Author of the Month

Name: Adrian Magson

First Novel: No Peace for the Wicked

Most Recent Book: Death on the Rive Nord

'Lets just say this, ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ ‘c’est magnifique’!'

France – October 1963. It is a cold night whilst a dilapidated lorry wends its way through narrow country lanes. The driver is anxious that he mustn’t be late and he mustn’t miss his drop-off point. Soon, he comes to a halt and his ‘cargo’ disembarks and vanishes into the night. But not everybody got out the back of the lorry. There is one of the ‘cargo’ still inside - and very dead.

It is with the discovery of the body in a canal that begins an investigation for Inspector Lucas Rocco that will bring him into conflict with the Ministry of Defence as well as his immediate boss, Massin, who would love nothing better than to remove Rocco to some dark, dank corner of the country and forget all about him. But Rocco can’t help himself as he becomes involved with an Algerian gangster who leaves a path of dead bodies as he searches for the wife who has deserted him, as well as trying to find out who is the dead man, who were the illegal immigrants and who are the people that employ them for a pittance...

With masterly skill, Magson does not dither and launches straight into the case that will envelop Rocco and the police force. With an attitude of begging, stealing and borrowing, Rocco enlists the aid of his fellow policemen to hunt down the people who are deep in trafficking people from foreign shores. With his trusty ‘sidekick’, the ever-reliant and informative Claude, both men go above and beyon the call of duty. Claude is a marvellous creation – having been in the area so long he knows everybody and everyone’s business and seems to be capable of calling any of them for a favour at a moment’s notice.

As the story progresses there is another shining character in the form of ex-forces man, Caspar who lifts this brilliant book to another level altogether. With his wild and erratic behaviour he learns the lesson that he isn’t vulnerable – having realised this possibly too late makes Caspar more three dimensional – a talent brought about by Magson’s razor-sharp prose.

The background is France in the 1960’s, so Magson can have fun without the usual headache of mobile phones, CCTV and the like. This humanises his novel and the characters within. But ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ is not a gentle Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside. Oh no, the body count by the end of the book is very high! Mostly thanks to Samir Farek and the very scary Bouhassa who leave a trail of bodies across France.

