Author of the Month

Name: Steven Dunne

First Novel: The Reaper

Most Recent Book: Deity

'I was totally enthralled by ‘Deity’ – and I know you will be, too.'

It all starts with a cadaver being pulled out of the river and the realisation that the man has been given a post-mortem and his innards removed – all except the heart. Someone with a fair knowledge of pathology is carefully removing body parts from their victims. Plural, as very soon after another body is found. As with the first – it has been scrubbed and cleaned as if ready to be viewed in a coffin. Both men are identified as homeless but neither was murdered. Both died of alcoholic poisoning. This ‘modus operandi’ does not fit a serial killer as neither man was murdered. But Brook wonders if this is someone leading up to something bigger?

Then four students at Derby College go missing. Not a trace of them can be found. They simply – vanished. Could it be connected to a film they recently watched in their Media Studies class? Could these four students who each had their own reasons for being disillusioned with the world be influenced by a film? And then the videos start appearing on the Internet and DI Damen Brook worries if what he thought of as a charade is much more serious. And as Brook and his team search through troubled families and lies they wonder if the two cases are not as separate as first thought.

I have to admit that I am not a great fan of the ‘serial killer’ sub-genre. I had my glut of them some years ago and moved on – so it was with a recommendation and some trepidation that I started ‘Deity’. And I am thankful I did as it is so much more than that.

Yes, there are bodies that turn up in the river missing bodily parts – but this does tie in very well with the overall purpose of ‘Deity’. There was no gratuitous violence and only what was needed is within the novel. Dunne doesn’t suddenly get sidetracked about some ‘issue’ he wants to highlight – he simply allows us to follow the two investigations. The pace of the novel isn’t frenetic but measured without losing momentum.

Dunne introduces Brook’s daughter, Terri that allows Dunne to write a pitch-perfect parallel with the missing teenagers. I felt that Dunne used Terri’s re-appearance effectively and unlike many of this type of novel, there was a sincerity, respect and tenderness about the fragility of youth. Dunne’s writing about the missing students was particularly humane and sensitive and brought the characters of the students vividly to life. It was also a good opportunity to see the tender side of Brook with his new-found relationship with Terri.

‘Deity’ is an intelligent thriller with a great cast, excellently executed plot giving excitement and emotion in equal measures. I was totally enthralled by ‘Deity’ – and I know you will be, too.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Damen Brook's 'Letter' to his daughter, Terri.

Damen's Letter to Terri

1) DI Damen Brook is a man who has taken to a self imposed solitary confinement. What made you want to make your detective so emotionally repressed?
As a thriller writer, I was much more interested in ensuring my detective was always on the case and for this I wanted him in a situation where distractions were kept to a minimum. I do get bored of thrillers that have main characters with excessive baggage. It’s also why I made sure Brook was an outsider in other ways. He’s not from the local area and he’s highly intelligent, two things that were bound to raise the hackles of local coppers. That’s not to say that I think Brook is repressed, more frozen in time. He has a past in which he cared too much about a case and made terrible mistakes because of it, resulting in a nervous breakdown and the end of his marriage. And although police work was the cause of all his problems, it is also the solution to them because it leaves him no time to brood on his problems, much like Sherlock Holmes would when not on a case. This is an interesting balancing act for me as a writer.
2) D.S. Noble is a perfect foil for Brook bringing in a sense of humanity who I enjoyed but felt he was there to steer Brook when dealing with other people. Do you have any plans to expand on Noble in future books?
That’s a very good question. I love Noble and he’s grown a lot since the series began. The interesting thing for me is that actually Brook and Noble guide each other. He has learned a tremendous amount about detection, working with Brook and Brook has started to thaw out in terms of his personal development under Noble’s coaxing. By the end of ‘Deity’, Brook is making real improvements, standing up to his tormentors and trying to take an interest in members of his squad. Interestingly, the pair is separated in the next book in the series, working separate cases although they still communicate an awful lot and ask each other for advice. Noble is starting to make a name for himself as a top detective but he finds his association with his mentor is holding him back and I’m having a fascinating time working out how Noble might react.
3) ‘Deity’ opens with the cadaver of a homeless person who has had his internal organs removed. Without giving the plot of the story away, did you have to do a certain amount of research in to different practices to get your information right?
Absolutely. It is important to get as much of the science as right as you can get it. Of course, unless you are an expert in a particular field you’re always liable to make the odd slip and, although annoying, you have to forgive yourself because if you get 99% of the science correct, people are going to accept you know what you’re talking about, especially if the story is carrying them along.
4) With a few exceptions Brook is greatly disliked by his colleagues. By the end of ‘Deity’, despite things not going to plan do you intend to slightly ‘humanise’ Brook in the future?
I think Brook’s daughter Terri allowed us to see under the mask at the real Brook. It’s important to remember, Brook has had mental problems related to his obsession with police work and his apparent lack of approachability is a kind of defence mechanism to keep his demons at bay – a very human trait. He’s lost everyone he ever cared about and his solution is to stop caring. I think this vulnerability and short-sightedness actually makes him more human and an easy target for some of the small minded bullies in the Division.
Interestingly, everyone in Brook’s squad at some point begins to appreciate Brook’s positive qualities not least his skills, his generosity as a leader and his intense loyalty to members of his team.

