The Truth is Out

Do you know what it’s like when an idea grabs you and won’t let go?

No, me neither.

Only joking.

Occasionally, an idea grabs me. But instead of filling my waking thoughts, it sits in my subconscious, slowly developing and gathering momentum. Then, when the time is right, out it pops.

Thanks to my childhood, I became a practical child, helping to make sure what little money we had was spent wisely. I ignored the temptation of luxuries, school trips and holidays, convincing myself they were reckless and overrated. When I needed a bike to do a paper round, I built one from old parts and spares.

But my imagination wasn’t cautious or practical. It roamed free, having the adventures and thrills I could never enjoy or afford.

Reading set my imagination free, especially the Famous Five and Narnia books. At secondary school, I discovered I had a love and talent for writing stories. Being an author appealed to my imagination. My sensible head told me to take care. With no experience and no one to point out the pitfalls, I was forced to tread carefully.

In many respects, that’s what I’ve done most of my life – played safe.

Kent Fisher, the investigator in my crime novels, is an environmental health officer like me. Okay, I never solved any murders during my professional career, but it didn’t stop me wanting to. And when this nagging desire burst from my subconscious one day, it led to a new kind of sleuth.

Seven books later, the desire to write something different became irresistible.

It started with a concern that I couldn’t keep coming up with ideas for new Kent Fisher novels. Readers piled on the pressure by telling me each novel was better than the previous one.

Sooner or later, I’d have to plateau or write a dud.

Then Sheryl Holmes stepped into the middle of this doubt and prevarication.

She started her fictional life as Sheryl, housekeeper to a failed crime writer, who became involved with Paige Turner, the glamorous wife of a publisher he was trying to impress.

Criminal ShortsA Real Paige Turner was my contribution to an anthology of short crime fiction stories, produced to raise money for charity. When the call went out for submissions, I wasn’t interested. Over thirty years had elapsed since I’d written a short story.

But I have this strange quirk – the moment something is too easy to decline, I want to do it.

I laboured for several weeks to write and polish this short story. Somewhere in the final revision, I realised the name Sheryl wasn’t far removed from Sherlock. Sheryl Holmes was born. My crime writer was given the middle name of Watson, and the seeds were sown.

Shery Holmes

Over a year later, feeling intimidated by the prospect of writing Kent Fisher #8, which was going to stretch me in new directions, the idea for Home Truths burst from my subconscious.

At best, it was a yearning to write something new. At worst, it was an excuse not to write the next Kent Fisher. In truth, it was probably a bit of both.

It took a while for the premise of the book to take shape. Like Kent Fisher, I was going to use an ordinary person, or persons, to solve murder. Ordinary people don’t wake up in the morning, peer into the wardrobe and think, ‘Is that skirt too short for solving a murder?’

I needed something compelling to draw my Watson and Holmes into an investigation.

It had to be something personal – which is what Home Truths suggests.

It wasn’t long before my imagination reminded me of an incident in our first house back in 1983. There I was, at the top of a stepladder, peering into the loft space. Satisfied the pipes were properly lagged, I was about to descend when I noticed a small attaché case between the joists. I teased it out and took it downstairs to show my wife.

Inside, we found a typewritten manuscript. I can’t recall the title, but it was referred to as an autobiographical novel. That meant personal – something a previous owner had left behind.

Attache case

Naturally, I closed the case, got onto the estate agent who sold the property and asked if he could get in touch with the previous owners as I had something of theirs to return.

No, of course I didn’t. I read the first page.

No, I read the first few lines. They were enough to convince me I wasn’t about to read a literary masterpiece. The next paragraph confirmed my doubts. But I’ve never forgotten the opening lines, which described the woman of the author’s dreams.

She was standing at the sink, caught in the glow of the morning sun. I walked up behind her, slipped my arms around her and cupped her breasts. They were quite small, but as I’ve always said, more than a handful is a waste.

You now have a rough idea of how Home Truths starts. The difference is, in my novel, the story is written by James Watson’s mother.

And she’s not referring to his father.