‘Death in the Rive Nord’ has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that propels you to read more, cheering on Rocco and his merry men who seem to be a little in awe of him. Possibly wishing they too were as maverick as he. You have to love Rocco. He is France’s answer to Jack Reacher – tall, dark, broad and dedicated to right the wrongs. I was enraptured by the whole adventure. I feel that Magson has a winner on his hands with Rocco. Lets just say this, ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ ‘c’est magnifique’!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Character and pace, I think, are the two main requirements for a crime or thriller novel. Everyone likes characters they can enjoy reading about - especially in a series, where re-visiting them provides the impetus to read the next book and so on. But even in a standalone, someone they like reading about is essential – even the baddies. Pace (usually tied in with tension) is also a must, to keep the reader turning those pages and looking for more. I happen to think that both these aspects help the writer, too; if you enjoy writing about a character, and you feel a sense of urgency to get a scene down on paper, that will communicate itself to the reader. Get bored writing, and the reader will, too.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
I certainly think the genre is far more diverse than it used to be, and probably reaches a much broader readership as a result, thank the heavens. Crime as an element now seems prevalent in many different genres (even some chick-lit, I understand), which is to be welcomed because (speaking as a working crime writer) it might attract readers who would never have tried reading a straight crime novel or thriller before. I know many crime readers who do read other styles, but I’m sure that’s more down to the sheer range of interesting books available now. (Dare I cite the crime fans who read Harry Potter? Okay, there’s a definite crime element there, but the pace, tension, excitement and so forth must play a part).
3) ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ is the second in the Rocco series. What made you decide to set a detective series in 1960’s France?
I wanted to see if I could, is the short answer. But as a working writer, I was also lured by the increased reader interest in European-based crime (rather than strictly UK or US). I lived in France as a child, so I know the area (in Picardie), and have a strong sense of the time back in the 1960s, as well as the historical backdrop. And my brother still lives there, so I can always check facts with him if I need to. And that raises an important issue, because it means that a lot of the ‘research’ required is more to do with fact-checking than anything, such as car models, singers, real-life characters of the time and so forth – all the bits which give it flavour. Talking of flavours, did you know, for example, that in the 1960s, a popular fizzy drink (now branded as Orangina) was called Pschitt? My schoolboy humour – which some say hasn’t developed much - certainly had a field-day with that one, especially when asking my parents if I could have one… What has been very pleasing is the number of readers who know France who have commented on the feel of the book for that area.
4) This second novel deals with illegal immigrants from Algeria. What attracted you to make this issue the centrepiece of the novel? How difficult was it to research the influx of immigrants during this time period and how do you think it reflects to today’s issues?
I like to use something of the historical setting as a backdrop, to give a feel of verisimilitude. (The first novel, ‘Death on the Marais’, has echoes of the war and the Resistance, of the conflict in Indochina – France’s own Vietnam – and of the changing cultural and social order at the time, which were all relevant, especially for the characters involved. Lucas Rocco, for example, had been affected by his experiences, which feeds into how he reacts to what goes on around him – especially when reminded of the jungle by going into the marais – the marshland. He also finds himself reporting to a new Commissaire who was his CO in Indochina, and whom he witnessed having a serious attack of cowardice and had to help rescue in mid-battle. More conflict, in other words). With ‘Rive Nord’, I’d been aware of the influx of Algerian workers into France over many years, and this gave me plenty of scope for introducing the theme as a backdrop to the story. There is also plenty of research material readily available, so that was a boon. But it wasn’t simply about immigrants and the pressures involved for both sides; the use of illegals was relevant then, just as it is now, so that was one factor. But I decided to show that the downside of having criminals moving in and using the situation for their own ends. In this case, brutal Algerian gangster Samir Farek decides to take over the mainly Algerian gang structure in Paris and the north, and kill his runaway wife in the process and dispose of Lucas Rocco for helping her out. Talk about someone over-reaching himself…
5) Rocco never seems to have much luck with the women in his life. Will this change in future novels?
Well, we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t want him to live like a monk, poor bloke, but neither do I want to have his character altered by being a Gallic Lothario or by settling into domestic cosiness. There will be women… but let’s just say that, at the moment, he’s still settling in! The time-lag between the first three books is only about six months, so we have to give him time to catch his breath.
6) Rocco and his superior, Massin have a connection to the events in Indochina. Why did you include this part of history for these two characters?
Mainly for conflict, and partly because at the time, the Indochina situation was a low point in French history. They also had their share of what we now know as battle-trauma casualties, so that, too, was relevant, specially to Rocco. Neither dares talk about what happened, Rocco because he doesn’t want to, and Massin because it’s the big skeleton in his professional cupboard (he’s a former army officer, went through the academy of St Cyr, so is a bit up himself… well, a lot up himself, and knows Rocco knows). So they co-exist, all the time with Rocco expecting Massin to get him transferred to some bog-hole of a posting in a French colony somewhere if he makes one mistake. The whole thing is part of Rocco’s back-story, but also shows his character, working with someone who, as a former soldier, didn’t distinguish himself whereas Rocco did… but he would like to forget the whole episode.
7) You also write a spy series featuring Harry Tate. Do you feel you have to write with a different ‘head’ for each different series? And have you now finished with the Gavin and Palmer series?
I certainly have to make sure that Rocco never reaches for a mobile phone! Yes, it does require a definite mental switch – but that’s part of what I enjoy in writing. I’ve always written other stuff apart from books (short fiction, radio stories, comedy gags, features – even slogans for t-shirts at one time), so it was something I got used to early on. Making the switch from the 1960s to the present day is probably easier than going back the other way, mainly because in writing about Rocco, I have to forget all about technology and modern idiom, and sink into the period. With Harry Tate, I’ve got full rein to use everything and anything I choose… and even make stuff up. But even then, I use real backdrops if I can. As for the Gavin and Palmer series, I haven’t got another one on the go, no. But I should probably never say never. Maybe I should have Harry meet Frank Palmer…
8) Towards the end of ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ you introduce a new character, Alix who has a connection with another main character. Will we expect to see her develop in future novels?
Yes. Alix is in No 3, which I’m currently writing. She’s a woman police officer (and in the 1960s there weren’t many), with a failed marriage behind her, so she has an interesting part to play. Her arrival brings out other aspects of the relationship between Rocco and A N Other (won’t spoil the surprise here by naming them), but I hope readers will enjoy the situation because it allows me to use some humour, but also to introduce the matter of a woman moving into a man’s world – but without going all feminist about it. She’s not ‘feisty’, for a start, because that would be a cliché; but she can stand up for herself and in ‘Rive Nord’, witnesses Rocco doing something he probably shouldn’t, so that opens up a certain understanding between them which is useful.
9) Do you enjoy creating new series characters and do you get bored easily?
I love creating new characters, although I do like bringing some back from previous books, even though I might not have planned it that way. There’s a character called Caspar in ‘Death on the Rive Nord’, for example. He’s a burned-out undercover cop from Paris, and I’ve decided to bring him back for a small part in book 3 simply because he can do things Rocco can’t. No, I don’t get easily bored, but I certainly try to make sure the reader doesn’t, either.
10) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
What a question! Probably the last one I read, because I do re-read books I’ve enjoyed. I have my favourites, such as Robert Crais, Lee Child, John Sandford, Steve Hamilton, Martin Cruz Smith… and so many more. I’ve just discovered SJ Rozan, and would like to read more of her books; I like Matt Hilton’s books, and yes, he’s a friend, but that doesn’t change anything; I’d strongly recommend Thomas Enger (‘Burned – his debut novel), loved Howard Linskey’s ‘The Drop’ and Tom Wood’s ‘The Hunter’ – also debuts – and Tony Black, too. You really don’t have space for this, but thank you for asking!