In the next book, I’m playing around with Brook worrying about his loss of self control as he becomes prone to sudden fits of anger that lead him to believe his mental state may be deteriorating.
5) Brook is still haunted by ‘The Reaper’. Do you think you will ever help Brook to some kind of resolution about this case?
It’s difficult to answer that without reference to the unpublished final part of The Reaper trilogy. Certainly his brush with The Reaper and his Disciples has dominated his life but he has achieved a certain peace thanks to events in ‘The Resurrection’, though obviously I couldn’t touch on unpublished material in ‘Deity’. His daughter, Terri, is actually suffering more ramifications of what happened in Brook’s past because of her stepfather’s murder in ‘The Disciple’. Terri pressurising her father for some answers was also a good way to introduce Brook’s back story for those unfamiliar with his past.
6) Your novel, ‘Deity’ revolves around the film, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. Is this a particular favourite of yours and what was it about the film that made you give it such significance in ‘Deity’?
It’s a magnificent and haunting film and was a perfect backdrop for ‘Deity’ because of the fatalism of the young schoolgirls at the start of the film. For them, the idea of death, even at such a tender age and in the full bloom of their beauty, held no fears and that chimed with my experience of all teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. They often truly believe they are invulnerable and can indulge in all manner of destructive vices thinking they’ll come out of the other side unscathed though not really caring, when they see what awaits them if they survive – a lifetime of drudgery and unfulfilling work. The girls in ‘Picnic’ seem to accept what will happen to them but, in so doing, gain the reward of being remembered long past their deaths and, more importantly, in the prime of their lives. Not for them a lifetime of decay and disappointment.
7) I found Brook’s search for the four missing students quite emotional and felt it came through the writing. Did you find it equally emotional writing it or did you simply concentrate on the plot?
That’s another perceptive question and I have to say the answer is both. I love the students and took great pains to make their struggle believable and sympathetic. And while their suffering, and that of the parents to some extent, tugs at you, at the same time you have to concentrate on the technical aspects of what you’re trying to achieve and divorce yourself from the fate you deliver. It was an interesting challenge because Brook is going through the same struggle, trying to maintain the detachment that he needs to help find the students yet, being drawn into a rapport with the most magnetic of them, Adele Watson, because of his failure to protect his daughter when she most needed him. And again, Brook’s increasing personal commitment to saving Adele opens him up to the same pressures that broke him before.
8) ‘Deity’ is partly about sons and daughters and the dynamic between teenagers and parents. You also bring in Brook’s daughter, Terri who turns up after not seeing her father for five years. Was this deliberate or did it simply feel right to bring her in to give the story another perspective?
Once I realised that a major theme of the book was going to be the vulnerability of young people to self-destructive urges, it seemed to follow on that Brook needed a guide to help him navigate the mind of the teenager. With the exception of criminals and serial killers, human beings are a mystery to Brook so Terri’s help was essential in interpreting the temptations of self-destruction. It didn’t take a great leap to imagine Terri undergoing similar struggles which would allow me to dissect their past relationship and show Brook as a proper father and a man with the same weaknesses and compulsions as his daughter and what it costs him to resist those urges.
9) If you had a gun to your head (metaphorically) who in your mind’s eye would play Damen Brook?
Paddy Considine (I’ve heard a rumour of interest but it’s probably just idle gossip.) but I think he would be ideal. He’s the right age and I know he has the right range of skills. But, hey, if Hollywood come calling and insist it should be George Clooney, who am I to argue?
10) What would you say would be your top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I read a lot of Agatha Christies in my early teens and they were diverting if completely divorced from any social order I had ever experienced or was likely to but I wouldn’t put her work near the top. So...

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ - Thomas Harris was the first proper thriller, set in a real social context, that I ever read and I absolutely loved it. I think I took from it the notion that some people who kill don’t do it for monetary gain or any understandable reason we would recognise. They have a completely unsentimental and utilitarian view of their fellow humans. “You have nice skin. I want it and I’m going to have it.” My favourite scene in the film of the book is the passing of the lotion to the kidnapped girl in the well. When a bored Buffalo Bill referred to the suffering victim as “It” my interest was triggered.

‘The Poet’ - Michael Connolly was another great read in a similar vein. I’ve always loved the idea of a protagonist pitting his wits against a killer that no-one else knows exists and this will be a theme in the next Brook novel, ‘Capricorn Rising’. I think that’s also one of the reasons the world fell in love with...

‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ - Stieg Larson is another thriller with a clever unsentimental killer who has not only evaded detection but thrived in the knowledge that no-one can ever touch him and who moves easily and confidently through the world, indulging his psychosexual whims whenever and wherever he wants. Total amorality, when you can challenge the accepted behavioural norms of society, must be the most fun to act and it’s certainly the most fascinating part of writing thrillers.