Author of the Month

Name: Martyn Waites

First Novel: Mary's Prayer

Most Recent Book: The Old Religion

'...Waites’ inspiring prose allows hysteria to build and build...'

He was running from his past.
She was running from her future.
Sometimes helping a stranger is the last thing you should do…

The Cornish village of St Petroc is the sort of place where people come to hide. Tom Killgannon is one such person. Tom is in the Witness Protection Programme hiding from some very violent people and St Petroc's offers him a chance to live a safe and quiet life. Until he meets Lila.

Lila is a seventeen-year-old runaway. When she breaks into Tom's house she takes more than just his money. His wallet holds everything about his new identity. He also knows that Lila is in danger. Something sinister has been going on and Lila knows more than she realises.

But to find her he risks not only giving away his location to the people he's hiding from, but also becoming a target for whoever is hunting Lila.

I have been a big fan of Waites’ early books for many years, (read ‘The White Room’ if you haven’t done already). In ‘The Old Religion’, Waites introduces us to a new cast of characters, especially Tom Killgannon, a giant of a man akin to a rugby player, but who has a warm centre, particularly for the women in his new life: a reaction that could lead him to blowing his new identity. Killgannon is perfect here as he tries hard to blend in, but fails as the locals of St. Petroc are suspicious of newcomers or outsiders for at least thirty years! Tom keeps his head down, but trouble keeps on seeking him out.

Waites’ description of St. Petroc, a village long past it’s hey-day (if it ever had one), is typical of this author: there is a slight tinge of Noir to the drab, shady seaside village that should be a place of beauty and tranquillity. Brexit looms like Armageddon, wiping out the remains of a village on its knees. (Do not think Waites is Brexit bashing throughout his novel). It is this scenario that Waites uses as a basis for the desperation of the village, residents who feel powerless at the current state of affairs of the country. A proposed marina makes the villagers feel they have a solution to their path to greatness… and someone has stepped forward to lead them to certain victory and glory – even if it means taking extreme measures.

Morrigan stands up to lead this fretful and aimless herd and through Waites’ inspiring prose allows hysteria to build and build to the point where reason is ground underfoot and a belief in Morrigan’s spells is everything. Morrigan is the black crow of this piece and Waites masterfully shows how a small community can be led to an alternative (even if violent) path to bring them back to normality as the rest of the country and the government descend into chaos. To some, the end justifies the means. A great quote in the book reads… ‘When people stop believing in something they don’t believe in nothing, they’ll believe in anything’, and this is the basis Waites has used for this excellent novel.

Waites is a known fan of old classic films such as ‘The Wicker Man’, and has taken the premise of how one influential person can sway an entire community and has used it here. This is no remake of the film, nor is this a horror novel, but Waites puts his own dark spin on matters going on in the world. In fact, what happens in ‘The Old Religion’ does not necessarily need to take place in a small Cornwall village… it could be Scotland, North Korea or even the U.S. Hiding behind the old religion or paganism, is purely to show how some will discard their own moral code for the ‘greater good’ without feeling guilty about their actions. Is this the way cults are started?

Waites never compromises character to fasten the pace. He knows the right times when to take his foot off the pedal and when to put it flat on the floor. The last half of the book raced by as the story gained momentum.

I will be very pleased to be in Tom’s company again. Will he still be in St. Petroc? Will his past that is alluded to but never explained be out in the open? Will he be with any of the women who want to mother this strapping rugby player? As with many of Waites’ novels, there is a dark heart beating under the surface, the author’s love of Noir never far away from his own writing. This is the first book I have read that isn’t afraid of looking Brexit in the face and writing about it in a crime scenario. This is very brave and Waites’ take on its effects is thought-provoking and gripping at the same time. It is good to have Waites back again and we welcome him back into our crime sect again!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) After the ‘Tania Carver years’, you’re back writing under your own name again. Did the writing process feel different now you were back to your Martyn Waites persona?
Yes, I’m back! It kind of did, actually. The Tania books were very specific in a way, like method writing. They were for a certain market, a certain audience, and over the decade or so that I wrote them I began to develop an instinct for when an idea was for Tania or for Martyn. And the style of writing in them is different to some degree too, I think. Possibly not noticeably for someone reading it but certainly to me writing it. And my own persona, the Martyn one, had changed too. I feel like I’m writing as myself now but with everything I’ve learned from being Tania too.
2) Tom Kilgannon is a man in hiding and obviously damaged by circumstances from his past. What was it about Tom that put him centre stage and how did he come about?
Well, about two and a half years ago for various reasons I moved to the South West. At first I hated it, didn’t fit in, didn’t like the place, missed the South East, wanted to go home, everything. I felt, as I told Mark Billingham, like I was in the Witness Protection Programme. But gradually I began to like it. And then I went to Cornwall and really loved the place. And I began to see the whole area in a different light. So when my editor floated the idea about setting a novel in the South East she asked about the lead character. My first thought: he’s in the Witness Protection Programme . . .

