Author of the Month

Name: Steve Mosby

First Novel: The Third Person

Most Recent Book: The Nightmare Place

'...check under the bed before climbing in and starting ‘The Nightmare Place’.'

Sometimes, there is a fine line between love and hate. Or at least that is one theory for Detective Inspector Zoe Dolan, tracking the Creeper - a stalker who has been breaking into women's homes and attacking them. But the Creeper's violence is escalating and there's no pattern, no clue as to how he is getting in, and no clue as to who is next. That is until Jane Webster gets a call at the helpline where she volunteers.

It is meant to be a confidential service and Jane is torn - could it be a hoax? However, the soft voice at the end of the line has the ring of truth about it. He says he loves these women - but it's a love that ends in blood.

When Jane tells the police, it should be the lead Zoe needs - but it only pulls her further into a case that is already taking her dangerously close to the past she has never fully escaped. For Jane, Zoe and all the other young women of the city, nowhere is safe; particularly their own bedroom in the dead of night.

When you pick up a thriller by Steve Mosby you know you're going to be dragged through an emotional wringer, and by the end, you'll be shattered and spent. But it's bloody worth it.

‘The Nightmare Place’ is a truly dark and disturbed story of obsession, murder, cruelty, abuse and fear. The use of the first person narrative by our protagonist, DI Zoe Dolan, puts us right amongst the action and the investigation in the hunt for a depraved and evil killer. The multi-layered and highly intelligent plot is so tightly wound you feel the intensity of the victims as they are faced with their fate.

The character of DI Dolan is an instantly likeable and memorable one. She's risen through the backlash of a rough childhood. When faced with her past while investigating this case, she takes a deep breath and fights back against all her inner demons. Her personal story is original and just as gripping as the investigation.

Steve Mosby has a knack for terrifying his readers and he's succeeded here, once again. His use of language is spot on and his characterisation is genuine and natural. With ‘The Nightmare Place’, Mosby has crafted a richly complex story that will keep you hooked well into the early hours. Just make sure you check under the bed before climbing in and starting ‘The Nightmare Place’.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You don't write a series character but start each novel from scratch. Is this difficult? Are you tempted to create a series character?
There’s definitely a temptation, but I think I’d find it really difficult to write a series character. I tend to build my books up slowly: there’ll be an initial idea – a hook – that attracts other ideas, and then over time and various drafts I work it all up into a final story. In terms of characters, I try to come up with people that fit the themes and the plot I’m developing, and then it all bounces around and slowly comes together into a whole. I’d find that much harder to do if I had a character I had to build story after story around. The story or idea tends to come first for me, and then I develop the characters to work within it.
2) If your arm was twisted and you were forced to have a series character which of your characters, either from ‘The Nightmare Place’ or any of your previous novels, would you consider revisiting?
I do actually have a few characters that appear in different books. The most obvious – and my favourite, really – is the Yellow Man, who has a key role in ‘Still Bleeding’, but crops up again by reference in ‘Dark Room’, and may do again. He’s a character I could be drawn to revisit. And ‘Still Bleeding’ also contains a blatant reference to ‘The 50/50 Killer’. There is a tiny amount of crossover between most of them.

Actually, the book I’m writing now is a sequel to my third book, ‘The 50/50 Killer’. And again, that’s just because those characters happened to suit the idea. It’s fun to come back to them, about a year and a half on from the events of the first book, but I’m very much inclined to view it as a standalone sequel at the moment, rather than a series. But, never say never.
3) Many crime novels centre on location and use setting as a tool for the story. Your novels tend not to mention where the story takes place so it could be any city throughout the UK. Is this a deliberate ploy?
Yes, very much so. I know lots of writers set their books in particular places; crime writers, especially, often have their own beat. But I prefer to make it up. Which isn’t to say the setting isn’t important to me, but I tend to build the locations and geography up around what I need the story to do, and sometimes also to represent something about the characters or themes. So the wood in ‘The 50/50 Killer’ is deliberately like something out of a fairytale, while the country in ‘Dark Room’ is land-locked and has a history of war with its neighbours, and so on. It does create problems, as I know some readers and really keen to pin the settings down to a real world place. But I really do just make them all up.
4) It is often said that women in crime fiction are used as victims. In this book all the victims are women. How important was it for the lead detective to be a woman?
It’s definitely important in hindsight, but it was actually just the way it happened. When I started writing it, Zoe wasn’t even the main character, but she sort of stepped forward more and more as the story developed. And yes, it turned out to be important. Without trying to sound too grand, it’s a book that’s partly about misogyny and different types of male violence, so I couldn’t really avoid female victims, and Zoe does provide some kind of counterpoint to that. It would still have been interesting to explore most of the book from a male perspective, but it wouldn’t have sat well with me at the end to have a male character coming in, sorting everything out, and saving the day. Plus, I was also interested to write a female protagonist from a first person perspective, which I’d never done before.
5) Staying along this theme, the subject of violence within the crime novel has reared its head again, in particular unnecessary violence towards women. With ‘The Nightmare Place’ just about to be released do you agree/disagree with people claiming there is gratuitous violence in crime fiction?
The problem is that gratuitous in this sense is such a subjective call – it’s not like a gratuitous use of commas, where you can actually count them. Gratuitous violence means it’s unjustified or excessive, and that’s a reaction that’s going to vary from reader to reader. Gratuitous to me would be something that felt wildly out of place, like a cosy crime novel including an explicit torture scene, but that same torture scene may well not be out of place in a darker work. You’d probably be disappointed if you went into a Saw film and it was just footage of kittens. Also, every single writer can and will defend themselves against a charge of gratuitous violence by saying a scene was necessary to show the effects of the violence, or they’ll argue that violence is horrible in real life, or say that it was crucial to raise the stakes – or whatever. You can’t really argue with that, or else we’re generally too polite to, and the conversation never goes anywhere. So most of the time, I think it’s a pointless word.