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Fatal Lies by Andrew Cunningham

20th October 2021.

The second book in the series is another fast moving, thoroughly entertaining and exciting investigation. Del and Sabrina travel the length and breadth of the USA when they become embroiled in another complex murder mystery.

The brutal murder of Daisy Leduc sparks off another investigation when her estranged daughter is asked to contact Sabrina. The only link is the time they spent together in gaol. It soon becomes clear Del and Sabrina are not the only ones interested in what Daisy has left behind, especially when they discover she didn’t die at the hands of a serial killer when she was 17.

Who exactly is trying to kill them and preserve Daisy’s secrets? As Del and Sabrina uncover the clues, the list of suspects grows, leading to a thrilling climax.

I love the self-deprecating humour, the light touch that propels this entertaining caper, and the spirit of adventure that’s on every page. Del and Sabrina are great creations, ably supported by some quirky and likeable characters. The story is also lifted by some sly comments about being a murder mystery writer, which had me chuckling as I read.

Terrific stuff!

Description

Daisy Leduc was forgotten and alone. That was just how she wanted it. But when she is discovered stabbed to death in a dusty little Texas town, it plunges Del Honeycutt and bestselling mystery author Sabrina Spencer into a 30-year-old mystery involving murder, hidden identities, dangerous family secrets, political intrigue, and a long-forgotten serial killer.

When they discover that Daisy, under a different name, supposedly died 30 years earlier, they find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of killers whose deadly secrets lie in Daisy’s mysterious past.

Fatal Lies by Andrew Cunningham

Death under the Dryer by Simon Brett

1st August 2021.

When Carole Sedden visits the local hairdresser, she gets more than a trim. Finding the body of Kyra, an assistant at the premises, triggers another investigation for her and her neighbour Jude in the Fethering series.

Kyra’s boyfriend Nathan has disappeared,  but his family seem unconcerned. Then again, they’re an eccentric bunch with their own rules and idiosyncrasies. Further suspects, including the hairdresser, her ex-husband and his new wife, provide Carole and Jude with plenty of opportunities to nose around and make a nuisance of themselves as they sleuth in their usual inimitable style.

All the elements of the previous stories are here – the chalk and cheese relationship between Carole and Jude, the middle class foibles the author loves to mock and a whole host of memorable characters to add to the gentle humour that underpins the stories.

While the Locke family’s eccentricities seem a little far-fetched, the story and resolution are still great fun and intriguing at the same time.

Description

The last thing Carole expects when she goes to Connie’s Clip Joint for a trim is to find the body of Kyra, Connie’s assistant, in the back room.

Kyra’s boyfriend, Nathan, has vanished, but his family, an eccentric, controlling bunch, don’t seem overly concerned. Instead, they are bizarrely obsessed with a family board game which seems to provide a host of clues as to Nathan’s whereabouts.

Carole and her neighbour Jude are determined to unravel the clues, but can they discover the truth before either someone is falsely accused or the killer makes a second move? And how many haircuts can a pair of middle-aged sleuths have before people start to become suspicious?

Death under the Dryer by Simon Brett

Getting fresh with a familiar favourite

The continued popularity of crime fiction is driving authors to find something new and different to tempt readers and feed their voracious appetites.

It was no different twenty years ago when I created Kent Fisher. The competition was not quite so intense then, but the desire to find something fresh and to stand out from the masses was just as strong.

Driven by a love of murder mysteries by authors like Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter, I wanted to create a detective as unique as Miss Marple or Morse to solve the most baffling cases. I also wanted to remain faithful to that familiar favourite, the classic whodunit.

No pressure then.

The idea for an environmental health officer (EHO) who solved crimes crystallised over many months while I was out on my district in the South Downs of East Sussex. EHOs are enforcement officers who deal mainly with environmental and public health issues, including the safety of the food offered to the public, health and safety in the workplace, pollution and substandard housing.

It’s a wide-ranging remit, but one that offers opportunities. People die from food poisoning and accidents at work. Frustrated residents have shot their neighbours for playing music too loud.

Unfortunately, working for a local council is hardly glamorous.

