Author of the Month

Name: Tony Parsons

First Novel: Man and Boy

Most Recent Book: The Murder Bag

'...Parsons delivers what it says on the tin – and gets stuck in... '

DC Max Wolfe starts his time in Homicide in at the deep end. One of the high flyers of the financial world has been found in his office – his throat cut from ear to ear. Who could want to kill him in such a barbaric and savage manner? On his clear desk sits a photograph of seven youths from the 80’s ready to take on and conquer the world. Soon it becomes clear that one by one these boys who became men and who are making a difference in the world are being targeted. But by whom? And why?

Wolfe knows that the answer lies in the past but as he begins down that path he has to keep one eye on the present as the killer is cleverer than anticipated and the man many are calling ‘Bob the Butcher’.is also using social media to highlight his crimes. As Wolfe sifts through the lies and half-truths he comes too close to the truth and nearly loses his own life and the case gets very personal.

The great thing with Tony Parsons’ new crime novel is the fact that he simply gets on with the crime in hand. Unlike other literary writers of recent times who have segued on to the crime scene and have a more laid back stance to the crime novel, Parsons delivers what it says on the tin – and gets stuck in without ceremony.

However, having said that Parsons does not sacrifice his cast for plot and the author superbly mixes three-dimensional characterisation with a thrilling plot. During the proceedings one character is dispatched and I was in mourning as I thought they would be a brilliant central character! You can tell from the way he has handled his first foray in to crime fiction that the author has great respect for the genre and is cognisant of its boundaries and yet Parsons’ tale never feels restricted.

Parsons' crime debut isn’t by any means totally original but it certainly kept me intrigued and the book swirled around my head when I wasn’t reading it and the whole thing reverberated around my brain days after finishing it, even making me go back and re-reading the last few chapters to fully appreciate how Parsons pulls together the different strands of his story.

DC Wolfe is determined and loyal and thankfully doesn’t have a drinking problem but his ‘Achilles’ Heel’ is definitely women. Wolfe is a great new addition to the crime arena and I look forward to getting re-acquainted in his next novel, but for now you lucky people have ‘The Murder Bag’ to look forward to!

Parsons has been hiding his crime writing chops under a bushel and thank goodness he has finally brought out this latent talent and pushed in under the spotlight. ‘The Murder Bag’ is a stonking good read and you are certainly in for a treat.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You are better known for writing mainstream fiction. Why have you now turned your hand to writing crime fiction? How do you think your army of readers will react when they see you have segued in to crime fiction?
The short answer is that I had a good story to tell. The longer answer is that I went to a film screening in Soho in 2010 that was organized by Sam Mendes. He told me he was going to direct the next James Bond movie and he was preparing by rereading all the great Ian Fleming Bond novels that he read and loved as a boy. I thought that sounded like a fun thing to do because I loved those books as a kid too. So I re-read all the 007 books and started thinking what an incredible achievement it is to create a character that goes on and on – sometimes for generations. I started thinking about Bond, but then I was thinking about Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Harry Hole and Jack Reacher, Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe – and I knew I wanted to create my own series hero. I think you get one chance at it. And I knew it was something I was going to have to prove to the world – and myself – that I could do.

I thought about it for a year. And because I have read crime fiction all my life, I know exactly how good the masters are – I could never kid myself, or delude myself. I feel the best crime writers honour the tradition but bring some little twist or freshness to the form. I thought deeply about everything.

The murders. The victims. The weapon. And most of all Max Wolfe – my detective. I walked away from my old publishing house and cashed in my pension and wrote ‘The Murder Bag’. I think it’s still my voice and I hope my readers old and new all like it. But ultimately you have to please yourself. You have to write the book that is in your head and in your heart. That’s what I did and happily I sold it within 24 hours and a lot of great crime and thriller writers – like Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver – have been great supporters of the book.

