Fresh Blood

Name: Adam Creed

Title of Book: Suffer the Children

'Is there ever a right time to do the wrong thing? Or indeed, a wrong time to do the right thing?'

D.I. Will Wagstaffe or “Staffe”, as he is known to his friends, is long overdue some time off, except this next case is compelling him to ignore his holiday plans. A paedophile has been attacked and horribly disfigured in his own home. The prime suspect is the mother of the children the paedophile abused and the team of investigators are torn as to how to approach this case. Despite the severity of the crime, there is a feeling that the man got everything he deserved.

Another paedophile is attacked and Staffe seems to be the only one who thinks that a vigilante is on the offensive and that anyone with a record of child abuse is a possible victim. His investigations bring him into conflict with his superiors and the media. Everyone wants answers, but the answers that Staffe is coming up with please no one. He seeks guidance from his old mentor; a retired cop called Jessop and his inquiries take him in direction he hadn't foreseen, with an outcome that shakes him to the core...

The writers among you will be familiar with the maxim that states a writer should give his reader what he/ she wants, but in a way he/she least expects and in creating a character like D.I. Staffe, Adam Creed has followed this excellent advice. Staffe is a conflicted individual much in the tradition of modern literary detectives, but his issues are particular to him. I won't divulge any more, read the book and see for yourself. Suffice to say, booze is not one of this detective's issues.

Where Creed has also excelled is in his treatment of a subject that has been written to death in modern literature. We have all read books where we question the very act of paedophilia and the people who practise it, but in Suffer the Children Creed uses this as the engine to probe our notions of morality and punishment. Is there ever a right time to do the wrong thing? Or indeed, a wrong time to do the right thing?

Creed's hypothesis is one we are all familiar with - that life is coloured in a rainbow of gray and this theme is at the core of every issue in this excellent first novel. Staff himself appears to be a decent human being but even he has moments of moral ambiguity. From this stand point the author continues to examine right and wrong as the story progresses. And just as you think you have decided which side of the fence to lean against, Creed releases another detail and the questions start up all over again in your mind.

The best writing holds a mirror to society and displays it in ways that make us question our place in it and in no better way is that being examined than by writers in this very genre. I urge you to pick up this particular “mirror” for an enthralling and intelligent read. Just don't expect the view to be too comfortable.

Reviewed by: M.M.

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?
Mainstream Crime, principally from the police point of view. I have a fondness for American crime writing and hope the direct narrative and spare prose of authors like Pelecanos, Lehane and Lansdale might occasionally shine through in my writing.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I have no preference for series or standalone, but I do have a dislike for novels within series which reiterate exposition of characters. Writers should have faith in the reader’s ability to ‘get there’, and to this extent, less is so much more.
3) The main theme of your novel is doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, what was your reason for this?
I am fascinated by what people say a book is ‘about’. From Staffe’s perspective, I would say the theme of the book has to be doing the right thing for whatever reason. Everything in his life is pushed aside to allow him to do the right thing. However, ‘yes’, you are quite right that, in terms of the perpetrator (and I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t read the book) their motives are impeccable as they conduct morally reprehensible acts. This moral torment attracts me and provides a subliminal layer of conflict for the reader to cope with, beneath and beyond the plot.
4) If you were a policeman would you resemble D.I. Staffe in any way?
I would hope to resemble him in EVERY way, but I would fail miserably. That’s why I take so much pleasure in being him for four hours of every day. He puts the interests of the underdog before his own; and he has a full head of hair!
5) As a Lecturer in Creative Writing does all of that “knowledge” ever get in the way when you are writing? What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?
In the first draft, there is a temptation to be too self conscious and deliberate, searching for technique rather than uncovering the good heart which every book should have. If I can write a first draft all the way to the end without tinkering too much, what I have is a body of writing, a little like the outline shape of stone which a sculptor might work. From this point on, all the ‘knowledge’ as to the craft of writing and the qualities of a strong narrative actually helps, as does the ability to appraise your own work objectively.

A sitcom-writer friend once told me that above his screen he had a note saying ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’. Like all advice, it should come with a health warning, but I find so much worth in the lack of preciousness which that motto implies.
6) There is every chance that there will be a number of “pre-published” writers reading this, can you describe your path to publication?
The path is fifteen years long and although I have dreamt of being a published writer for far longer than that, in 1994, I abandoned a career in the City to move back towards my roots and remove all obstacles to achieving my goal. I gave myself five years and didn’t have to work, however, I decided to do an MA in writing at Sheffield Hallam. This was the best thing I ever did. It gave me an audience for my work and gave me no room for self-delusion, no corners in which to hide and reaffirm my undiscovered genius to myself.