And let’s face it, you wouldn’t nip down to the town hall, ask to see an EHO, and report a murder, would you?

But how about a murder disguised as a work accident that’s investigated by an EHO?

Now that’s an entirely different proposition.

No AccidentNo Accident became the starting point for the Kent Fisher murder mystery series. Once he’d solved a murder, he had earned his stripes. He was then open to requests from family friends to track down a wife who had gone missing. (No Bodies).

The variety of businesses and premises EHOs visit offered possibilities – theme parks, luxury care homes, restaurants and hotels, public houses, caravan sites, children’s homes, farms, estate agents,. These have all featured in the murder mysteries.

Then there’s his life outside of work. As an environmentalist, I wanted to make this a key driver in Kent’s life. The animal sanctuary where he lives offers more possibilities to push environmental and welfare themes, setting Kent apart from other detectives.

I hoped his work, the backstory and the characters involved would make the stories more interesting to readers.

HarveyHe adopts one of the dogs he rescued – a West Highland white terrier, who becomes Columbo in honour of Kent’s favourite TV detective.

Kent Fisher was certainly different, if not unique, but would readers embrace him?

A strong element of humour might help. Ask anyone who works for a council or in the public sector and they’ll tell you a sense of humour is essential.

That left the plot. I wanted to give readers a traditional murder mystery with the usual crop of suspects, red herrings and a complex investigation that would keep people guessing till the exciting climax and reveal.

After all, that was the starting point, what I wanted to write.

Imagine my delight, and relief, when No Accident was first published in June 2016. Crime Fiction Lover posted the following review.

“Expect sharp dialogue and irreverent humour in this whodunit which manages to pay homage to the traditional murder mystery, while striking a contemporary and irreverent note.”

This was music to my ears.

Feedback and reviews told me readers loved the backstory and characters. What I didn’t realise at the time was how significant they would become.


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The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett

14th July 2021.

When Jude’s asked to help heal one of her friend’s horses, she doesn’t expect to find a body at the riding stables. But this is Fethering and murder is never far away. Jude’s friend and fellow sleuth Carol has her own problems. She senses marital problems for her newly-wed son and his wife.

With the police releasing no information about their investigation, Jude and Carole have to resort to what they do best – make their own enquiries. They soon latch onto a former Irish jockey and horse whisperer, who seems to know a lot more about the murder than he’s willing to tell.

Like the previous books in the series, this one is filled with the usual red herrings, humour and puzzles to solve. Jude and Carole slowly work their way to the truth, putting themselves in danger once more as events twist in an unexpected direction.

Their chalk and cheese relationship provides additional layers of conflict and humour as their friendship and partnership overcomes all challenges to solve another murder.

If you like a cosy mystery with a strong underbelly of humour and social comment, the Fethering Village mysteries may be just what you’re looking for.

Description

When healer Jude pays a visit to Long Bamber Stables one evening – to meet her unusually horse-shaped new client and his owner Sonia Dalrymple – she does not expect to stumble across a man lying in the darkness. Walter Fleet, co-owner of the stables, has been viciously stabbed to death.

Sleuthing neighbours Jude and Carole begin to make discreet enquiries, but it soon becomes clear that Long Bamber Stables is a hotbed of dangerous passions, murderous rivalries and hidden truths . . . and this horsing community will do anything to protect their reputations.

The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett

I’m with the Band by BL Faulkner

25th June 2021.

In this sixth outing for the serial murder squad, DCS Palmer immerses himself in the world of rock music, namely a band whose members are being killed off one by one. This is the assertion of the band’s manager, who soon finds himself on the mortuary table.

This is the cue for Palmer, Gheeta and Claire to swing into action, investigating the deaths of previous band members. With only one member of the band left alive, they must also protect him from a killer who shuns the shadows to lay down a challenge to Palmer.

In common with the other books in the series, this is another fast-paced thriller with an original premise, a twisting plot and an adrenaline fuelled climax at the NEC in Birmingham. There’s plenty of witty banter among the team, humour from Palmer’s battles with neighbour, Benji, and great writing throughout. I simply breezed through the story, enjoying every moment.

