Kevin Sampson is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels, and although much of his work is concerned with the themes and issues, you would find in a crime novel, “The Killing Pool” marks his first full-on excursion into the genre. Kevin talks to Hull crime writer, Nick Quantrill about it:
Nick – “The Killing Pool” is your new novel and introduces readers to DCI McCartney. What is it all about?
Kevin – It is the first in a series of crime thrillers featuring drug liaison officer DCI Billy McCartney. McCartney is in his 50s now and has spent his career chasing major drug traffickers. In The Killing Pool, he is 24 hours away from nailing the Rozaki brothers, a Liverpool-based heroin gang, when a decapitated corpse turns up on his patch. McCartney’s search for the killers peels back the layers of a drug-dealing dynasty and takes Mac closer and closer to a nemesis he has been tracking for decades.
Nick - McCartney (interesting choice of name…) is a complex man and the heart of the story. What do you think makes him different to other the cops on the block?
Kevin – It is an interesting choice of name, isn’t it? McCartney is not unlike many cops in that he’s a loner who is, seemingly, married to the job. Yet what becomes apparent, as the tale unfolds, is Mac’s perception of himself as a modern-day Lone Ranger – a caped crusader, of sorts. There’s a degree of performance about his way of operating, almost as though he dons a mask and goes out into the night to rattle the Bad Guys. He’s a highly conflicted individual who seems incapable of forming relationships; we’re never entirely sure, right up until the final few pages, who Mac really is and what is driving his obsession with smack – his obsessive desire to nail the kingpins of the heroin world. Yet there’s innocence there, too. This is Book 1 and I’d say we’ll only know McCartney properly after the next instalment. We’ll know, by then, a little more about his name, too.
Nick – The city of Liverpool makes for a very effective backdrop to the complex web of crime and corruption, but there’s also hope and heart in there, too. It becomes a character in its own right. Is a sense of place important to the novel, to you as a writer?
Kevin – Definitely. Liverpool is up there with Baltimore or Naples or Marseille as a ports city that lends itself to fable and that strong sense of place is, I think, a major asset to a great crime thriller. Whether you’re talking Chandler or Phillip Kerr or Jo Nesbo, the setting is absolutely pungent. It goes beyond the basic function of providing a backdrop and becomes a vital, vivid element of the story in its own right. In The Killing Pool, it’s important that Liverpool comes alive for the reader as a historic, international seaport whose docks have borne witness to terrible things, over the years. This makes the figure and the persona of McCartney all the more poignant, somehow.
Nick - The format of the novel, as it alternates between the protagonists all in the first person, gives it a very claustrophobic feel. Was it a deliberate stylistic decision? Did it make it a more difficult novel to write, than say if you were utilising the third person voice?
Kevin – I thought long and hard before settling upon that narrative device. With a thriller, plot, story, and pace are all paramount; but this is Book 1 in a series, and I felt it just as important to establish the characters, too. I wanted readers to have a strong sense of who McCartney is by the end of the book. It’s not just McCartney, either – all the characters have to make an impact, quickly. Misha, the Somali girl who witnessed the slaying; Shakespeare, the hapless career criminal; Alfie Manners, the seemingly bent cop; Terence Connolly, fixer to the international drug cartels; WPC Lucinda Smithson, the idealistic uniform-cop – these characters all have varying ‘stage time’ in the book. Some of them only appear for a page or two, yet their role is pivotal. It’s important that the reader gets a real sense of who they are, in the time they have available. For me, the first person narrative is a hugely effective way of doing that – it is, literally, character building.
Nick – Do you see “The Killing Pool” as being a logical progression from your previous work? Has the police procedural proved a better vehicle for exploring the issues that are important to you as a writer?
Kevin – It’s complimentary to, but quite distinctive from my previous novels. Readers could draw comparisons with two earlier crime novels of mine, Outlaws and Clubland (in fact I’m hoping that some eagle-eyed readers will spot one or two of the characters from those books hiding away in The Killing Pool!) Some of the things that have always interested me include politics, subcultures, gangs, the inner city, corruption, drugs, sex, identity, organised crime…and I’m fascinated by the concept of regeneration as a physical entity and as a more abstract notion. I think the crime genre gives you the freedom to explore all those themes in interesting ways, while still keeping you in check with its emphasis on plot and pace. I’ve always been quite gritty, and there’s a certain cinematic quality to some of my writing. Having said that, I’m by no means assuming that the crime community are going to embrace me with wide-open arms! It’s going to be interesting to see what people think.
Nick – What’s next for DCI McCartney?
Kevin – Next up is another historic case that comes rearing back to life when a teenage runaway turns up in London, having fled a compound in the Rif Mountains of Morocco. The story she tells the police brings McCartney back to one of the very few cases he didn’t fully close – a drug-ring on the island of Ibiza, led by a gang of wealthy playboys from Morocco.
The book trailer is available for viewing below:
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