Fresh Blood

Name: Ewart Hutton

Title of Book: Good People

'‘Good People’ is a terrific novel that blows a fresh breath in to crime fiction and across the Welsh countryside...'

Glyn Capaldi is from Welsh/Italian parentage. He can be hot headed and act on his instincts without considering the consequences – whether that comes from his Welsh or Italian breeding is academic. But sometimes Capaldi’s hunches tend to work out right. As with the case of six Welsh men stealing a minibus as a laugh and being ‘found’ next morning in the woods, explaining that they had slept off the alcohol in a wooden shack deep in the forest. But only five men turn up – so where is the sixth? The missing man is Boon, a black soldier in the armed forces. His friends’ explanation is he has gone AWOL – shipped off to Amsterdam to start a new life. But to Capaldi things just simply don’t add up.

Checking the CCTV of the service station where the group left the owner standing on the forecourt, Capaldi sees a young girl who looks Eastern European climb onboard the minibus. So where did the girl disappear to? As the tight knit community close ranks and link arms in a wall of silence and subterfuge, Capaldi decides he needs to go outside of the law to find out exactly what happened on that drunken night deep in the woods. When another death is discovered it blows the whole charade out of the water – but not even Capaldi could begin to imagine the depth of depravity that some will go to cover their past deeds.

Ewart Hutton is a playwright and has now made his first foray in to crime fiction. You can see from the cadence of his writing that he is used to setting place very quickly and extremely comfortable with dialogue. Within page one I was in to the rhythm of the writing and liked Capaldi immediately upon introduction.

What spurs Capaldi on to uncover this deception is due to an old case when another girl went missing. This is touched upon by Hutton but does not encroach on the main investigation. Hutton is very adept at characterisation and his portraits of Capaldi’s superior, Galbraith smoking heavily under a non-smoking sign in a church hall shows the man can handle an acerbic sense of humour, too. The same goes for Sergeant Emrys Hughes, Capaldi’s ‘Nemesis’ who is also embedded in the small village mentality enough to shout from the rooftops about the good character of the men involved. While the premise has been done before, the plot never faltered or lulled. Capaldi was refreshing and I hope that his Italian heritage will be explored in greater detail in future novels.

‘Good People’ is a terrific novel that blows a fresh breath in to crime fiction and across the Welsh countryside and I would say will rapidly garner a large number of fans. This is a book begging to transfer to the small screen (as a playwright I am sure Hutton could do his own script!). If you really want me to write about similarities, I would say that ‘Good People’ is as if Ian Rankin had been transported to Wales. This is an extremely exhilarating read with a very dark centre.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What first made you want to move from plays and write a crime novel?
Let’s take this back more than a few years to me at the age of fourteen trying to write my first novel in a school jotter. So, writing novels was always my first love and intention, but the reality of making a living and providing for a family kept getting in the way of the long-term commitment required, with no guarantee of success or reward. Add to that the tough market conditions in publishing, and the necessity of having an agent, who, when approached, were never looking for new, untested writers.

Further down the line, when I had moved to the country, I became self employed and was working from home and started listening to the radio, and discovered that there was a market here for a writer, and shape shifted into a playwright. BBC Radio 4 bought my first attempt. I was writing, it wasn’t a living, but people were prepared to pay me for it. But it was more than the money, it was the recognition that I could put words together that people wanted to hear.

