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.
Again, this isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect to encounter very often down in Surrey. But it’s not as if there’s no crime there, and lunatics can show up anywhere. And how cool would it be, I thought, to juxtapose all this rural, suburban elegance with something really weird and disturbing.
So … I had the setting, I had the time of year, I had the basic theme, and I had my usual cast (though I’d already decided to freshen this up with a new character, the arrival of prickly Detective Constable Gail Honeyford, who is going to confront Heck with several challenges of a type he’s never met before). Now, all I needed was my psychopath: not just the beast itself, but the nature of the beast.
What does he do? Why does he do it? How does he do it? Where, when, etc?
I spent several days flipping through true crime websites, focussing exclusively on the strange and bizarre. While walking the dogs, I rooted through my imagination, searching for something that was terrifying but very different from everything that had gone before.
And then, as so often happens, it just suddenly clicked.
After what seemed like weeks of futile brain-storming, an idea rushed in. I’d been pondering fictional criminal masterminds like Moriarty and Goldfinger, who considered their crimes not just to be works of genius, but of art; who took great pains to immortalise themselves through complex and elaborate acts of evil that would have a devastating impact on the rest of society.
Of course, I wasn’t working on that scale. We’re not robbing Fort Knox in HUNTED, or trying to provoke a world war using advanced weaponry. But the notion of crime as an art-form – and end in itself rather than a means to an end – really gripped me. And I thought it could work especially well, add a real layer of mystery, if at the same time our antagonist sought to fox the police by disguising each incident as an unlikely but terrible accident.
So, the idea was now there, and Heck being Heck – a human bloodhound with astonishingly well-honed instincts – was the ideal copper to tackle it.
What followed was one of those wonderful moments in writing, something my late-father, a very fine playwright – used to describe as ‘the divine breath’; when the whole thing just writes itself in your head and the only real problem you have is that your fingers can’t rattle across the keyboard quickly enough to keep up.
Of all the Heck novels so far, I think HUNTED is the most satisfying in that regard. It literally poured out of me, and went through a remarkably painless editing process at Avon Books.
It’s a big change of tone and mood compared to the previous novel, but that was the idea all along. It’s still Heck, of course. He’s still the beating heart of the story, still the flawed hero even if he now finds himself tangling with a completely different kind of psychosis.
It’s too early yet to gauge the general reaction of readers, but I’m hoping they’ll agree with me that this is the most exciting update in the Heck story so far.
(Paul Finch, 2015.)
And our verdict on Hunted…..
Heck needs to watch his back. Because someone’s watching him…Across the south of England, a series of bizarre but fatal accidents are taking place. So when a local businessman survives a near-drowning but is found burnt alive in his car just weeks later, DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg is brought in to investigate.
Soon it appears that other recent deaths might be linked: two thieves that were bitten to death by poisonous spiders, and a driver impaled through the chest with scaffolding.
Accidents do happen but as the body count rises it’s clear that something far more sinister is at play, and it’s coming for Heck too…
A short while ago a black box arrived in the post. Upon opening it was found to contain two rubber masks; one of Stan Laurel and the other of Oliver Hardy. Needless to say I figured it was to do with a book launch, but beyond that I had no idea. A couple of days later another box graced my doormat, this time containing a jar with two plastic spiders and the latest book by Paul Finch: Hunted. Now I am a relative newcomer to Paul’s wonderful creation, namely DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg but I am quite definitely #HookedOnHeck.
We join Heck just as he is closing a case and is asked by his senior officer and one-time-lover to cast his knowledgeable eye over a couple of freak accidents. So Heck heads for Surrey and a small town police station to investigate and whilst examining the scene of a car crash where the victim was burned in the car finds a tooth lying by the side of the road. Before too long he come to realise that this incident and several others are all related, the perpetrators hiding their crimes by making them look like accidents. I don’t want to give too much away, but I really recommend that you read this book if you enjoy crime, thrillers and good writing.
I started the book on a Wednesday evening and had it finished by midday on Thursday, I just couldn’t put it down! The characters are well written and explode from the page and into your imagination. Heck is a wonderful blend of selectively adhered to procedure, intelligence, wit and buckets of instinct. Just as with his last book, Dead Man Walking, Paul kept me guessing right until the last; a true page turner. I’m eagerly awaiting the next in the series.
(Review by Chris Parish. Hunted by Paul Finch was released by Avon on 7th May 2015 and is available in paperback in e-book formats. Click here to view on Amazon UK.)
Paul can be found over on Twitter: @paulfinchauthor