Are your novels cosy mysteries?

When a reader first asked me this question, images of Miss Marple and tearooms in quaint country villages sprang into my head.

That’s okay, I thought, because I love Miss Marple and Agatha Christie. They’re one of the reasons I write traditional whodunit mysteries. When bestselling author, Tamara McKinley suggested that Agatha Christie fans would love my first novel, No Accident, I was delighted.

But I never envisaged the Kent Fisher mysteries as cosy. They deal with modern, serious issues that don’t feel cosy.

To settle any doubt, I turned to Google.

A quick check suggested cosies were crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in small, socially intimate communities. The person solving the crime is an amateur, usually but not exclusively a woman, with contacts in the police or other law enforcement agencies.

Well, that got me thinking. There’s no graphic sex in the Kent Fisher mysteries because I believe a reader’s imagination can do a much better job. Any violence is usually confrontational and targeted at Kent to stop him solving a case. The communities are not socially intimate, though most of the action takes place in the small towns and villages of the South Downs. Kent’s an amateur detective, sure, but as an environmental health officer, he’s a law enforcer and often works with the police, giving him certain detection skills.

His best friend is a retired Scenes of Crime Officer.

On balance, it looks like my novels fall into the cosy category.

As Kinsey Millhone, Morse and Miss Marple inspired and influenced me, why did I ever doubt this? After all, my goal has always been to entertain readers with absorbing, complex mysteries, engaging characters with their own stories and troubles, all laced with a healthy dash of irreverent humour.

I prefer to think of the Kent Fisher mysteries as the cosy end of the crime fiction spectrum, like LJ Ross or Dick Francis.

Why do you write crime fiction?

The simple answer is I love reading crime fiction and watching crime dramas on the TV.

I also love humour, such as Tom Sharpe, but my bookshelves and Kindle are filled with crime novels, mainly Sue Grafton, Peter James, LJ Ross, Rachel Amphlett, Michael Wood and Ellie Griffiths.

I also have a copy of To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, but that’s the best book ever written as far as I’m concerned.

Puzzles have always fascinated me. I love cryptic crosswords because you have to think laterally. I love word games and riddles. Solving puzzles is the challenge – the mental agility needed, often combined with logic and deduction. I also remain fascinated by anything that’s unknown or in doubt. This allows me to speculate and wonder, enjoy conspiracy theories, make up my own answers and generally look at the world in a different way.

Scooby DooThen there’s an amazing variety in crime fiction and drama. I grew up watching Columbo, Scooby Doo, The Rockford Files, The Sweeney and many more. I read the Famous Five, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Arthur Conan Doyle. Later, I fell in love with series like Miss Marple and Inspector Morse.

But no one had ever written about an environmental health officer solving murders. I loved my work and knew it would add an extra dimension to my stories. The irreverent humour comes naturally with the writing and the character of Kent Fisher.

It took many years, and several incarnations before Kent Fisher became real and realistic enough to carry a story. I had to learn my craft and draw on the techniques I studied from authors like Agatha Christie.

But I never doubted that I wanted to write crime novels.

What made you choose an environmental health officer to solve murders?

I’ve been an environmental health officer (EHO)all my working life. As an enforcement officer, who worked with the police at times, I felt EHOs had the skills to solve a murder. But I soon realised there was plenty to do if he was going to be a credible character.

Let’s face it, EHOs don’t solve murders. But that was the easy part, come to think of it. Imagine if you wanted to do some sleuthing…

How would you find the time if you worked full-time? With the best will in the world, you can’t do everything at the weekend or in the evening. How would your employers feel if you used their systems and databases to help with your investigations? How would you feel, using confidential information for your own purposes?
What happens if you’re discovered, moonlighting in work’s time? What would ratepayers think of your behaviour?

And finally, what happens if you get into bother while sleuthing?

Peter JamesWhile this is fiction, I’m with Peter James – it needs to be accurate to be credible.

It became clear at the outset that Kent Fisher needed to be in a privileged position, where his employers couldn’t touch him, or were afraid to do so. I chose to make his father, William Kenneth Fisher, the local MP and a member of the Cabinet. The local councillors are afraid to antagonise him, which gives Kent enough leeway to sleuth and get into trouble. Curiously, I made this decision somewhat spontaneously when I wrote the first Fisher’s Fables blog, called Radio Star.

What I didn’t realise until I started writing, was how adept EHOs are at getting information. They have fantastic networks nationally and locally, and get on well with local businesses and the community in general. People like them and want to help, which makes Kent’s job easier. He also has access to databases and national organisations, and links to the police and all manner of local services.

And, in case anyone wonders if he’s up to the job, Kent has a history of being a hunt saboteur and chaining himself to trees to prevent developers destroying the environment. In other words, he takes action and can look after himself, even if he often comes off worst.