from the many other books in the genre that do so, and what steps did you take to do so (successfully, I might add)?
Well, thanks for that… I hope it was a success. I have to say, I have never read a serial killer novel. I’ve read a few books on serial killers – non-fiction – but reading over Murder Mile was the first serial killer novel I’d read… so, no idea if it is different to the others out there. I just tried to write the best book I possibly could, which is pretty much my usual MO.
This is sensitive material given that the victims are young girls. How did that affect the way you told the story?
Yeah, I know it is and I was conscious of that fact throughout. It would be difficult for me to write a book like this if it was merely for sensational purposes but in Murder Mile, Brennan takes a lot of time out to consider what is going on here – here being wider society and the implications. He has a young daughter at the same age as the victims too and that fact isn’t wasted on him. When Brennan reflects on the matter of the girls’ ages and how they’ve been mutilated, their lives cut short, he’s also thinking how he would feel as a father. I think it’s important to show that there are victims beyond the murdered; crime has consequences and I wouldn’t want to back away from that.
Did you make a conscious shift from an unofficial investigator to a member of the police because it allowed you to different things in terms of character and story? Has it done what you intended?
For sure, yeah. I had written four PI novels and had explored just about as much as I wanted to in that sub-genre. When I started writing about Brennan I wanted to create a totally different character to my PI, Gus Dury. That’s why Brennan is a public servant, with very rigid responsibilities. He has to work within the letter of the law, answer to a boss – he can’t cut corners. He’s also a family man and has those cares to take into consideration. Dury was a vicious drunk too; Brennan is virtually on the dry bus – he doesn’t like his staff to see him under the influence, he likes to stay in control. So it was very much a conscious decision to try out a polar opposite to Dury.
The Storm Without was a very tricky project because it was written as a newspaper serialisation in real time; I wrote it week to week, trying to reflect the moment and at the same time move the story along like a traditional novel. I usually sit down and just write – day to day – so this was a real stop-start effort for me and I did find it difficult. A challenge then, but a good one…
That is coming out through Blasted Heath as an ebook. What are your thoughts about that as a way to get your work in the hands of readers?
It is, yes. And also as a paperback through McNidder & Grace. I’m delighted it’s available as a reasonably-priced eBook though – all my Random House titles are very expensive compared to the predominant big sellers in the eBook market. Murder Mile for example, my latest Brennan title is actually more expensive in eBook that paperback, so I’m please Blasted Heath are able to offer The Storm Without at a good price (£1.99). They’re a great team too – Storm was edited by Allan Guthrie so I was in safe hands.