Russell James is a British writer whose first books were hard-hitting, low-life thrillers, mainly set in south east London. Later he added non-fiction, historical and other novels to his repertoire, and to date he has written ten crime novels, four historical novels and one more personal novel, along with short stories and four biographical encyclopaedias. (He was also a main contributing editor to Harcourt’s Encyclopaedia of British Crime Writing.) In 2001 he was elected Chairman of the Crime Writers Association.
As a crime writer Russell was named by GQ magazine as ‘the great unknown talent of British crime writing’, by Ian Rankin as ‘the Godfather of British Noir’ and by the Times as ‘surely the best of Britain's darker crime writers’.
After several years writing in different genres he has now returned to crime with what at first sight appears to be, but as it turns out is not a more traditional tale, The Newly Discovered Diaries of Doctor Kristal (subtitled: whose Strange Obsessions caused him to Murder some annoying patients).
Shots: That’s a mouthful of a title!
RJ: Yes, it’s long – but why not? It’s my first crime book for five years, and I had lots to say!
Shots: It’s not the kind we would expect from you.
RJ: Not even set in London! No, it was time for a breakaway, I guess, though the book still has more than a touch of British noir. It is, I hope, a wry and somewhat outrageous psychological crime story, and I’ve chosen to tell it in diary form, the diary having been written in secret by the prissy and pedantic Doctor Kristal, a 35 year old virgin –
Shots: A virgin – at 35?
RJ: He is not, shall we say, a normal man – and sex, or rather, his 35 years without it is what stirs up the strange obsessions which lead him to start murdering his patients.
Shots: Hardly a normal doctor! Harold Shipman, perhaps?
RJ: Any resemblance . . . No, my doctor is quite different, based on no one you could identify – I hope.
Shots: And why does he –
RJ: Oh, his intentions are strictly honourable! He only wants to help. Among his patients, you see, is an attractive young 19-year-old, grateful for some help he gave before but now saddled with an unwanted pregnancy. (This is 1963, remember.) Then there’s the beautiful Eleanor, something of a hypochondriac and unhappily married to a sexually voracious and overweening actor more than a decade older than her. Another woman faces a more unpleasant dilemma, and it’s in helping her that the doctor finds himself in hot water.
Shots: You’ve set the novel in 1963. Why?
RJ: It was a tumultuous time – the year when ‘sex was discovered’ supposedly, which makes his virgin state all the more peculiar. In the background lies the Profumo affair and the assassination of President Kennedy and, against these, Doctor Kristal’s provincial life may seem of little significance –
Shots: Not to his victims!
RJ: No, and unfortunately, although he means well, none of his solutions go to plan. People get in the way – like, there are two other doctors in the town, and they both have plans for Doctor Kristal. His own plans are . . . a little wacky, shall we say?
Shots: Does he get away with it?
RJ: Oh, come on – you want the end of the book? Whether he does or not is not the main point; the fun comes in seeing how his obsessions gradually take him over – which he can’t see but you can – and how his devious schemes pan out.
Shots: We’ve had to wait 5 years for this.
RJ: Well, I do have an excuse! In these interim years I’ve written those 4 biographical picture books, 2 historical novels and a modern-day straightforward one (Exit 39). So I haven’t been idle. You can, of course, get all the background on my website, http://prosperobooks.wordpress.com/ or take a look at the Kindle version of the book itself at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00LWH9R4U