Fresh Blood

Name: James Craig

Title of Book: London Calling

'...James has certainly grasped the mechanics of how to keep the plot rolling.'

The UK is immersed in election fever. Edgar Carlton is poised to be the next Prime Minister bringing hope to the British people to lead them out of the recession. Alongside him is his twin brother, Xavier both of whom have captivated the nation. But someone isn’t as enamoured with them as most people. Someone is killing members of the Merrion Club, an exclusive club that both brothers were members of at university. And the victims are being dispatched in a very violent manner.

Inspector John Carlyle, having gone back to the police station after travelling all the way home only to realise he has forgotten his front door keys becomes embroiled, by chance, in the investigation. Being known as someone who doesn’t necessarily get on with the top brass of the force, Carlyle with his trusty sidekick, Joe Szyszkowski forges ahead to find the truth regardless of what political toes he treads on. But Carlyle always comes to a dead end due to the silence of people with influence. Is he strong enough to smash through this wall before the killer reaches his ultimate target?

‘London Calling’ is one of those books that you pick up and don’t put down until you have finished it. True, the writing is not high literature, but what is packed in ‘London Calling’ is a great story told at breakneck speed. The subject matter of the investigation could be deemed unpleasant by some and the way some of the victims are murdered would turn the stomach of a lesser reader of crime fiction, but James has certainly grasped the mechanics of how to keep the plot rolling.

Interspersed with reminiscences from his past that are excellently portrayed, James gives a lot more depth to his main character and John Carlyle becomes more rounded and believable for it. It shows us how he has become the police officer he is today – an enforcer of the law although his methods may not always be politically correct.

On the strength of ‘London Calling’ I envisage a strong series starring Carlyle and I certainly look forward to following the man on his next case and beyond!

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’m not trying to be too clever here; this is contemporary crime fiction.
Inspector John Carlyle is an Inspector working out of the police station at Charing Cross who has to try and solve a series of murders against the backdrop of a General Election.
He’s a new character from a new crime writer so it aims to do what it says on the tin, if you pick it up and read it on the basis of the blurb at the back the hope is that you won’t feel short-changed. (By the way, that’s how I got into Henning Mankell’s Wallander years ago – I picked up a copy of Faceless Killers and thought “how can you go wrong?”)
Even better, they will like it enough to check out the next one (Carlyle #2, “Never Apologise, Never Explain”, is out in February 2012).
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
There are some great stand-alone novels, such as Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog. But you are always taking a punt on a stand-alone. Once you get into a character, you can’t beat a good series. It’s the gift that keeps giving.
I sat down recently and re-read Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, in order which was a great pleasure. And I was delighted when Phillip Kerr re-started his Bernie Gunther series. And Lawrence Block has just published a new Matthew Scudder novel after a long, long time – bring it on!
If I had to pick one market though, it would be Italy. Scandinavian crime fiction is flavour of the month but, for me, where better to set a story than cynical, knowing Italy? In fact, the original idea for the core plotline in London Calling came from Michele Giuttari’s A Florentine Death. I am a huge, huge fan of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian detective Salvo Montalbano but, for Carlyle, the closest comparison would be with Donna Leon’s Venetian detective Guido Brunetti.
Both Brunetti and Carlyle are professional, generally detached and occasionally jaded. Above all, both are grounded by their family life, which takes them away from the all too familiar ‘loner with a bottle’ stereotype. Donna Leon once said in an interview: “They’re books. It’s make-believe. All I want to do is entertain. I love the funny bits.” That sounds like a plan to me.
3) John Carlyle is a maverick cop based in London who does not necessarily play the ‘game’ within the police force. Is he based on anyone you have met in the Metropolitan police?
No. I am unencumbered by any specialist or insider knowledge. I am not punting this as a procedural from an insider. It’s fiction baby.
4) The story has flashbacks to the 80’s taking in the miner’s strike and the Broadwater Farm riots. Why did you embed the roots of the plot within that particular time of unrest?
For me, the early eighties were a formative time. I was in my late teens / early twenties and it was the time in my life when I was most politically active. By British standards, it was a very aggressive, confrontational and hostile time. The Establishment was showing is true face and it was naked class war. I think that for my contemporaries (such as J. Carlyle) Thatcher and Thatcherism will always have an impact on their world view.
5) ‘London Calling’ is populated with some very unsavoury characters. Did you enjoy dispatching some of them in a variety of bizarre ways?
Oh yes! Killing people off (if only on paper) is very therapeutic when you’re having a bad day. At the same time, one of the things the publisher did was get me to kill more of the bad guys; they didn’t like the idea that so many of them were getting away with it.
6) Some of the methods of murder echo some of the darkest writing of Val McDermid. Was this deliberate and are you a fan?
To be honest, I haven’t read any. Which is my fault; too many books, too little time. You have to prioritise. I don’t read many British authors and the ones that I do (Phillip Kerr, David Peace) are ones that have foreign-based series on the go.
7) Although we are given some of Carlyle’s past, are we going to learn more about where he comes from in future books?
Absolutely. His Scottish/ Calvinist background is very important and you will find out more about that and also get to meet his troublesome parents.
It is also very important for me (drawing on the Brunetti example) for his wife Helen and daughter Alice to be important characters with significant roles. One of the things about Carlyle is his work-life balance. His family comes first which, I think, is as it should be.
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. You can never go wrong with Denzel Washington. So many great lines …
“A man can be an artist... in anything … It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece.”
It’s a great, great book.
BTW, appallingly, I have been struggling to get hold of AJ Quinnell’s other Creasy books. If anyone knows how to get hold of them, please let me know
9) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Man on Fire. When we find out who ordered the kidnapping. Deserved death swiftly follows.
10) What is your ultimate favourite read crime of all time?
Oh man. So many great books. Sooooo many. It would be a crime to name one.