Whilst at Sheffield Hallam, I was taken on by Patrick Walsh of the Christopher Little Agency, who discovered an unknown Scottish writer by the name of Rowling. My literary psychological thriller was published by Transworld, as were my next two novels (all under a different name), however, due to a combination of corporate politics, movement of personnel, and a tightening of the market for non-genre literary writing, from 2000 onwards, I entered publishing’s equivalent of the Gobi desert. I wrote three novels which haven’t seen the light of day, but I never stopped writing and I learned that, nice as it is to have recognition and even a little bit of money for one’s labours, it is the process of writing, the hours when it is just you and the pen, that defines a writer. I wrote before I was ever published and have never stopped. It is what makes me feels complete.

As for stumbling upon Staffe and finding Faber, this was a question of always refining my idea of what the reading public wanted, in terms of a protagonist and a milieu and a writing style. It took me two and a half years to write Suffer The Children and finally settle upon the intricacies of what makes Staffe tick. Throughout, I was very lucky to have the direction and support from Patrick, my agent, and also in Patrick finding Walter Donohue, the most wonderful editor at Faber. But if I had ever stopped writing, that luck would still be in a dusty cupboard somewhere – waiting for somebody else.
7) Do you carefully work out your plot or do you ‘go with the flow’?
I always work out a plot before I start, but invariably end up going with the flow. Unless you know everything there is to know about all your characters before starting a novel, it is impossible to follow a plan without wavering. As characters evolve, so do the things they are capable, or incapable of doing. This is plot.

I also believe that you don’t know how a story should start until you have finished it. Everything must change, but writing relies heavily on confidence and I couldn’t begin to write a 90,000 word novel if I didn’t have a clear idea of where I was going with it. You might plan to go round the world a certain way, but if someone along the way tells you about that Alex Garland place, you’re going to go there – aren’t you?
8) Do you see any trends in Crime and Thriller novels for 2009 and beyond?
I think a writer has to believe that trends are the sum total of hundreds of great books being discovered and revised by dozens of different agents and editors. As writers, we respond to the world around us and relate to our readers. The world is unknown and mysterious and waiting to unfold before us. I really hope publishers can’t prescribe a direction that crime writing ‘should’ go in.

Whilst I was in my wilderness years, I bumped into a pal from university who was a successful editor. He looked preoccupied and when I asked how his work was going he said, “It’s hopeless. I’ve got to find an asteroid novel and I can’t – for love nor money”. It made me feel quite ill
It would be nice to see a trend towards writers being published and airhead celebrities posing in their smalls and chefs cooking behind closed doors. But no-one would believe it.
9) Who would be your dream cast of movie actors for an adaptation of your story?
I daren’t even think about this, but it is something that people are always asking. One of the things I love about books is that each reader has their own way of seeing the world you create and all the characters within it – a little like the radio, only moreso. For this reason, I think it is important that when a series develops, it is the reader and not a tv or film producer who defines the main characters. Having said that, although he looks nothing like how I imagine my protagonist, I think David Morrissey would be able to portray the depth and intricacies of Staffe.
10) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The Goodbye Look, by Ross Macdonald, though I have to say, I think plot twists can be contrived, or ‘unearned’ in many books.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
The Talented Mr Ripley. I prefer Ripley Under Ground as a novel but Anthony Minghella’s film is beautiful to watch and excruciatingly tense. Great performances all over the place from a cast who were, in the main and in racing parlance, all on the upgrade at the time of filming. I watch it at least once a year.
12) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I am most definitely a crime fiction fan and I admire different writers for different things. I love the style of James Ellroy and the sense of time and place which George Pelecanos engenders. Michael Dibdin had a wonderful way of meandering through his plots and Fred Vargas has an irreverend kind of dismissal of the conventions of plot, relying on outlandish characters and the exoticism of her milieu. Joe R Lansdale has an amazing energy and humour to his writing and I really like Travis McGee and Lew Archer as protagonists. Of the British writers operating now, I do have a fondness for John Harvey. There is a calm assurance in the way Resnick goes about his business.
13) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
As a child I loved Dorothy L Sayers but I grew to like hardboiled fiction. The trouble with choosing genre fiction is that there are so many books which run each other close. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo is a sublime piece of economical storytelling with complex characters and a relentless sense of mystery, but I would ask you to accept Brighton Rock as a crime novel. Will you? What is your favourite read crime of all time?