Whether you read the books in order or as stand alones, this is an excellent and hugely enjoyable series.

Description

A worried Rock Band manager asks for help when his band members appear to be being murdered one by one. Palmer is sceptical until the manager himself is killed. The trail leads the team into the band’s past and the many people who could harbour a long held grudge. It’s a needle in a haystack job checking them all until the killer shows himself on Facebook and defies Palmer to find him before the last band member is murdered. As usual B.L.Faulkner knows the business he is writing about and takes the reader on a fast paced thriller to the explosive end at a major NEC concert. And even then his signature ‘twist in the tail’ catches you unawares.

I'm with the Band by BL Faulkner

Murder at Home by Faith Martin

30th May 2021.

The murder of Flo Jenkins appears motiveless. This elderly lady is well loved and close to dying from cancer. Why would anyone stab her in her own front room?

This is the mystery facing DI Hillary Greene and her team in their fifth outing. Problems at headquarters also muddy the waters with a stalker sending nasty messages to Janine, who is about to marry the Chief Superintendent, Mel. Then there’s the new detective constable, transferred out of London after an incident.

And a former chief superintendent, who left under a cloud threatens to cause trouble for Hillary.

It’s all in a day’s work for Hillary as she rallies the team, deals with the internal problems and gets down to solving the murder with an inspired bit of lateral thinking. The murder is intriguing, the relationships within the team fascinating and laced with humour, and at the heart of it all, Hillary Greene shines, even though her love life is getting complicated.

This is another excellent and exciting episode in the series. Like all the books in the series so far, it can be read as a standalone, but then you’d miss out on the character development and relationships that are an integral and delightful part of stories.

Highly recommended.

Description

Flo Jenkins is found murdered in her armchair, a paperknife sticking out of her chest. The old woman was well liked and nothing seems to have been stolen from her home. And it was common knowledge that she only had weeks to live.

Why kill a dying woman? This is going to be one of the toughest cases yet for Hillary to solve.

Hillary also has to deal with a new colleague who has a terrible temper and a rocky past.

With no forensics, no leads, and only a drug-addict nephew as a suspect, will this be Hillary’s first failure to solve a murder case?

Murder at Home by Faith Martin

The Torso in the Town by Simon Brett

25th May 2021.

This is the third book in the Fethering mystery series, feature chalk and cheese neighbours Carole and Jude.

It starts with a dinner party at Pelling House, where Jude finds a mummified torso in the cellar. It isn’t long before Jude and Carole are returning to the small market town where it happened to investigate. Carole, however, is smarting from a breakup in a recent relationship, and isn’t as motivated as usual.

But it isn’t long before Jude’s befriending the locals, getting them invited to an important dinner party, and interviewing everyone with a connection to Pelling House over the years. As you would expect, there are plenty of characters in the town and even more suspects, once the body is identified.

Carole and Jude’s progress is a joy to behold as they get behind and under the façade of this sleepy town and its often pompous residents. I loved the author’s gentle mocking of middle class foibles, values and attitudes and the undercurrent of humour that keeps the story jogging along at a merry pace.

The descriptions and social commentary are a delight, the characters beautifully, an occasionally tragically, portrayed, and the investigation leads to an exciting climax, followed by an unexpected twist that adds to the reader’s pleasure.

If you enjoy a cosy mystery that’s original, sophisticated and fun, then this series is a treat and fast becoming one of my favourites.

Description

Grant and Kim Roxby had hoped that their first dinner party at Pelling House would make an impression with their new neighbours. And the next day it’s certainly the talk of the village in Fethering. For their guests – including the couple’s old friend Jude – had been enjoying a pleasant meal when they were rudely interrupted by a gruesome discovery. A human torso hidden in the cellar.

Carole and Jude turn amateur sleuths once again. They begin to question the locals, but they can’t help wondering why a town notoriously distrustful of outsiders is proving so terribly amenable to their enquiries . . .

