One of the interesting aspects of crime fiction is the way it examines social issues. Gun crime is one such issue. By the time I was writing my eleventh police procedural crime book, five of which are set in North London, I felt I could not really continue to ignore guns, much as I hate them. So in Murder Ring, the eighth in my Geraldine Steel series, I finally tackled the thorny issue of gun crime and included a few shootings in my story.
In fiction, a gun only has to be mentioned for the reader to understand that someone will be shot. As Chekov famously said, "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." So the prologue for Murder Ring ends like this:
"Finishing his pint, he stood up. He felt a little woozy. With a last glance over his shoulder at the girl behind the bar, he staggered out. The night air sobered him slightly, making him shiver. All he wanted was to go home and lie down. The pavement along Oxford Street was crowded. Turning onto a side street he walked more quickly, heading in what he thought was the right direction.
Hearing footsteps pounding along the street behind him he looked over his shoulder, fleetingly worried, then laughed because the street was deserted. All the same, he felt uneasy. Everything looked different in the dark. He was bursting for a slash, so he turned off Wells Street into a narrow unlit lane. There was no one around to see him stagger over to the wall. Before he could unzip his trousers he heard footsteps approaching, and a hoarse voice called out. Turning his head, he made out a figure hovering in the shadows.
'Gimme the ring.'
'What?' Sober enough to understand what was going on, he was drunk enough to be angry. 'If you think I'm going to hand over my wife's ring - '
As the shadowy figure raised one arm, the barrel of a gun glinted in the moonlight."
The increasing numbers of illegal guns in London are not all owned by evil criminals. Many are owned by dysfunctional people. Older teenage gang members often hand their guns to young siblings, knowing that children cannot be prosecuted for being caught in possession of a firearm. It's a matter of serious concern that many guns are in the hands of youngsters, immature as well as untrained, and incapable of acting responsibly.
In Murder Ring, one such dysfunctional character finds himself in possession of a gun, a prospect as terrifying as the idea of a calculating psychopath with a gun.
"By now they had all seen that the cause of the disruption was Theo, a crazy guy who lived on the estate. His curly black hair jiggled every time he moved his head, and his dark eyes stared around in terror.
'Shiv him, TeeJay!'
The gang fell silent, jostling one another as they waited for TeeJay to react. Short and stocky, his presence dominated the arena as he took a long drag and dropped his spliff on the ground. A single thread of white smoke rose from it, twirling into the night air. All the time, his eyes never left Theo's face.
At a nod from TeeJay, a lad with a heavy overhanging brow stepped forward.
'Wait till my Jack gets home,' Theo cried out, for the first time seeming to register the danger that was threatening. 'Wait till my Jack gets home!'
At another nod from TeeJay, his chosen follower's Neanderthal features spread in a grin. He raised a huge fist and froze as he caught sight of a gun in Theo's hand. The watchers tensed. TeeJay didn't move a muscle as Theo waved the gun around. At last the gun stopped moving. It was pointing straight at TeeJay."
Another issue I have with guns is that they make the act of killing so easy. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the eponymous hero agonises throughout the entire three acts over whether or not to kill his uncle. In one scene, Hamlet even stands behind his uncle and raises his sword, trying to psyche himself up to kill his father's murderer. He cannot bring himself to do it. If he had been holding a gun, it would have been all too easy for him to pull the trigger. As one of my characters confesses in Murder Ring, "this bloke saw me and he jumped up on the toilet and opened the window like he was going to climb out. He never said a word. If he'd spoke to me, I would've bottled it, but he never said a word. He climbed up on the toilet and glared at me, like I was a rat. So I shot him." This character pulled the trigger on impulse, in a mindless act of violence.
Having researched and written about guns, I'm no longer so frightened of them. It's the people who have guns that terrify me.