Fresh Blood

Name: James Green

Title of Book: Bad Catholics

'Bad Catholics was a surprise - and a very pleasant one.'

Jimmy Costello has been away for quite a while. So why has he decided to come back to where he was born and brought up by his Catholic parents? Why, after all this time, does he show his face to the people who knew him in his previous life as a copper… one who took favours? Is he a copper who stepped over the line taking a life? Why is he back in Kilburn where some would like to catch up for him – but not for a good-humoured chat and a laugh?

Jimmy gets a job in a homeless shelter. He keeps an eye on the regulars, making sure none of them get up to mischief or causes Sister Philomena or the other volunteers any problems. Then one of the ladies from the shelter is stabbed in the alley behind the building and suddenly Jimmy is not feeling very safe anymore. Is someone sending him a message that they know where he is and that, possibly, next time it might be him?

As time goes by and the police delve into their investigation another body turns up along with other faces from Jimmy’s past – some welcome, some not. Very soon it all culminates in a very messy end indeed...

This slick, slim novel opens with Jimmy’s return to Kilburn in the winter of 1994. From there, with all the smoothness of Irish blarney, Green captured me and led me along the pathway of Jimmy Costello, past and present. As the chapters sailed by, the author takes you from January 1995 to Kilburn during the sixties and seventies through Costello’s early life. Even Sister Philomena is fleshed out and background given of her time in Northern Uganda in 1974 during Idi Amin’s fearsome reign. Here every detail is given for a reason and leads the reader to see that in most cases instances in life come full circle.

This book captivated me straight away. The plot ran smoothly and was told at a measured pace that never felt either slow or rushed. Everything had its place and was told for a reason. Nothing ever felt superfluous. Every character had their own agenda and most could not be trusted, while others were not all they appeared to be. Many covered their own backs and it was sometimes even difficult to distinguish who were the good cops and who the bad.

Bad Catholics was a surprise - and a very pleasant one. This is a slim book that packs a very distinctive punch and delivers a memorable cast of characters. I really couldn’t put this book down and simply had to see how things were going to end. Love him or hate him, I promise you that Jimmy Costello is a character that people will want to know and read more about.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I didn’t think of Bad Catholics as a crime novel in the usual sense, more a book about people who happen to be criminals, about how people, especially Jimmy, who live on the wrong side of the law become what they are.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I don’t read crime novels normally, my wife Pat is the big fan there.
3) Jimmy Costello is in turn not a very nice man who has a certain attraction about him. Was this deliberate to create a loveable rogue?
Jimmy isn’t loveable and I certainly wouldn’t call him a rogue, he’s a vicious bastard with a totally screwed moral sense. But he is interesting and hopefully the reader really does want to know what happens to him but only a total nutter would want Jimmy and his friends anywhere in their lives other than on the pages of a book so I wouldn’t say he is in any sense attractive.
4) Costello could stand shoulder to shoulder with Highsmith’s Ripley. Did you intend to make Costello some kind of anti-hero?
There’s nothing of the hero about Jimmy, anti or otherwise. There is always something self-sacrificing about heroes. Jimmy looks after Jimmy, get in his way and may God have mercy on your soul. But there is one heroic thing about him, he takes the blame, all of it. He doesn’t make excuses for himself. He could blame his narrow Catholic upbringing, the people he grew up with, the world he lived in, but he doesn’t, he blames himself. And he’s right, they were his choices to make and he made them. Now he has to live with the consequences.
5) Catholicism and the Irish contingent that came over to London is the basis for Costello’s life. Bad Catholics shows the light and dark side of religion. Was this intentional and have you personal experience of the Catholic faith?
Totally intentional, I grew up among Irish Catholics in the 50s though not in London. I was born a Catholic and have been one all my life. The picture of Jimmy’s early life is pretty much drawn from personal experience, I don’t think I could have written Bad Catholics if I hadn’t been writing from the ‘inside’. I can’t speak for other religions but in my opinion being a Catholic is something no-one should consider unless they cannot possibly avoid it. The Catholic Church should be like a packet of fags and have a big sign on it: Being a Catholic can seriously damage your health! But there are times, not often, thank God, when only the Catholic Church can help. When that happens it’s all you’ve got.
6) In Bad Catholics there is a lot of information about the underworld and how it operates. Did you have to research this part of the book extensively? How did you find out about the finer points of this lifestyle?
At one time or another I’ve met the Georges, the Denny’s, the Harry’s and even the Bridie MacDonalds, but thank God they weren’t as violent in real life as the ones in the book, not usually anyway. But like I said earlier they’re not gangsters to me, they’re people who live in a certain way and that way happens to be violent crime. I suppose for years I was unconsciously doing the research, meeting the people who would people Jimmy’s world. It was because I knew about his world, had lived on the edge of it and been able to look in, that I could write Bad Catholics in a way that makes it live, makes it for a time a real world with real people.
7) You give many of the characters clearly defined backgrounds. Sister Philomena’s past is mentioned in great detail. Did you want to drive the story via its characters rather than by plot?
I don’t think so, I’m very plot driven but I think the reader deserves to know why the main characters are as they are. Why did Philomena, who’s so down to earth, become a religious Sister? How did she get to be so tough? I want to explain that to the reader so the Philomena character works better, contributes more to the plot. Hopefully it doesn’t get in the way of the action. It’s the same with George, you feel you know him, could sit in a pub and talk to him, maybe about jazz or maybe about the next job he’s going to pull. He’s a nice bloke. Even Nat has a background, comes from somewhere, he’s not just a big, black hoodlum.
8) Can you tell us if the next instalment of Costello’s exploits will be available soon? Are we going to learn more about his past and his family?
Barring Armageddon (which might not such a long shot at the moment!!) Stealing God should be out early in 2009 and in it Jimmy’s moved and is moving up in the world. This time out he’s up against a class act, seriously professional, and Professor Pauline MacBride of Duns College comes into his life. Now there’s a tough nut if ever there was one. Watch out, Jimmy, it isn’t Kilburn any more.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The best writer of plots in English literature was P.G. Wodehouse. The trouble is, being a writer of froth, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the quality of his phenomenally complex plot-lines. The earliest plot twist that really grabbed me was when I was about twelve and read Agatha Christie’s, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I don’t think she ever bettered that ending. In my plots I always try to give the reader all the clues but still try to make the ending a surprise. I’m particularly pleased in that respect with Stealing God. It’s all there for the reader, Jimmy sees it, he works it out. Can you?
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
The Maltese Falcon, closely followed by The Big Sleep. I can’t count The Third Man because it was a film before it was a book. I tried to read the Maltese Falcon after I’d seen it a couple of times but had to give up. The dialogue and story had been lifted almost word for word. Maybe that’s why it was such a good adaptation.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
No, I’m not a crime fiction fan but I love good crime movies. I think Raymond Chandler is a towering figure in crime writing as is Elmore Leonard although I know them both from their cinema adaptations rather than their books. Pat says reading my books is like having a film running in your head. You don’t so much read it as watch it. That’s how I write, I suppose, I create their world and my characters get on with it. I watch and write down what happens.
12) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
I don’t know if I can count Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. It not a crime novel but is full of crime and criminals and is truly hilarious. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene is up there with the best for me, grim, real and violent. Alas P.G. Wodehouse’s excursion into crime, Do Butlers Burgle Banks? wasn’t one of his very best. I suppose my real favourite is always the one I’m working on. At the moment it’s book five, Last Rights. It’s exciting, a page turner, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next or how it will end. Great stuff.