Now we come back to the question. I was enjoying writing plays, but somehow they weren’t quite meaty enough. I had always felt that one day I would get back to writing novels. So the day came when I told myself to stop prevaricating and just do it, make that commitment, and start the long process of writing a novel. And why a crime novel? Because some of the plays I wrote had a crime theme and those were the most fun to do. Also, I was in it for the long run, and I wanted to keep myself entertained in the process. And believe me there is nothing quite so entertaining, also frustrating, but ultimately satisfying, as tracking back through a plot strand to see how to go about unravelling and resolving a current dilemma.
2) Glyn Capaldi is half-Welsh and half-Italian. Why did you choose these two nationalities for your new main character?
Glyn Capaldi was always going to be Welsh because of the setting in Mid Wales. But I wanted more of a compounded character, a bit more complexity. I am a Scottish writer, and coming from Glasgow, have always been aware of a Scottish-Italian sub culture. When I moved south I discovered that this also applied to Wales, especially around Cardiff. It probably has a lot to do with the historical cosmopolitanism of great port cities, but it’s mainly because Scotland and Wales were where many prisoners of war were located, a lot of whom stayed on after the war. Glyn Capaldi, as a Welsh-Italian urbanite exiled to the boondocks, is able to provide a multi-faceted perspective.
3) You are a well-known playwright and have won a number of awards. Was it a natural progression to move in to writing a novel? Was it an easy or difficult process?
I’ve mentioned the progression from writing plays to novels. Was it easy? Once I had adjusted to the fact that this was going to take time, I suppose the answer is yes. If you enjoy writing the actual process is easy. What is difficult is standing back from it and trying to take an objective overview, asking that question, okay this is working for me, but is it going to work out there in the wider world? The most difficult and frustrating part of the process is the whole marketing business.
4) We start with Capaldi in the wilds of Wales, shipped in as a last resort after a meltdown in Cardiff. The reasons were touched upon in ‘Good People’ but will you be venturing in greater detail about Capaldi’s demise?
Glyn Capaldi has fallen from his superiors’ grace and has been shipped, as you say, to the wilds of Wales. Some of the reasons for this are touched on in ‘GOOD PEOPLE’, and I would expect that details of his back story will unravel slowly and organically in future novels.
5) ‘Good People’ is about community and the closed ranks of a small populace. Have you had personal experience of this behaviour?
I lived with my wife and family for eleven years in our own private valley in Mid Wales at the head of river which we took our water directly from. We raised hens and a small flock of sheep and were helped and tolerated by our hard working hill farming neighbours, to whom I think we provided a degree of amusement. Apart from the local farming community there were a number of incomers like us, cabinet makers, potters, and one neighbour who milked imported continental sheep and made yoghurt, (an enterprise and a product that the locals continued to regard with a degree of bemused astonishment). Both before and after this time I have lived in villages and am aware of the politics and pecking orders within small communities. It provides a rich and ripe tapestry for a writer.
6) Your book involves some topics that are quite unsavoury. How did you feel about putting them in to your storyline without sensationalising it?
Crime is an unsavoury business, but it is fascinating to read about it. And you’re right, some of the characters in ‘GOOD PEOPLE’ get up to some pretty unpleasant things. The trick is to make these a part of the flow of the plot, or something that a particular character could do without surprising us too much. But we do need surprises. We need the negative elements or there would be nothing for the crusader to battle against, (even though, as in real life, it’s often in vain). But it has to be plausible, it has to fit in seamlessly, and not be in capital letters and yellow highlighter announcing, here’s a good bit coming folks, otherwise the book just lurches from sensational peak to sensational peak with no substance in the troughs.
7) When reading ‘Good People’ I felt it was more character driven than plot driven. Do you believe this is due to your alter ego as a playwright or did the book simply work out that way?
It’s a good question. Have I given more emphasis to the characters? Playwriting certainly helped me to develop dialogue, whereas novel writing has given me a larger canvas to work on creating believable characters, but a good plot is essential to both aspects of the craft. To put it at its simplest, the plot is the route map that the characters follow on their journey. That route is important, with its twists, turns and diversions, but, if we have no interest in the characters that are taking it, then the journey can become pretty tedious.
8) Why is it you think, that a damaged copper makes for far more interesting reading than one who has the sane family life without all the insecurities?
Because that copper with the sane family life is going to go home at night, kiss the wife, play with kids, eat his supper and sit down in front of the television. Security builds nests, insecurity instigates drama. The copper who switches off at night isn’t going to be worrying about the nagging details that are going to take the damaged copper onto the next level of navel gazing, which will throw up the next inconsistency, just as he thought he had it all down pat.
9) If you had a gun to your head – who would be your ideal actor to play Capaldi?
Because Glyn Capaldi is not a big, gruff, acerbic cop, but has a wit and humanity about him, I think, if he could handle the accent, his namesake Peter Capaldi, could make it work.
10) What is your ultimate favourite crime novel of all time?
Sharp intake of breath… Because this is always a difficult one to answer, whatever the category, as it depends so much on mood, mind set and current influences at the time the question is asked. So, with that qualifier, at this moment in time, I would say ‘THE BLACK DAHLIA’ by James Ellroy.