And he is. Tom Killgannon’s not his real name. He’s hiding out and trying to get away from his past in a place that no one would plan to visit. It suits him fine. He’s damaged and just wants to be left alone. But when his identity is threatened with exposure he has to make a conscious decision to become involved. And that’s the premise for the book.

I really like him as a character. I enjoy writing him and spending time with him. And because – just like the reader – I don’t know everything about his past it’s interesting to me as a writer discovering who he used to be and who he’s becoming as he begins to inhabit his new identity more fully.
3) ‘The Old Religion’ is about just that… the old religion. How did you hear about it and is it still prevalent in Cornwall?
The old religion here being paganism, of course. Yeah, it’s still around. I was talking to a pagan the other night in Exeter, actually. Lovely woman. We chatted about how easy it is for something so essentially positive and well meaning to be hijacked by extremists for their own end. That’s really the central thrust, I think, of the novel. I’ve also become really interested in Folk Horror, the idea of something ancient coming back from the earth, something that we in our cities and with our modern lives are still helpless against. Films like ;Blood On Satan’s Claw', 'The Wicker Man' and 'Witchfinder General' exemplify this. There are definitely elements of 'The Wicker Man' in 'The Old Religion'. But saying that, it’s definitely not a supernatural novel.
4) You mention Brexit and the impact it has had on Cornwall when it voted to leave the E.U. Can you expand on this?
I live in Exeter, one of the few places in the South West to have voted Remain, thankfully. But all around the vote was overwhelmingly to leave. Cornwall is one of the places in the UK with the highest EU subsidies, just to keep it going. There’s the fishing industry, farming and also infrastructure projects. It’s hugely dependant on the EU. On the local news the day after the Referendum local politicians were jubilant and when asked where the money would come from to replace the EU subsidies just replied ‘somewhere’. Well here we are further down the line and it’s just dawning on the majority of leave voters in the South West that they’ve been lied to. When the EU money’s gone it won’t be replaced. Jobs will be lost, whole communities will die. It’s one of the most depressed regions in the country in terms of work. When we leave the EU it’s going to flatline. And they voted for it to happen. People are angry and people are scared. It’s horrendous for the people and catastrophic for the region. But it’s the perfect background for a novel like ‘The Old Religion’.
5) Folk from a commune are involved with your story. I thought they didn’t exist anymore. The folk of Petroc give them a wide berth in your novel. Did you find a commune and get involved with them in any way?
Not really for these purposes. Over the years I’ve known people living like that – or approximations of the one in the novel – so I didn’t feel the need to go find them again for this. But again, the commune works along the same lines as the village in the book, as paganism – it shows how easy it is to hijack a community. To take something over for nefarious ends. That’s a big theme in the novel. There’s a whole subplot in the book about county drug gangs – coming down to rural areas from the big cities and taking over supply and distribution, often using a vulnerable person’s home as their base to operate from.
6) What is next in the pipeline for the writer, Martyn Waites?
The second Tom Killgannon novel. It’s still set in the South West but has quite a different, very specific, location. His past comes back to haunt him in the most dangerous way and he has to dig up all his old long buried skills just to get out alive. It’s called Cage City. And it’ll be out next year.
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
You know I’m a fan of crime fiction! Three? I have to limit it to three? How long am I going to be on this island? I’ll need more than three . . . Right, I’m going to cheat here. I’ll take James Ellroy’s LA Quartet. Yes, I know that’s four books but let’s pretend they’re available in one edition. Even if he never writes another word he’s earned his place among the all time greats. I’d also take The James Crumley Collection, a hardback edition of his three greatest novels: The Last Good Kiss, The Wrong Case and Dancing Bear. I’ve got a personally signed edition of that and it’s one of my most cherished things. So it would have to be that one. And . . . do I get another? The Complete Works of Richard Stark. In one huge edition. Richard Stark was Donald Westlake’s alter ego. He wrote the Parker novels under that name, the first one memorably made into Point Blank with Lee Marvin. That’s how I look at my Tania novels. She was my Richard Stark. Without Lee Marvin, though, sadly.