So, I had a natter with him.
PDB: Apostle Rising has just been published as an eBook. What’s it all about, Richard?
Apostle Rising is about a serial killer who is literally crucifying politicians. He is recreating the original murder scenes of an old case and leaving no forensic clues. It is also about the effect that dealing with evil has on a police officer. Here’s a brief synopsis.
Detective Chief Inspector Frank Castle never caught the Woodlands Killer and it almost destroyed him. Now years later, mauled by the press, and traumatised by nightmares, he is faced with a copycat killer with detailed inside knowledge of the original case.
He and his partner DI Jacki Stone enter a deadly labyrinth, and at its centre is the man Castle believes was responsible for the first killings. He’s running a sinister cult and playing dark mind games with the police. The investigation has a shattering effect on the lives of Castle and Stone. The killer is crucifying politicians, and he keeps raising the stakes and slipping through their hands. Dark coded ritualistic killings are being carried out on high-profile figures and the body count is rising.
Castle employs a brilliant psychologist to help him solve the case, and he begins to dig into the killer’s psyche. But some psychopaths are cleverer than others.
Karl Black is the man Castle believes is responsible for The Woodland Killings, and the investigation places him at the top of the list of suspects. Black hates the police and from the moment Castle and Stone visit him he sneers at them and then begins to undermine the investigation.
The novel contains a great twist. No one who has read it has guessed who the killer is and the discovery is a huge shock to the central characters.
PDB: Why do you think people are so drawn towards serial killer stories?
Because there’s one living right next door to you. I think it’s part of our fascination with the outer reaches of the human psyche. We use words all the time that lack definition. We say something is human or inhuman. Yet if you look at the annals of history, at the atrocities of the Nazis, the kinds of things we see committed by serial killers have occurred historically during tyrannies. They are, to use Nietzsche‘s line, “Human, All Too Human”.
The fictional portrait of a serial killer allows a reader to study the phenomenon at a safe distance. But while many fiction readers may scrutinise the content of their chosen novels closely, and question the realism of events portrayed, stranger things are reported in the papers all the time. Psychosis occurs in individuals and societies. When you look at those crimes on a societal level there is a sense of real horror. I believe by studying serial killers we may learn what it is in the human psyche that leads men and women to commit these acts.
PDB: Do you think the structure of the police procedural is a way to contain the chaos of the world?
Short answer within the context of fiction yes. All narrative structures are an attempt to contain chaos. In real terms police procedures are an attempt to impose law on the essential lawlessness of humanity, the reason we are here from an evolutionary standpoint and as illustrated by martial law.
PDB: Do you think your writing is distinctively English?
I think it is influenced by the vast and incalculably on-going history of the greatest literature in the world. Shakespeare recoined the English language. Jonson was the greatest plotter to have been underestimated. However, I love writers of all nations. I am receptive to writing wherever it resonates, beyond any superimposed notions of identity.
PDB: Do you think there is a noticeable difference between crime writing from different countries?
Yes. British crime writing still has class consciousness embedded into it, it’s there in our society and literature has always reflected it. If there is a correlative in US crime fiction it may be the motivational urge to acquire. I think generic Puritanism began there. Acquisitional pursuits often get people into sticky situations. The police procedural may tie certain authors together but the methods are different.
Italian crime fiction contains more scenes detailing family life in my opinion. While if you take an author like Leonardo Padura he is more Noir, more interested in the decay and sexual lives of his characters, a Cuban gem if you want to try something different.
I think in some of my stories it is less important than in the novels, since some of my fictions deal with disintegration. London is important, I was born and bred here. Mr. Glamour is packed with descriptions of London, from the East End to the wealthy areas. People are also defined by their sense of place in the novel. In Apostle Rising the killer frequents certain territories, and exemplifies the need for territoriality. Richmond Park, an expanse of green land with deer where Henry the Eight hunted, features heavily.
The States is also important, since I spend a lot of time there and have visited eighteen States. In Piquant, The Mustard Man frees himself from the pages of a pulp novel to wreak havoc across America. He epitomises the heartland and knows each State’s geography. He also uses local herbs. When he goes to Montana to set up a restaurant he does so in Anaconda. He has now left Arizona.
PDB: Should a writer have a sense of social responsibility when he/she writes?
That’s a good and often pondered question. But to define social responsibility you have to define social bias and political agenda, and therein lies the rub, as Hamlet said.
There are things a writer may do that fall under the category of is that irresponsible? Yet is the news irresponsible for reporting crimes? If you are a Marxist then you will hate certain novels, and vice versa if your leanings are towards the right you will detest those that aim to posit a Socialist political program.
Koestler’s Darkness Before Dawn and Orwell’s 1984 are arguably great political novels, but I believe on the whole literature and politics do not make good bedfellows, as the hideously flawed attempts by Hitler and Stalin to impose their own retarded notions of Art demonstrate.
So, the bottom line is, write great characters and tell a good story. If someone out there needs to complain then they may need to ask themselves what crusade they are on. Setting moral guidelines for fiction is an invitation to the kind of censorship that stifles great writing. Totalitarianism has no place there.
PDB: You second novel, Mr Glamour, paints a picture of the London high-life as living in a particularly decadent city. Is that a view you have of London?
Not particularly. London is a huge city, full of different people. Obviously I was writing a crime novel and focused on certain types of people. There is also the suburban in Mr. Glamour, and all its dark and hidden decay.
The core of the novel focuses on the wealthy pleasure seekers. The Roman Empire had its fair share of decadence and hedonism, which was regarded as a philosophy. No, that is not my view of London. And while we may today be a far cry from Aristippus of Cyrene, there are plenty of people like those I describe and expose with their particular sexual proclivities and spending habits in every wealthy city of the world.
What I wanted to explore within a fictional context was the modern obsession with brands as a form of acquisition and status. And the way the consumer is being manipulated.