I am very happy to be welcoming Paul Finch onto Novel Kicks today. His new book, Hunted was released by Avon on 7th May 2015. We review the latest adventures of DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg but first, Paul talks to us about his process for writing Hunted.
In some ways – at least at the start of the process – HUNTED was quite an awkward novel to write. Not least because late in the day we had to change its place in the schedule. Originally, it was slated to come third in the DS Heckenburg series. But then, due to reader demand to see the Nice Guys again – those were the villains in the first book, STALKERS – it was moved to fifth.
This in itself wasn’t a major problem, though obviously it necessitated some rejigging of characters and relationships given the tumultuous events in the third and fourth Heckenburg novels, THE KILLING CLUB and DEAD MAN WALKING. The real complication with HUNTED – if you could call it a complication, and I hesitate to actually use that term – arose because I always feel it’s important in these novels to take the central character, Heck, into different environments each time.
He frequently moves from the town to the city to the country, and back again, though inevitably most of these journeys see him trawling the badlands: impoverished urban zones, chaotic city centres – places where villainy most often occurs. Even in DEAD MAN WALKING, most of which Heck spends in the glorious Lake District, I found it important to ‘toughen’ things up. So I looked for as remote and isolated a location as I could, I set the book in late November and a thick winter fog, and introduced a deranged and seemingly unstoppable killer. For all these reasons I wanted a complete change of atmosphere and tone with HUNTED. This drew my attention to Southeast England, in particular the Home Counties, specifically Surrey, the place where allegedly there are more millionaires than anywhere else in the country. So the backdrop this time would be leafy lanes, comfortable commuter towns and well-heeled villages. I also opted to set the book during a hot summer, not just because it was scheduled for publication in May and therefore would arrive on most people’s e-readers or bookshelves with the sun shining outside and a feeling that the holiday season was just around the corner, but because I wanted to create a deceptively relaxed and peaceful mood.
Nothing bad could happen on a day like this and with such scenery around us, you might think. And if you do think that, good … that was my intention.
Because bad things, of course, do happen. This is a Heck novel, the trademarks for which are gruesome modes of murder and high body-counts. But this was another aspect of the book I also wanted to tweak slightly.
If you are writing about a dedicated investigation team like the Serial Crimes Unit, and you want it to be authentic, you are almost inevitably dealing with sexual homicide. This can be very discomforting for both the author and the reader. My crime novels are essentially entertainment, and yet sex murders are such a brutal and hideous reality of life that it’s not something we should take lightly. That said, I don’t think that as crime writers we do our readers any justice if we skate around this kind of unpleasantness. But it’s important not to be gratuitous with it. And so, though Heck has investigated sex crimes before, and will do again, I try, whenever possible, to move a little bit away from that – more into the realms of macabre craziness, dealing with horrible but baffling crimes and with criminals who in normal circumstances would be classifiable as insane.