Fresh Blood

Name: James Hazel

Title of Book: The Mayfly

' will be guaranteed to be on to a winner with ‘The Mayfly’. '

Charlie Priest is an ex-policeman turned lawyer. At his flat he is attacked by an assailant wanting something Priest does not have. The next day, he is visited by the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, Kenneth Ellinder to investigate his son’s macabre murder.

Priest will need all his wits about him as people, including previous spouses and colleagues from his old job, are out for his blood. It is through other bizarre deaths that Priest begins to see a connection to the last days of the Second World War. Each corpse so far had a Mayfly pushed in to their mouth. What is the connection and why is something that happened fifty years ago now causing deaths in the present?

‘The Mayfly’ is one of those books you pick up wondering what it is about and then seem to have quickly crashed your way through the first fifty pages without taking a breath! Yes, it is that addictive. There is something wonderfully macabre about Hazel’s debut thriller. It may well be the motley crew that surrounds Priest, (who isn’t exactly without his own difficulties), who entranced me. First, Priest has his own serial killer in the family in the form of his brother. Or is it his colleagues he has gathered around him? Vincent Okoro, who is from Nigeria and all muscle, Sol the accountant with severe OCD and Georgie Someday, who is a mine of information. What she doesn’t know, she can find out in seconds. Plus Maureen the receptionist, who appears to have missed every single customer service course she may well have been booked on! With an alcoholic ex-colleague and a psycho ex-wife, Priest is an open target at the moment.

With this marvellous cast, Hazel’s thriller certainly keeps rolling along at a cracking pace. There are no car chases, nor a guy jumping out of a helicopter every two pages. What Hazel does wonderfully, is peel away the layers, tempting his reader, (this one in particular) to venture on further and further in to the quagmire Priest finds himself in. Hazel tempts you and tantalises you to read on and on at an addictive pace. I can honestly say that I haven’t completed a book in such double quick time as I did ‘The Mayfly’. Having been reviewing for over twelve years now, I can sense a good thriller. If only I could translate that on to the gee-gees and I’d be minted. Failing that, all I can say is that when packing for your holiday I strongly suggest you put ‘The Mayfly’ in next to the sun tan lotion. Unlike the gee-gees… you will be guaranteed to be on to a winner with ‘The Mayfly’. Cracking stuff.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Priest is an ex-policeman turned lawyer for large corporations. You also have a background in law. Is it true when they say about writing what you know? Is that why you put Priest in a law environment?
I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice for aspiring authors. It’s easy to get caught out writing about something you don’t really understand. It’s fine to pepper in details you only have limited experience of – there’s always loads of research you can do. But the central theme or character has got to be something or someone you know intimately.

It’s also the case that Priest is a very versatile character to write with. He’s got a police background, which explains a lot about how he goes about things but he’s not tied to police procedure, or the rules of evidence, and that gives a lot of freedom. If he wants to break in to a house to find the answer, he doesn’t need a warrant; he just gets on with it. That’s a very liberating mechanism for story-telling.
2) Priest suffers from dissociation disorder. Can you explain what it is and why you gave Priest this particular condition?
Dissociative disorders are a series of mental impairments in which the sufferer experiences breakdowns in their perception of reality. For Priest, this manifests itself in bouts of detachment from the real world. At its most extreme, it can include out-of-body experiences and terrifying hallucinations.

The motivation for this really began with the idea that Priest ought to have a specific vulnerability: his own personal kryptonite. I have professional experience of mental illness and it just seemed that dissociative disorder – the exact species of which will only become clear as the series progresses – would allow the character to be highly functional ninety per cent of the time but, when a breakdown occurs, the consequences are incapacitating.
3) Will we be hearing more about Priest’s past life, especially his failed marriage to the Assistant Commissioner Dee Auckland who just happens to be Priest’s ex-wife?
We certainly will. I’ve always been fascinated by how our past lives affect our future selves and we’re going to see over time the complex interplay between Priest’s divorce, his transition from the police to law and of course William’s conviction.
4) For me, the most fascinating character in ‘The Mayfly’ is William, Priest’s brother who is in a secure mental unit for committing several murders. Are we going to see more of William in future books? Is it likely that William will help Priest get in to the mind of a killer?
Glad you like him – he’s one of my favourites, too! William might only play a peripheral role in The Mayfly but he will develop into a much more dominant character in future books. In Priest’s second outing, we’ll see William start to take on exactly the sort of role you’ve described by acting as Priest’s counsel as he tries to work out the psychology of a killer.
5) In ‘The Mayfly’, the main plot has origins in the aftermath of WWII. Why did you involve this time line? Is there something about WWII that fascinates you?
This started when I was five years old and my grandfather started to tell me about his experiences in the war. My mum was called into school one day and asked about him because I’d told all my teachers he was a prisoner. I think I’d triggered a safeguarding alert. In fact, he had been a POW for most of the war Stalag 18A, a POW camp at Wolfsberg, Austria, having been captured in Greece in May 1941.

One particular story he told me still sends a shiver down my spine. On the 28th December 1940, the HMT Orcades arrived at Suez and the troops, Grandad included, were lined up to embark on one of two ships to Greece. Just before boarding, someone who knew Grandad called him over to the other ship: a regiment there needed a driver. He swapped ships at the last minute. It was to become the most important decision of his life. The other ship was sunk and the troops on it were lost to the sea.

A different ship, a different decision, and I would never have been born. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated by the war, and the role that fate plays in all of our lives.
6) Are you already writing the next Priest novel?
The second Priest thriller is already written and going through the editing process. I can’t give much away but expect more fast-paced thrills, suspense, action and Priest’s cutting wit. Oh, and more William and Georgie too.
7) What one piece of advice would you give novice writers after your journey becoming published?
Be an entrepreneur. And entrepreneurs are successful because (a) they have a plan, (b) they value input and (c) they adapt.

If you’re writing to be published then don’t forget: you’re entering a cruel, commercial world. Yes, your manuscript is fantastic – your writing makes Mark Twain look like an amateur, but does anyone want to read a story about a Tory backbencher who becomes a lollypop man?

I’m afraid those guys want sales. You’re creating a product, like the entrepreneur. You need to know your market and what consumers want in that market. Are books about dyslexic dragons written in Welsh popular right now? Maybe, but psychological thrillers certainly are.

Treat it like you would if it was a business and you are the CEO and chief product designer. Most importantly, listen to those around you. All entrepreneurs have advisers and consultants because you can’t keep on top of everything. If someone is telling you that your manuscript is too slow then review it.

Trust your instincts: what am I being told? Why am I being told this? Do I need to do anything about it? Do I need a second / third / fourth opinion?

I often hear writers talk about the lonely profession. That wasn’t my experience. Get the people you trust to be involved with your work and it will enrich the manuscript and the process.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
I love crime fiction, although I’ve also read a lot of horror. Trying to tie it down to three books is pretty tough, but, in no particular order, I’ll go with…

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo – The whole Harry Hole series is very dear to me and it’s tricky to pick one book out from the rest because Nesbo is so incredibly consistent, but I keep coming back to the ‘The Snowman’ as my favourite and I’m very ready for the film!

Moriarty by Antony Horowitz – The master of adapting to someone’s else’s style, Horowitz’s writing is clinically good. I enjoyed House of Silk too but the ending to Moriarty got me hook, line and sinker.

Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary – DI Marnie Rome is a fantastic character but Hilary’s writing is so extraordinarily rich. There’s really no other comparison in crime novels.