The Torso in in the Town by Simon Brett

More than a Murder Mystery

Isn’t it lovely when readers surprise you?

Here I am, writing murder mysteries for crime fiction lovers, doing my best to create the most baffling and convoluted plots possible. Being a huge fan and admirer of Agatha Christie, I’ve studied her approach and techniques, determined to learn from the best-selling crime writer of all time.

When the reviews and feedback come in, I’m delighted when readers enjoy the plots, the complexity and the unexpected twists that lead to an exciting climax. But many of them love the characters and the backstory. They want Kent Fisher to find the woman of his dreams, to deal with his boss and the bureaucracy at work, and any number of issues the backstory generates.

And Kent’s West Highland white terrier, Columbo, steals every scene he’s in.

Harvey on sofa

Then I discover many of my readers don’t usually read crime fiction.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but a welcome bonus.

When I first started the series, I wanted to create something all the family could enjoy – the kind of TV crime drama that aired at 8pm on a Sunday evening, like Inspector Morse. That’s why there’s no excessive violence, no offensive swearing or graphic sex scenes.

I also wanted Kent Fisher to be rooted to a setting, to a dream and gave him his own animal sanctuary. He needed help, so I gave him a manager. He needed money, so I gave him wealthy parents – landed gentry to conflict with his principles and create some tension. As he was an environmental health officer by profession, there was a team and managers around him.

No AccidentWhen I started the first novel, No Accident, I had no idea how these characters and backstory would influence the books that followed, or the reactions of readers. Sometimes, it seems there’s as much drama in the backstory as the murder mystery.

I soon discovered that with each new book, I had to consider the backstory first. What was happening at Kent’s workplace that needed resolving? Was there anything at his sanctuary to consider? Then there were the main characters – his stepmother, Niamh, who started her own catering business. Gemma, his former lover and sidekick, was never far from his side. His continuing conflict with his manager, Danni, evolved with every book. Other women wandered in and out of his life. Some stayed a little longer.

Then there was his best friend Mike Turner, the retired scenes of crime officer and source of some of the best humour in the stories. When those two got together on the veranda of his beachside bungalow, the fun and humour reached new levels.

I love writing their scenes together.

It’s like writing two books

First, there’s the drama of Kent’s life and those close to him, and a murder to solve.

But the backstory gave me running themes – his romantic dalliances and the effect on those around him. At work, he struggled with government spending cuts, staffing issues and poor management. His sanctuary sometimes threw up problems. He started to outsmart the local police detectives as he solved the murders.

But I loved the backstory issues, tempting Kent with new lovers, discovering more about his past, what made him tick and the results of some of his indiscretions when he was younger. The characters around him could point out his bad points, the blind spots in his character he’d never see. These characters offered alternative opinions and values, adding to the tension.

Elements of the backstory can disrupt his investigations, throw him a curve, land him in deep water. He’s forced into difficult decisions, but that’s just how I like it.

The harder he has to work, the more people he comes into conflict with, the more exciting the story.

The backstory often allowed me to have the occasional cliff hanger ending. The murders are always solved and loose ends tied up. But what’s going on behind the scenes is life. It doesn’t fit into neat boxes. It can’t always be predicted or understood. And it can come along and bite you, as Kent often discovers.

I can spend days, weeks sometimes, working out where the backstory issues would be three or six months time after the end of the last story. What were the outstanding issues to address and how? What issues and drama would they raise?

Once these are decided, it’s time to write.Writer

As I don’t plan ahead, it’s all exciting, not knowing what’s going to happen.

I don’t worry how the backstory might affect the murder investigations. Kent begins his investigations under the circumstances he’s living in. If there are problems at the sanctuary or at the office, he works around them while he investigates. Sometimes it means sleuthing during work time, which brings its own conflicts and ethical issues, adding to the rich broth of the backstory.

Best of all, as the series progresses, Kent starts to realise the effect solving murders has on those around him. His brushes with death have left wounds that are difficult to heal, creating tensions and emotions he’d always buried to maintain his sanity.

