Fresh Blood

Name: Michael J. Malone

Title of Book: Blood Tears

'...a bold and dazzling debut...''

DI Ray McBain investigates a killing that is anything but straightforward. This was no run-of-the-mill stabbing or shooting – the victim displays wounds that can only be associated with the Stigmata. Do they have a religious maniac on their doorstep re-enacting the Crucifixion? But it doesn’t end there for McBain. The man is identified as a paedophile and he once worked at Bethlehem House – the foster home run by nuns where McBain himself stayed as a child. And it was there that he had his worse experiences of pain and humiliation.

McBain should have told his colleagues of his association and stepped down from the case – but he feels this case is personal and he wants to know if his past is catching up with him. It already has for the man who stalked the children of Bethlehem House for his sexual needs. And then the proverbial hits the fan. McBain is arrested on suspicion of murder and with the help of his colleagues, Rossi and Drain he goes on the run to clear his name, but soon more bodies turn up and McBain couldn’t even begin to imagine that the truth lay so close to his own past. And that doesn’t even begin to explain his horrendous nightmares – the dying man and the white feathers…

‘Blood Tears’ is the debut crime novel from poet and Crimesquad reviewer, Michael Malone. You can tell from reading this book that it is shot through with some beautiful, lyrical prose, like rose petals embedded in a cushion of blood tainted thorns. But as with most poetry, amongst the dark there is light and as with most crime fiction, there is a sprinkling of humour to lift it from the shadows even if for a mere moment. And it is the true hand of a craftsman that can make a reader smirk at something witty when darkness is encroaching.

Malone has peppered his novel with memorable characters, leading the reader to feel more for them, making them more human with failings. I loved the double act of Kenny and Calum, the spiv and his heavy and I hope that we will see them again in the near future. Rossi and Drain are great foils for McBain, sticking out their necks while he clears his name. And as for McBain – this detective does have baggage, but that is explained as the novel progresses, and despite a short diversion in ‘Alcohol Alley’ we have a cop that isn’t a drunk which is, unlike the liquor, quite refreshing.

Bethlehem House looms large in the crux of the plot like a heavy, malevolent presence with the sinister nuns dishing out their sick punishment to their charges. ‘Blood Tears’ is not for the faint-hearted but is an addictive thriller that has more twists, turns and blind alleys than a labyrinth. Malone is a strong newcomer to the Scottish crime scene and his fellow, McBain is a grand edition to the crime fiction genre. ‘Blood Tears’ is a bold and dazzling debut.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What made you want to write a crime novel?
I had no plan to write a crime novel. It just kinda came out that way. In fact I didn’t think I had the chops to write one and although I had read loads of them over the years I avoided the genre for my first two novels (which are contemporary fiction, lost in a computer file somewhere).

Then I had a dream. Really. And in this dream I had written a novel and as I reacted to the alarm clock and moved into my day the dream faded except for one scene. This involved a man sitting in front of a mirror, wearing nothing but a white, featureless mask and holding a scalpel. This scene became the opening to ‘Blood Tears’ –and I’m not going to say any more, you’ll just have to read it. I wrote the scene down – cos I had to. What a gift! But it took me months to work out what to do with it. A short story didn’t work. Neither did a poem. Then it occurred to me that this could be a murderer and this could be his ceremony after he kills someone.

Then without thought or a plan, I started writing from the point of view of a cop who was going to be chasing after this killer. And the foul-mouthed, abrasive, but cuddly Ray McBain was born.
2) There is a lot of religious references to the murders in ‘Blood Tears’. What inspired you to include this in your book?
This sounds disingenuous even to me, but I had no plan to write such a book. It all came about purely from instinct. It was only when I came out of the fog of writing the thing that I realised what I had done.

When I look back at the time I was writing it, I can recognise a couple of things going on in the bigger world that might have influenced my sub-conscious. The first was an article in a Sunday newspaper that noted there wasn’t much writing about the Catholic experience coming out of Scotland. The second was a court case involving an elderly nun. She was being accused of abuse and she was quoted by a reporter as saying “I have never harmed a child in my life.” I knew for a fact that was a lie.
3) The nuns of Bethlehem House get some scathing criticism in the book and do not come out well. Did some of your personal experience with nuns bleed in to your debut novel?
Yeah. I think there was a deal of catharsis going on in the writing of this book. I spent some of my formative years in an orphanage run by nuns. I am happy to say that I was one of the lucky ones as I got to go home on weekends and holidays. And neither did I suffer the abuse I describe in the novel.