To be honest, I am genuinely touched and honoured at how welcoming the crime community has been to me. When I signed my 3-book deal with Random House, the very first person to contact me and wish me luck was Ian Rankin.
2) Did you need to do a lot more research for ‘The Murder Bag’ than for your previous novels?
I did do more research for this book but it’s important to not overload. The way I think about research is that you can have so much luggage that you miss the train. Everything has to be a slave to the story, and make the story work better. Some of the research was fun – seeing how much it hurts when somebody gets shot wearing a bulletproof vest. I have cracked ribs boxing and I know it hurts like hell – so much that you have difficulty thinking about anything else. So you use everything. And sometimes of course you are doing research when you don’t know it – the first story that I ever did that won an award, and the first piece of journalism that wasn’t about bands, was when I was embedded with the Vice Squad at West End Central in the Eighties. I liked the idea of having Max Wolfe’s beat as 27 Savile Row – West End Central – because I have spent time there and because, as far as I know, it hasn’t been used before in a crime book.
3) Crime fiction is not the easiest genre to write, it requires a build-up of tension over a lot of pages alongside a gripping investigation. What daunted you most whilst writing ‘The Murder Bag’ and how did you overcome any nerves tackling this new project?
I think what was most daunting was that realization that everything has to be a slave to the story. You have to be intelligent and original and surprising – but you also have to have that forward momentum, you have to tell the story at pace, you can’t hang about. Yes, it’s tough to get right. But I think you look at all the great crime writers and learn from them, while at the same time trying to do it in your own unique voice.
4) In your book you write: ‘…a cry of rage in a society where the obscene gap between rich and poor is the new apartheid’. This part of the story is obviously based on the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ which has been stirred up by the tabloid press and TV media. Was it this new phenomenon of the recent global financial crisis that started you on the road to assembling the plot of ‘The Murder Bag’?
I did feel that something changed while I was writing this book. After David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, you started seeing all these images of what I think of as conspicuous privilege – Oxford dining clubs, boys at Eton. And people were talking about Cameron as the 19th Old Etonian Prime Minister – as though we are always ruled by old Etonians. And we are not – not in my lifetime. You have to go back almost 50 years, to the early 1960s, to find the Old Etonian Prime Minister who came before Cameron. So yes – while there is always a gap between rich and poor, I somehow felt that we were having our noses rubbed in it the way they had not been rubbed in it for half a century.
5) ‘The Murder Bag’ is being touted as the first of the Wolfe trilogy. Are you only going to write the three books or have more ideas come to you since the trilogy was first formed in your mind?
The plan is three Max Wolfe books and see how we go. The Murder Bag comes out on 8th May, I am about 150 pages into the next one, The Slaughter Man, and I have an idea and a title for the third one. That feels like a healthy plan – I wouldn’t fancy looking beyond that.
6) ‘The Murder Bag’ is written from Wolfe’s perspective. Why did you choose the first person narrative for your book?
I like stories in the first person. I like that focus, and that intimacy, and I trust myself to write a man’s voice.
7) Will you uncover more about Wolfe in the next two novels? Will there be many revelations for your readers?
There will be more revelations a bit later on. But I just wrote an introduction to a new edition of You Only Live Twice – one of the late James Bond books, and the last Bond book published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime. And it is the book where he has M write an obituary of James Bond, when they think he has been killed, and that is where a lot of the biographical detail about Bond comes from – the 12th James Bond book!! I would probably do it a bit faster than that, because I think our culture moves at a greater pace, but I like the idea of facts emerging slowly and unexpectedly.
8) You describe the ceremony of Hugo Buck’s funeral and a memorial service in great detail. Was there a particular reason for this?
There are a lot of characters in the book – the rich and powerful men who went to private school together, their loved ones, the Murder Investigation Team that Max Wolfe is a part of – so it was a way of having a big set piece scene to introduce a large number of characters. If you think of the wedding that opens The Godfather – like that. It’s a way of giving a lot of information in an economical fashion.
9) For writers like me who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Learn from your heroes but find your own way.
10) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I am a massive crime fan. Always have been, but I am aware that I am still completing my education. For example, I never read any George Simenon until recently. A bit old-fashioned for my tastes. But I just worked my way through the novels of Robert B. Parker and George V. Higgins and now I am reading everything I can lay my hands on by John D MacDonald. These guys are absolute masters and reading them is both an education and a pure joy.

Top three crime stories? Hmm. I would say –

'The Lonely Silver Rain' - John D. MacDonald

'The Friends of Eddie Coyle' - George V. Higgins

'When The Women Come Out to Dance' - Elmore Leonard