But I suppose we could all collectively take a deep breath and relax a little about it. We all like to read different things, from cat mysteries to so-called ‘torture porn’. And at the end of the day, it’s just fiction: nobody’s actually getting hurt. It might be interesting to look at the sociological underpinnings – for example, why do readers like violent material, or what repercussions, if any, it has – but other than that I think people who don’t like it should probably just chill out and read something else instead. It would be a boring world if we all liked the same things.
6) Your novels are very dark and disturbing in places and you have the ability to unnerve the reader. Is it difficult to get into the mind-set of a truly disturbed character to create these scenes? And when you do how difficult is it to get out of that twisted mind when you have finished writing?
I don’t find either of those things too hard. For the most part, my bad guys are people whose evil comes at least in part from a place of vulnerability, so it’s often just a case of extrapolating wildly from my own. To take Adam from ‘The Nightmare Place’ as an example, he’s a character who at heart just wants a beautiful woman to love him, but she doesn’t and never would, and so he feels disgusted with himself and turns that emotion outwards and begins to resent her instead. Most of us have been rejected at some point, and we know it brings all kinds of emotional reactions. Of course, a healthy, well-adjusted adult doesn’t let those feelings fester, or become obsessed and take it to the lengths that Adam does, but it’s not difficult to imagine how and why someone might.

I try to write my ‘bad’ characters with at least as much empathy as the ‘good’ ones. There’s always something pathetic about them, and even though they commit absolutely heinous acts, I sometimes end up almost feeling sorry for them. I’m sure I wouldn’t if they were real, but it’s important to at least try to find some common human ground with your characters, otherwise they’ll end up flat. After all, they don’t see themselves as evil. The exceptions would be a few I’ve written that are meant to be more symbolic and oblique – ‘The 50/50 Killer’, the father in ‘Cry For Help’, the Yellow Man – and in those cases I don’t really go into their heads much at all.
7) You are the current Chair for the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in July 2014. Can you tell us a little about your role in this important festival? What have been the highlights?
I was asked after the award ceremony at the 2012 Festival, when I was shortlisted and the award went to Denise Mina. I was in my room afterwards and got a terse phone call from Val telling me to meet her and Mark outside immediately. I honestly wondered if I’d done something terrible onstage like swear at Mark Lawson, or something, but they were just teasing me. It was a surprise, to say the least, but obviously a huge honour, so there was only ever going to be one answer.

The role has been to work with the Programming Committee and the Festival team to put the programme together, from special guests down to panel topics and invited authors. It’s certainly not all down to me: I’d say I got to flavour the Festival to my tastes, but that everybody had great ideas, and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out.

It’s impossible to pick a highlight. The whole process has been an absolute joy, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Obviously, it’s a huge coup that J K Rowling, as Robert Galbraith, will be in conversation with Val. I knew a fair while before the announcement, so you can imagine how difficult it was to keep that secret.
8) What writers are you looking forward to meeting in Harrogate in July? Do you have any particular ‘hero’ you have always admired and who inspired you to write?
I’m looking forward to meeting as many authors as possible, although I suspect I’m going to be running around a fair amount more than usual, so the meetings might be fleeting. One thing I’m really looking forward to is the two panels I’m moderating, on cross-genre fiction and plot twists, because I have eight excellent writers to talk to, and I really enjoy moderating. I always find it a bit boring talking about myself, but I love enthusing about other people.

In terms of heroes and inspirations, I’d probably be here all day. Some off the top of my head: Diana Wynne Jones, Stephen King, Graham Joyce, Mo Hayder, Michael Marshall Smith, Tim Willocks, Jack Ketchum. There are a million more.
9) For writers like me who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
I don’t feel qualified to offer advice – I still struggle with every book! But one thing that does help me is to not care about the first draft - at all! I know from experience I’ll be changing most of it down the line, so I don’t worry about the quality of the prose, or getting characters just right, or the order things are happening in. The important thing for me is to have a vaguely book-sized bunch of text at the end. A book is a marathon, and at that point you’ve at least run it, even if you’ve zigzagged the whole way and stumbled over the line. So that’s something. And hopefully I then understand the book better and can start rearranging bits and rewriting. Sometimes I get stuff right first time, but regardless, it’s enormously freeing to just let yourself go and write without worrying. Tell yourself that nobody’s ever going to see it: that it’s your zero draft. Everyone finds their own way of working, but that does seem to be mine. Painful and time-consuming as it may be.
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?
Oh, definitely. I think it’d be pretty difficult to write in a genre you weren’t a fan of. But then, I’m a fan of lots of different genres. Choosing a top three in crime is hard. I’ll pick ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ by Thomas Harris, ‘Spares’ by Michael Marshall Smith, and ‘Green River Rising’ by Tim Willocks. All very different books, but I’ve read each of them many times. At the same time, I’m also going to cheat: if I had to pick a body of work rather than an individual book, it would be Mo Hayder. Now, that’s an enviable backlist.