Covers of NO Accident by Robert Crouch

No Alternative (Or why I wrote No Accident)

I didn’t need to write No Accident.

Cover No Bodies by Robert Crouch

I’d already written No Bodies, a perfectly good story to launch the Kent Fisher murder mystery series. A UK agent had read it from cover to cover, keen to see how an environmental health officer (EHO) would solve a murder.

Alas, she didn’t take me or the book on. It needed polishing, some work on the characters. I was getting closer to a publishing deal, so why didn’t I do the work, improve the story and resubmit it?

Something was missing.

In No Bodies, there’s a reference to Kent Fisher helping the police round up a drugs gang. Yeah, just the sort of thing an EHO does when he hangs up his white coat at the end of the working day.

Kent was a hunt saboteur, an environmental protestor and activist. He would have helped the police round up a dog fighting syndicate or a badger baiting group. These activities would have been more credible and boosted his ratings.

But it’s still a leap to investigating a murder.

He needed to legitimately investigate a murder. While he could moonlight as a private investigator, it didn’t have an authentic ring. Besides, no one had written about an EHO solving murders before. An agent liked the idea, so it was time to get the thinking cap on.

I needed a prequel to No Bodies.

If you haven’t already guessed, I was an EHO for almost 40 years before I hung up my probe thermometer. Out on the district, my mind often wandered to murder and how to dispose of bodies. It struck me that the best way to have an EHO investigate a murder was to start with something he would investigate – like a food poisoning outbreak. People sometimes die from food poisoning.

How about a fatal workplace accident? I’d investigated a few in my time.

If someone disguised a murder as a work accident, Kent Fisher could legitimately investigate. With an EHO investigating instead of the police, and their forensic teams and DNA analysis, I could even create the perfect murder.

Lieutenant Columbo

The Lieutenant Columbo in me liked this. Being a lifelong fan of the detective in the crumpled raincoat, I could imagine Kent Fisher finding small discrepancies that would trouble him, forcing him to dig deeper and deeper until he realised someone had committed a murder and disguised it as a work accident.

But there was more to it than this simple premise.

While Kent was the right professional investigating the death, he needed to face some hefty challenges to make the story sizzle with conflict and emotion. In reality, if you were investigating something and realised you had a murder on your hands, you’d call the police, right?

Letting the police solve the crime wasn’t an option. Kent had to do it on his own.

So, how do you keep the police out? Kent gets precious and doesn’t tell them? It’s not going to work.

Kent has no evidence of murder, only suspicions. Now we’re moving in the right direction.

Kent has a long-running feud with the prime suspect, which makes it look like his investigation is nothing more than a grudge. Without evidence, he’s not going to persuade the police.

Better still, let’s have his boss suspend him from duty for exactly those reasons. Now he’s out on his own, with no authority to investigate.

The novel also had to dovetail into the start of No Bodies, which would become the second in the series.

Believing I now had a plausible plot, a credible investigator, and plenty of conflict and danger to keep the story exciting, it was time to let Kent Fisher loose on a perfect murder.

Only he couldn’t solve it.

No Accident book cover

The murder was so clever and well-planned, Kent couldn’t find the evidence or identify a killer.

I even wrote the climax, hoping it would help me to solve the case.

It didn’t.

For several long years, I had a story in two pieces, lacking only some thread to stitch it together.

I had an investigator, unlike any other, possibly unique in the world of crime fiction. Though not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, he was an ordinary person solving a murder.

The idea has always appealed to me. It’s the little guy taking on the big guy, beating overwhelming odds to win the battle.

The story covered issues close to my heart, like protecting the environment from developers and looking after wildlife and habitats. It gave me the chance to raise awareness of my profession, best known for enforcing food hygiene standards and closing dodgy restaurants.

The story had injustice and unfairness at its heart. I’d suffered both in my youth, giving me an emotional resonance with the story and killer.

And possibly best of all, it was a classic whodunit. It was a contemporary approach to the traditional murder mysteries of favourite authors like Agatha Christie. Later reviews highlighted both points.

I’d also written the sort of book I wanted to read. Were it to be televised, it would be a Sunday night, 8 o’clock drama for the family, like Miss Marple, Morse, or Columbo, of course.

If only Kent could solve the murder!

fisher's Fables cover

I found a way eventually, thanks to giving up smoking, a humorous blog called Fisher’s Fables, and a small US publisher, who brought out No Accident in June 2016.

It was the end of a long and challenging journey that nearly defeated me many times. In my biggest moments of self-doubt, I wished I’d simply revised No Bodies. But it would have been less of a novel without No Accident to pave the way.

I made significant revisions to No Bodies. I would never have made them without writing No Accident first.

Thankfully, I trust and follow my instincts.

There really is no alternative!

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