Earlier this week I had to think long and hard to remember the first crime novel I read.
Author, Rachel Amphlett, who writes the Kay Hunter series, posed the question in her latest email newsletter. Having just finished the first in the series, Scared to Death, I could have told her the last crime novel I’d read.
Instead, I had to travel back to my childhood when I plundered the school and local libraries in search of new fictional worlds to explore. The first books I remember reading were the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, but they were adventure stories, not crime. So were the Secret Seven, also by Enid Blyton.
Then I remembered a conversation I had with the local librarian when I was about 11 or 12. Having exhausted the books I wanted to read in the children’s section, I stated to explore the much larger and more exciting adult library.
As a regular customer, the librarian knew me well and was willing to let me borrow from the adult library. However, she would make the final decision on whether the books I chose were suitable or not.
I’m sure she put many of my choices back on the shelves when I started, but I remember reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond books fairly soon after moving to the adult library. As I haven’t read them since, I don’t know how graphic or explicit they were to a young teenager, but I doubt if they count as crime novels.
The Murders on the Rue Morgue, by Edgar Allan Poe, may well have been the first crime story I read, but a quick check on Amazon suggests it’s more short story than novel. The same could be said of Sherlock Holmes, though I read all the stories in the volumes written by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The first crime novel I know I read was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I was about 15 or 16 at the time, and beyond the censure of the librarian. The plot and ending stick in my mind because I thought they were clever and different.
Maybe that goes some way to explaining why I wanted to write something different in my crime fiction.
But Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t explain my interest in writing crime, specifically murder mysteries.
That accolade goes to Dick Francis, who I discovered in the 1990s. His no nonsense, direct style, often with a first person narrator, introduced me to thrillers. While I avoided his books about horse racing, the rest of his thrillers proved irresistible.
Simon Kernick then came along with his thriller, Relentless. It started at 70mph and got faster, leaving me breathless by the end. What a ride that was. And after devouring the rest of his thrillers and crime novels, I wanted to emulate him and Dick Francis.
My first attempts at writing Kent Fisher were pure Dick Francis. This is the opening paragraph to the first Kent Fisher novel I wrote, entitled Too Many Secrets.
My impulse to visit the Kubla Khan Hotel cost me my job, my marriage, and took me within inches of my life. But I couldn’t ignore the body in the swimming pool.
But as I soon discovered, I was no Dick Francis.
Enter Sue Grafton and her Kinsey Millhone alphabet series. Her A, B and C novels were offered in a hardback volume that I bought for £1 as an introductory offer to a mail order book club. A is for Alibi had an intriguing ring about it and I soon warmed to the feisty, opinionated Californian detective, the first person narration, and gentle tone that often masked some fairly gritty themes and action.
That’s what I wanted to write – a murder mystery series with a strong, witty and opinionated central character.
It took me a while to develop the character and voice that gave rise to No Accident, but nowhere near as long as my journey from Murder on the Orient Express to the Dick Francis thrillers that made me want to write crime.
You can find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries on my website and Amazon.