Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Western Approaches with Graham Hurley

Graham Hurley is the author 12 novels in the critically acclaimed Portsmouth-set series featuring Detective Inspector Faraday and Detective Sargent Winter, which are noted for their realistic portrayal of contemporary Britain and especially Portsmouth. Embarking on a new series, Western Approaches is a spin off from this series and features D/S Suttle, and is set in the West Country.

Leaving Pompey (aka Portsmouth), fictionally or otherwise, was never going to be easy.  In the real world,  we packed the cat,  a couple of potted plants,  a witch and a trillion books into our ancient camper,  lodged the key with a neighbour,  and headed west (the rest of our stuff had already gone).  Nearly thirty years in this extraordinary city had bred a deep affection for its rough charms and as we passed Dorchester, I remember wondering whether we had made the right decision.  For better or worse, places like Pompey spark story after story.  Was it really wise to abandon all this?

Back then, in 2008, the Faraday series still had three books to go.  These were complex novels with multi-layered plots, full of the mayhem and clamour that went with 200,000 souls banged up on the flatness of Portsea Island.  Feral kids camping in the spooky darkness of a derelict cinema.  Single mums stealing a living from the chillier cabinets of local supermarkets and flogging bacon joints round the inner city estates.  The constant drumbeat of tribal warfare, as local gangs jostled for advantage.  A city apart:  complex, bewildering, but always rich in fictional possibilities.  Once the series was finally put to bed, where was I going to turn next?

In principle, the solution seemed obvious.  The USP of the Faraday books – their trademark, if you like – had always been their authenticity.  I had spent a lot of time and effort getting alongside working cops and this investment had paid off in spades in terms of both reviews and sales.  However, after a nearly a decade in print, my two lead cops were fast approaching retirement, and if for no other reason, I had to find a new direction if I was to remain a crime writer.  So why not ship one of my younger cops west?  Why not bring him down to Devon, along with the cat and the potted plants?

By now, I was deep into Book 10, Beyond Reach.  With a brand new series in mind, I began to give young D/S Jimmy Suttle more room on the page.  He was barely 30.  He had just got married.  He had a child on the way.  And as the star apprentice of rogue cop D/C Paul Winter, he was full of potential mischief.

There was, however, a problem.  That first summer in East Devon, I am glad to report, was blissful.  No stoned babies.  No packs of paedo-hunting kids.  In addition, when strangers said good morning on the seafront, you never wondered whether they were taking the piss.  This novel glimpse of a very different lifestyle did wonders for my blood pressure but as the months went by, I began to stress about the challenge of turning all this rich contentment into page-turning drama.

Orion, my publishers, had the same doubts.  When I first mentioned the possibility of a spin-off series set in leafy Devon, their eyes rolled.  Crime fiction was getting uglier and more brutal by the week.  Cream teas?  Thatched cottages?  Happiness?  Just how noir was all that?

I told them they were wrong.  A single force polices both Devon and Cornwall.  The sheer range of locations – and thus fictional possibilities - is vast:  the gritty urban angst of Plymouth,   beleaguered up-country hill farmers, beset by poverty and generations of inbreeding, the tatty remains of the English Riviera awash with Scouse drug dealers,   West Country fishermen, tied hand and foot by EU regulations.  This, I assured Orion, would offer young Jimmy Suttle the caseload of his dreams.  Forget London.  Think outside the box.

But then something strange happened.  Lin and I joined the local offshore rowing club.  Twice a week, with a bunch of madcap ex-Marines (and a cop), we tackled vast distances and had a lot of fun.  Neither of us had been in a club before.  And the swirl of stuff going on beneath the surface was a revelation.

At the same time, Simon Spanton – my editor – had begun to warm to the idea of books set in the West Country.  The Faraday novels had developed into a portrait of a single English city, seen through the eyes of both the cops and the bad guys, set over an entire decade.  In ways I had never planned, they had a lot to say about the state of our embattled nation.  The new departure needed a quite different mission statement.  So how about a series exploring the contemporary pressures on a young marriage?

This, I knew at once, was an excellent idea.  I have always been fanatical about the small print of everyday life.  Look any stranger in the eyes, establish a rapport, tease out his (or her) story, and you will be amazed where life leads people.  In this sense, our new adopted home was like any other community:  full of hidden potential.

And thus, Western Approaches came to pass.  It is based, to no one’s surprise, on our local rowing club.  It features a sus death that only Jimmy Suttle believes is murder.  It is a country mile from the busy complex violence of the Faraday novels, and it may not be what hard-bitten crime fans are expecting, but early reactions have been more than positive.  Touching Distance, the second book, is now done:  a trail of serial killings that stretch Suttle and his mates to their limits. 

Enjoy?  Here’s hoping…

Western Approaches - D/S Jimmy Suttle has finally tired of the relentless struggle against the rising tide of urban crime in Portsmouth.  Surely, a job in Major Crimes in the West Country will offer some respite? He finds a remote cottage nestled in a fold of Dartmoor and, with his wife and two-year-old daughter; heads west for what he is sure will be a saner existence.  How wrong could he be?  Soon he is investigating the murder of a long-distance rower in the small town of Exmouth. The man rowed in the same 5-man boat as a man who, two years before, dodged a murder charge when his wife went missing during a cross Atlantic rowing challenge. There had been tensions between the two.  Has a killer killed again?

As the job takes over, Lizzie, Suttle's wife, is increasingly unhappy about the move. Trying to juggle family life with her own new job on a local paper, isolated in a lonely cottage with a demanding toddler and struggling to make new friends, Lizzie thought the whole point of the move was that she and Suttle could at least see more of each other.
As his marriage frays at the edges and his first investigation becomes mired Suttle begins to feel the hills around their cottage crowding in, the wind over the moors above ever chillier, the waters ever greyer. He really has reached land's end...

More information about Graham Hurley and his writing can be found on his website.

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