However, it was a loveless place and the discipline was Victorian. Wet the bed and your reward was a cold bath. Get out of line and you got a punch. Not a slap. A punch. The nun I mention above was in this home during my stay there and fortunately she didn’t look after me. But the children under her care were absolutely terrified of her. Not wary. Terrified.
4) I felt there was more of a back story to DC Alessandra Rossi. Will we be hearing more of her in future books?
I like Alessandra. She will feature in books to come. Not sure how or why yet, but there is mileage in her. The second book in the series is written and she features strongly in that, but we are still on McBain’s journey – and he needs another book to find a conclusion. Thereafter, she may come to the fore.
5) McBain’s chapters are in the first person and others in the third. Was this easy/hard to do and why did you deal with McBain in the first person?
Again, it was all done by instinct. I knew that some of McBain’s development was going to be internal and I instinctively moved to the 1st person for him so that his “journey” was more immediate for the reader. And no it wasn’t hard to do. It just felt right.
6) ‘Blood Tears’ is populated with some great characters like Daryl Drain, Kenny and Calum. Will we be seeing more of them and do they have any bearing on people you have met?
I think the sub-conscious acts as a filter. We come across all these fascinating people in our lives and then the act of writing leads you to tap into all the details you didn’t realize that you had salted away. That is a complicated way of saying, yes, they do have a bearing on people I have met, but not any one specific person, nor with any degree of deliberation.

Will we be seeing any more of the other characters? While I was waiting for book one and book two to find a publisher, I knew I had to keep on writing. If only to numb the gnawing feeling that I would never be published. At that point Ray’s story was receiving “rave rejections” from publishers. Many of them were saying that they loved the books and then followed that up with a giant ‘BUT’. I didn’t want to write a third book in Ray’s series and have that receive the same response, so I wrote a different novel but from Kenny’s perspective this time.
7) How much research was needed to give your police procedural authenticity?
I think if you read enough of the genre – watch TV programmes etc, it gives you a decent understanding. And some of my best friends are in the police, so I got to hang out with a few of these guys over the years and without realising I was doing it, my sub-conscious salted away a few interesting snippets. This also means that when I have gaps in my knowledge I have people on the end of the phone.

There was one guy I literally bumped into in the queue for a bus. He was a Chief Superintendant working for Complaints and Discipline, just at the point I was writing a section of the book where McBain came a cropper with the Complaints and Discipline people. I was skiving off work early and wouldn’t normally have used that bus. He said that he never, ever got the bus, but he had to that day because his car-share colleague had to go to a case in Stirling. Then the bus broke down on the A77 and I had his undivided attention for three hours. Poor guy. Synchronicity definitely had a hand in the writing of that part of the book.
8) Your road to being published has been a long and arduous one. What advice would you give to a new writer setting out to get his/her book published?
Oh yes. Looooong and arduous. The world of publishing is full of similar stories and the key for me was to continue working on my craft, not to take the rejections personally and to persist in my goal. Disraeli talked about a “constancy of purpose”. Never lose sight of your ambition. There are loads of talented people out there, but it’s the ones with the commitment and determination that will see it through. Stephen King knuckled it down to “read a lot, write a lot”. That really sums it up.
9) If you had a gun to your head (only figuratively speaking) who would you have as your main characters on the silver screen?
Tom Cruise. Let’s face it, he’s a major box-office draw; his movies are usually well-produced and if he was in a film of my book, it would sell by the truck-load. As for the rest of the characters I’d go for Will Smith, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt for the same reasons. That’s some power-casting, eh?
10) What would you say would be the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I have to narrow it down to three? You’re a cruel man. James Lee Burke would be in there, but not sure which one of his I would chose. The man’s a genius. RJ Ellory’s A Quiet Belief in Angels simply blew me away. I can’t remember ever being so engaged in a character’s story. The Green Mile by Stephen King. Is it strictly a crime novel? Perhaps not, but there is some brutal crime in that book and it deals with the effects of crime as only Mr King can and he is a storyteller of exceptional skill. And it moved me to tears. So I’m picking it.

Oh and I’ve just thought of another half dozen. You are cruel.