And when something from his past leaps up to bite him on the backside, his murder investigations can become very personal indeed. But that’s a story for another day…


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A hero for today

Have you ever read a book or watched a TV programme and wished you could write something as good?

Inspector MorseNeither had I until I saw the original Inspector Morse series. The superb characterisation, complex and intriguing plots, and the beautiful Oxford settings captivated me. About the same time, BBC 1 aired the Miss Marple series, adapted from Agatha Christie’s books.

Both programmes evoked the same emotion and desire to write a complex murder mystery.

At this point, I should tell you I was already a writer. Not a successful one, unless you include the national short story competition I won at the age of 12. That early enthusiasm and promise never quite materialised into something a publisher would want or take – until Morse and Marple got under my skin.

I sensed a brighter future. But first, I needed a hero for my murder mysteries – someone different, someone flawed but principled, charismatic and up to the job.

Police officer or private investigator?

While I’d worked with the police many times as an environmental health officer (EHO), I had no idea how they investigated murders. With DNA evidence making its mark, I thought I’d leave it those who understood such things.

Sue GraftonEqually, I had no idea how private investigators worked. Sue Grafton’s first novel, A is for Alibi, featuring PI Kinsey Millhone tempted me to create my own investigator. The character was feisty, sassy, funny and quite ruthless in completing any job she took. The books were a joy to read.

Could I create a male version of Kinsey?

It took some time for Kent Fisher to evolve. The name took almost as long to create, but that’s a subject for another day. He was tough, determined, single-minded, hopeless in love, and had a good stock of witty one-liners.

But was he flawed?

In his first outings, he was more like Rambo than Morse. That’ll teach me to make him a former paratrooper. He was married to an unsuitable woman. While it seemed like a good idea at the time for extra conflict, I couldn’t imagine him falling for such a woman. Net result – I failed to write with any conviction.

My attempts to make him a PI fared no better.

Thanks to my healthy appetite for Dick Francis, that left me with one option. Many of his heroes were ordinary people, drawn into adventures and investigations that often put them in grave danger.

Kent Fisher became an EHO

Kent Fisher and ColumboAn environmental health officer conjured up an image of a person in a suit, carrying a clipboard and talking like some dreary, faceless bureaucrat. That was how TV writers saw them at the time. It was hardly an image to inspire readers, was it?

So I gave Kent a past as a hunt saboteur and environmental protestor, who chained himself to trees and bulldozers to stop developers destroying the countryside he loved. This ensured he had as many enemies as he had supporters, offering plenty of storylines for the future.

Without thinking, I knew he would live in an animal sanctuary, confirming his dedication to the natural world.

While I doubt if he’s anyone’s idea of a detective, to me he’s a hero for today. He’s an ordinary person who solves the most complex and difficult murders I can dream up.

This posed another challenge – how would an EHO solve a murder? Let’s be honest, during my long career, no one has ever walked into the council offices and asked me to investigate a murder.

I’ll admit I’ve wanted to murder many awkward members of the public, councillors and restaurateurs and publicans over the years. Luckily, I can now do that in my novels.

Finally it came to me – disguise a murder as a fatal work accident. Kent Fisher goes in to investigate with the police. They pass the investigation to him and he uncovers a murder.

Simple.

But no one believes him, of course, so he has to solve it himself.

It led me to the highly original title of No Accident, which was traditionally published in June 2016.

A fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery

Thoroughly modern, with contemporary themes about protecting wildlife and the environment, Kent Fisher was like no other detective out there. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you like the traumatised police inspectors with pen-pushing superiors that seem to dominate crime fiction these days.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the part the characters and backstory would play in the hearts and minds of readers. I simply set out to build a world around Kent and fill it with strong, engaging characters that would impact on his life and work.

HarveyAnd that’s before we get to the rescue dog he adopted. Named Columbo after Kent’s favourite TV detective, the West Highland white terrier would become a firm favourite with readers and reviewers.

With his personal life as complex as the murders Kent solved, the story drew in people who didn’t normally read crime. Readers cared about these people, about this world Kent lived in, as much as they enjoyed trying to solve the murders.

But that’s something for another post…


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