Fresh Blood

Name: Alastair Gunn

Title of Book: The Advent Killer

'This is a strong, spell-binding crime novel that shows much promise of dark treasures to come from this author.'

There are only a few weeks to Christmas and not everyone is full of festive cheer. One person is definitely not handing out good will to all man. In fact, for the past two Sundays at 1am this killer has handed down his own idea of judgment. The first was subtle as thought to be a suicide. The second had every bone in her body broken. At a time when people should be looking forward to the festive season, many are now too frightened to leave their homes. And the frustrating thing is that nothing ties the victims to one common denominator.

In to the mix arrives Mike an old flame who Antonia had an affair with six months previously. Not only does she have to deal with her superior adding pressure on her to get the case solved, she now has to deal with the feelings she has for the newest member of her team. It isn’t until the third victim, a woman who was very much in the media limelight, that the case explodes and Antonia feels the urgency of the whole nation to bring this random and vicious killer to justice. And then matters take a very personal turn for the worse…

I have been looking forward to reading ‘The Advent Killer’ since first meeting the author back in April. The premise sounded so exciting and there is always something about a set of murders set at Christmastime. Even Christie was not averse to killing off someone at the festive season! Here, Gunn releases a killer who is not satisfied with one victim, but needs several to fulfil his objective. And the results are horrifying and electrifying.

Gunn perfectly sets the scene and the Prologue weaves in nicely with the ending. Antonia Hawkins is described perfectly and the author is not afraid to make his character feel vulnerable when she needs to be strong when leading her team in to the dark recesses of a killer’s mind. Gunn’s is wonderful at characterisation and sketches Hawkins’ team wonderfully. By the end of the novel I felt I had known several for ages, which is always a good sign. I hope that different characters will be allowed in subsequent novels to come to the fore so we can learn more about them. My particular favourites were Amala Yasir and Frank Todd.

‘The Advent Killer’ isn’t a supersonic thriller that substitutes character for plot. Both are evident in equal measure. This is an investigation and Gunn shows that meticulous scrutiny to detail is needed in such a case and that paperwork overflows in a police department. He shows that the vital clue could well lay in the small details of a witness statement. Gunn gives his reader a breather now and again so we can catch our breath, but this allowed him to expand on Antonia and make her more three-dimensional, a woman with a past who questions her own authority and lacks confidence. I was also intrigued by the office politics which were subtly done.

This is a strong, spell-binding crime novel that shows much promise of dark treasures to come from this author. I would highly recommend ‘The Advent Killer’, not only because it is a thumping good read, but because Antonia Hawkins herself shines through as someone you can relate to. The perfect stocking filler for those who like a dash of darkness with their Christmas!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) You have turned your hand at writing a crime novel. Did you always want to write crime or did you gravitate to it after experimenting with different genres?
I’ve always loved telling stories. I used to make my own comics after school, and I was a journalist for a while, too, but ‘The Advent Killer’ is the first novel I’ve written. Unfortunately that means there are no dusty, undiscovered masterpieces hiding out in the loft. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime, but oddly, I didn’t start out wanting to write about it. I had a concept for a particular way to tell a story, which required the two main characters to be kept apart. It turned out the best way to do that was to make one a wanted criminal and the other a police detective.
2) It was a long journey from writing the book to getting it published years down the line. Could you tell us a bit of the journey of ‘The Advent Killer’ from inception to print?
I had the idea in 2004, but it wasn’t until I got drunk at a friend’s wedding in November 2005 that I made myself a promise to actually write it. I don’t remember much else about that night, but I always finish what I start. So I bought a few books on how to write a novel, and spent the next four years creating the first draft, which I submitted to various literary agents. I got a lot of NOs, but also a few very helpful pieces of constructive criticism. I took all the advice and started revising the book. I’d make changes, then re-submit, and wait for the next round of feedback. That process took almost three years, but at last I was taken on by Caroline Hardman (my agent) at Hardman & Swainson. She did a fantastic job of getting Penguin on board, and I signed a two book deal with them in March 2013. There were still some improvements to make before ‘The Advent Killer’ was finally finished, but the book went on sale eight months later.
3) Your main protagonist is DCI Antonia Hawkins. Why did you choose a female lead and was it easy or difficult as a man to write convincingly about this woman DCI?
I actually didn’t think, when I started, about whether it would be more difficult to write a female lead than a male one, but the victims in the book are all women, so I thought a female perspective would be more emotive. My fiancée, Anna, helped me get into the character during the early drafts, especially with dialogue, but I try to get inside the mind of every character, and imagine their thought processes in each situation. I hope Hawkins is convincing. If it hadn’t worked, I’m sure someone would have told me by now.
4) The murders in ‘The Advent Killer’ are pretty gruesome. Does your fiancée ever worry about the weird and wacky ideas you come up with?
Funnily enough, I got an odd look from Anna when I thanked her, in print, for being ‘my inspiration’. I thought it was touching, but she pointed out it could also mean she’d motivated me to write about murdering women! Some people are worried when they find out I’ve created a believable serial killer, but really it’s no different from acting. I think it’s about understanding human nature, and the reasons we do various things. These days it’s hard to shock, so it’s important to keep the stakes high, but murder will always be the ultimate felony, and I’m really careful not to let my writing revel in gore or violence.
5) The story develops at a searing pace. How did you find maintaining the pace when this is your first novel?
When it comes to thrillers, I enjoy stories that don’t pause for breath. I suppose its how life would be if you could edit out the boring bits, so that’s how I try to write. I always plan my stories from beginning to end, chapter by chapter, before I start writing, so I can see how the plot fits together. Then I try to get rid of anything gratuitous or flat, and capitalise on the exciting bits. That’s what I love about fiction; as long as it’s plausible, the world can go as crazy as you want.
6) The murders start a few weeks before Christmas (hence the title). Are you like Antonia and don’t particularly enjoy Christmas?
Actually I never saw Antonia as someone who disliked Christmas (although she might now!). Personally I quite like this time of year, but then I’ve never had to investigate a string of career-threatening murders in the run up to the big day!
7) Mike is Antonia’s love in life. Are we going to see this relationship develop over the coming books?
Definitely. Great detectives always have a sidekick, and Mike helps to reign in some of Hawkins’ more impulsive tendencies (sometimes more successfully than others). Events conspire to keep them apart at first, but their affection for each other will develop through the series. Their relationship is tempestuous, but the passionate way they interact demonstrates the trust they have in one another.
8) Who do you see as your influence as a writer?
I learn something about writing from every book I read, (even the bad ones). Some of the most valuable lessons came from George Orwell and Frederick Forsyth but I’m most in awe of Stephen King. Thirty years from now, I’d love to have a collection of titles like his: (‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Insomnia’, ‘Misery’, ‘The Green Mile’, ‘Carrie’, to list a few). His books cover a variety of subjects but you always know what sort of story to expect.
9) What do you look for when you pick up a book to read? Is your main focus to write the book you’d love to read?
Unfortunately I don’t often get the chance to browse any more. I still have a full-time job, so most of my spare time is spent writing, which means I have to be selective. That makes reviews (like the ones on Crimesquad, for example) invaluable, but I always look for something exciting and original, which is what I think most readers want, so that’s how I try to write.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
The most impressive crime novel I read recently was ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith. The pace never lets up, and there are some really innovative action sequences.

The way Lincoln Rhyme investigates via proxy in Jeffery Deaver’s, ‘The Bone Collector’ is highly inventive, too, and there are some great moments of tension.

And Mark Billingham’s debut, ‘Sleepyhead’, introduced a great lead character (in Tom Thorne) and had some fantastic twists. They were probably what inspired me to write crime.