A fresh approach to crime fiction

Playing fair

While I read through the first draft of No Bodies, to get a feel for the story ahead of editing, I was struck by Kent Fisher’s sense of justice and fair play. While it was there in the first novel, No Accident, I wasn’t quite so aware of it.

Here is a man who strives to do the right thing, even when it clashes with what he really wants.

fairplayThis set me thinking about where this attitude originated. It took me back through my career in environmental health to my days at school and incidents in early childhood that I’d forgotten over time.

I’m certain my father taught me to read before I started school. I loved sitting on his lap, reading the newspaper with him. While the photographs were interesting, I wanted to know what all these words meant. That, I suspect, is the beginning of my unwavering desire to write.

badteacherWhen the teacher at primary school discovered I could read to some extent, she became angry. She said it was wrong of my father to give me bad habits. Reading had to be taught a certain way by professionals or words to that effect.

I was stunned. At 5 years old, I wasn’t equipped to argue or reason with a figure of authority that had just scared the hell out of me, making me feel small in the process. It was the unfairness that upset me most. I’d done nothing wrong. So, I did the only thing I could do.

At lunchtime, I left the school. I walked the mile and half home, crossing several main roads, still feeling angry with my teacher.

Not as angry as my mother, who went apoplectic when I walked into the kitchen.

A few years later, when I was seven, my reading had evolved into storytelling. I could embellish and improve the most mundane events and gossip. On one occasion, after I recounted a story to my friends, one of them called me a liar, saying I’d made up the whole episode.

I’ll admit to exaggerating a few parts, but the core of the story was true.

Unfortunately, this friend was itching for a fight and determined to show me up. Though his argument was based on calling me a liar, without any evidence to back it up, it swayed the rest of the group. When he got up and walked away, calling me a liar once again, they went with him.

That left me with a dilemma. They were my friends. I wanted to be part of their group. But if I went with them, they would assume I was a liar. While I doubt if I understood much about integrity and credibility, I knew I wasn’t a liar.

I walked in a different direction, saddened by the unfairness of it all.

Some would say I’ve never stopped walking in a different direction.

ripMy father died the following year from a heart attack. I was eight at the time, but the unfairness of losing him has never left me. My school report the following year talks about me missing him and writing about him as if he was still alive.

 

When I moved up to senior school, as we called it, unfairness was never far away. We’d moved north to Manchester, living in a small, damp house. As the only income my mother had was a widow’s pension, I was entitled to free school meals and a free school uniform.

I only made the mistake of admitting this once.

It was a middle class school with values I’d never come across before. You were judged on where you lived, what your parents did, holidays, make of car, and so on. Someone like me was looked at a scrounger.

Again, I did the only thing I could do – I kept my mouth shut and chose my friends carefully. I didn’t bring anyone home. We couldn’t afford holidays, and I had to pay for school trips from the money I earned doing paper rounds.

I’ve never lost my dislike of unfairness, and it may well have influenced my choice of career. Environmental health officers enforce laws, which are only standards of behaviour, after all. In my work, I always tried to treat everyone equally. I was there to create a level playing field, so good businesses could thrive without being undercut by the bad guys.

But most of all, I tried to do what was right and I think that spirit comes through in Kent Fisher. He’s not afraid to stand alone, to take chances, and to battle for justice.

If you’ve read No Accident, maybe it’s obvious. You tell me.


You can find out more about environmental health and some of the unusual and humorous cases I dealt with by subscribing to The Tollingdon Tribune, my monthly email newsletter.

Please let me know what you think