Fresh Blood

Name: Trevor Mark Thomas

Title of Book: The Bothy

'‘The Bothy’ is raw and hugely enjoyable.'

Tom is grieving for his girlfriend. Her powerful family, convinced he is responsible for her death, place a bounty on his head. On the run, Tom seeks refuge in the Bothy, a dilapidated moorland pub run by ageing gangster Frank. Tom tries to keep the bounty a secret, but news travels fast, even in the middle of nowhere.

There are very few moments when it happens, but when it does, it leaves any reader with a wonderful feeling. What am I talking about? That moment when you like the look and sound of a book, yet when you read it the whole novel passes all expectations and will not let you go until that last page. Thomas’ debut, ‘The Bothy’ did exactly that.

Very quickly I was sold and embroiled in the shenanigans of The Bothy, a nigh-on derelict pub in the arse end of nowhere. The thought of being stuck in such a rat-infested, flea-ridden place with snow surrounding me would be Hell… sadly, Tom really doesn’t have a choice. He has to stay there with Frank, Ken, Tucker and Braudy – a motley crew if ever there was one – and dangerous, as well.

Thomas focusses all his energy on The Bothy as if this was a play with just the one backdrop. All other action is off-stage, but it always comes back to The Bothy which is the hive of activity. It is this pared down feel to the novel which makes it motor along like an out of control juggernaut. Thomas’ descriptions of the interior and exterior really made me feel as though I was at The Bothy, although I doubt I’d sample either the drink or food!

Frank is a brilliantly drawn character: a conflicted man who in one second can go from being quite fatherly to a killing monster without compunction. Alongside with his sidekick, the effete Ken who keeps his socks in the fridge, this pair were big personalities that kept me going back to Thomas’ novel for more.

This is a violent book, but with all gangsters there is a ‘shoot now, ask later’ attitude to their mentality. Whilst reading it I kept getting flashbacks of great films like ‘Get Carter’ and ‘The Long Good Friday’ and this is in a similar vein.

‘The Bothy’ was a wonderful unexpected surprise. Big, bold characters and a cracking plot. Not everything was tied up in a neat bow, but I wouldn’t expect any book with gangsters to be pretty. ‘The Bothy’ is raw and hugely enjoyable. I look forward to see what Thomas delivers with his second novel.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) 'The Bothy’ starts with Tom running from problems and finding himself in a dilapidated pub with an aged gangster which is not an everyday occurrence. How did this set up first germinate?
It came from a sense of panic. I was starting my MA at the Manchester Writing School and I needed an idea to work on. I had nothing. However, I was living in the Peak District at the time, so thought that would be a wonderfully evocative and beautiful setting to write about. Also, I remembered a pub I’d once seen in Northern Ireland. It was called ‘The Ponderosa’ and is on the way to Londonderry. It’s still there now, although I think it’s had a massive refurbishment and looks like a nice place to go.

However, when I saw it it’d been boarded up. It looked absolutely terrifying. I imagined what it’d be like if it had been open and I’d been stuck out there with the weather closing in. I’d have no choice but to go in for shelter …

With those two elements in place, I spent three sleepless nights working out how to make this scenario work. Who would be there? Why would you go in? Why would it be impossible to escape? And so on. Essentially, I constructed a pub-shaped trap for the main character, and wanted to see how (or if) he would manage to free himself. As for the rest of the story, I didn’t sketch it out. I just wanted to start writing something.
2) Your characterisation is very strong, particularly Frank and Ken. Do you feel this is as important as plot?
I used to focus quite heavily on plot — I worked on creating quite rigid structures. This would happen by page 30, this would happen by page 60 etc. It was a comfort blanket, really. I just wanted to know if the story had legs or not.

However, I found it hard to stick to the plan. My characters used to rebel and try to take the story in radically different directions. On previous attempts at novels I was so afraid of junking my plan that I resisted and forced the characters to do as they were told. This ended up making writing very difficult and tended to kill off any plausibility or inner life the characters might have had.

With ‘The Bothy’, I decided to have only the scenario worked out. Beyond that, there would be no plan. This was a scary decision to make, but I found it made the characters really come to life. They did surprising things and were quite funny on occasions too. That was the best bit of writing the book — the way the characters did unexpected things.
3) The Bothy itself is a character as well as being the backdrop for the whole drama. Sometimes my stomach churned at the poor state of the fixtures and fittings (what were left of them!). Was it conscious to revolve your whole book in one place?
Yes it was. I wanted to keep things claustrophobic, so the main character had remain trapped. A little jaunt over to Oldham or Leeds would ruin the atmosphere. The Bothy itself is my version of Gormenghast —- an old, ruined building which matches the eccentricity of its residents.

Also, I have a recurring dream where I move into a new house and find out there are hidden rooms, which I’ve always found intensely unsettling. Not sure why.
4) At times, there were some moments that resonated with me and brought to mind the writings of Ted Lewis and Derek Raymond. Have you been a fan of these guys and their style of writing? If so, were they influences when constructing ‘The Bothy’?
I know a little about Ted Lewis. He always seemed to be like a Jim Thompson kind of writer. Grittiness cut through with real intelligence. And tight writing, of course.

Cormac McCarthy is a big influence, particularly in the description of landscape and violence. I also read a lot of Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, Eoin McNamee, and David Peace.
5) 'The Bothy’ is quite open-ended. Are we going to hear more about Tom or have you moved on to fresh pastures with your next book?
I’ve planned a series of books, all related to the events of The Bothy. I finished the second book in April. It’s set the summer after the events of the first book. It’s another violent tale of revenge and retribution. A failed blackmail plot. Stolen money.

It also features Billy Bear ham. So it’s a bit of a horror story too.

As for Tom, I haven’t decided his fate yet. Poor old Tom.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I love crime fiction. If I was stranded on a desert island, I’d be very happy if I had The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett and (going a bit left field) Despair by Vladimir Nabokov.