A former superintendent with Thames Valley Police, David Hodges is an accomplished crime thriller writer, with five novels and an autobiography published. His debut novel, FLASHPOINT, won critical media acclaim and was followed by a second novel, BURNOUT. His last three novels, SLICE, FIRETRAP and now REQUIEM are all published by Robert Hale. This month he chats with The Big Thrill about REQUIEM and why his character’s motivations are the most terrifying part of his stories.
Why did you choose your title REQUIEM?
Several reasons actually. In the first place, the psychotic killer involved in the story was originally a funeral director, so REQUIEM seemed appropriate. Secondly, and more importantly, this novel is a sequel to the one before, entitled FIRETRAP, and as this is the concluding part, with the killer returning in an attempt to murder the woman police officer who thwarted his plans in FIRETRAP, REQUIEM seemed appropriate here also.
What is the story behind the cover for the book? Where do those stairs lead?
The cover of the book depicts the monument which stands on top of Glastonbury Tor. Glastonbury is an integral part of the Somerset Levels where the story is set and the book cover is intended to symbolise, not only the area, but the chilling mystery of the place. The steps themselves climb the hill towards the Tor.
Why is Kate Hamblin such an inspiration to write about? Why do readers relate to her?
I wanted a woman police heroine instead of the usual male hero. But I wanted someone who was ordinary and, in some ways, flawed, as we all are. So Kate is, hopefully, a young woman –quite vulnerable in some ways – who female readers should be able to identify with. I also wanted to create a character without the usual sexist hang-ups – yes, a woman who is very attractive, but also one who is equal to and, in many cases better than, her male colleagues. BUT, and a very big BUT, not the sort of feminist icon with butch tendencies who can trounce any man etc etc, as we see so often in fiction, where women tend to be patronised. I am not making a statement with Kate; she is just a very good determined police officer and whether she is a man or woman is irrelevant. I think readers will relate to her for the reasons I have given.
How can you write stories about such a psychotic person like Twister and sleep at night? Does Twister haunt you?
I am someone who never sleeps well at night, but not because I hear strange noises or fear someone, like Twister, targeting me, but because my brain seems to be more acute in the small hours and ideas come to me so fast that it is difficult to remember them when I wake up in the morning. I think my sleeplessness stems from my time on shift as a police officer; you never entirely recover from shift-work, especially night turn.
As to the character of Twister, I have a vivid imagination and thirty years experience in the police force dealing with criminals, some of who have been on a par with Twister. He doesn’t haunt my dreams, but he is very real to me. I see him as a real person and one to be very frightened of. Like most psychopaths, he is a man just like any other on the surface – not some bulging eyed maniac – and you could be sitting next to him on a bus or train and not know it. In FIRETRAP I show him viciously assaulting someone to extract information and then tenderly wiping away the blood from their broken nose afterwards. He is a contradiction in terms – a person who is cold and has no empathy with anyone, yet observes the niceties and does things in a clinical practical way (ie. I have broken your nose, but the blood must be causing you some discomfort, so I will wipe it away for you) In short, he is the sort of man who would torture a person out of objective interest and enjoy the buzz. Not a man to take tea with!!!
I know you can’t give the book away, but how sick does Twister get in REQUIEM
Depends what you mean by ‘sick’??? The suggestion throughout is that he is not sexually competent in the normal sense of the word, but finds the act of murder very arousing. In REQUIEM, in particular, he comes very close to sexual arousal at the thought of what he is going to do to Kate, but that is all. The end he has in store for her is sick, but not in a sexual sense. I don’t deal in perversion or gratuitous violence in my novels. Yes, there IS violent death and I try to make the method of despatch in each book different, but this is a means to an end and I don’t dwell on things. Twister is a dangerous psychotic character, driven by homicidal desires – an inadequate sociopath, who is not only very cunning, but totally amoral and without conscience. For me, it is the character of the man rather than what he actually does that is the most terrifying aspect of the story.
When writing your thrillers what is the one objective you hope to achieve in every book and why?
Thrillers are first and foremost about entertainment. People like to be frightened by things that they know are only fictional – ghost stories are a classic example. So my primary objective is to entertain; to frighten my readers, to make them sit upright in bed if they hear a door creak or a tin can roll across the patio. But to entertain, it is essential that you hold the reader’s interest, so making the book a good page-turner is equally vital. I read novels sometimes so heavy with procedure and explanations that I begin to wonder whether the author is more interested in trying to impress the reader with his knowledge about a particular subject than giving them a good read. I am very keen to ensure that the background to my books is accurate, even though the plots are entirely fictitious. Having been a serving police officer, obviously it is very important to me that the police procedure at crime scenes etc is portrayed as accurately as possible and I get very annoyed when I read crime books or see crime films on television where the author has not done his or her homework properly.
But having said that, I try not to get too involved in procedure or it spoils the impact of the story, so though it is there, I tend to gloss over it and concentrate on the action, at times also adopting some degree of poetic licence if it is appropriate. When I pick up a crime book to read, I want to be led on a fast moving journey, where I reach the end of a chapter and just have to read on because I want to know what happens next. If I have to turn back to check some fact or a particular character or end up looking to see how many pages I have yet to read to the end of the chapter, the author has lost it for me and I try very hard to ensure my novels don’t fall into this trap.
Somerset is a huge inspiration for your novels. Why do you hold so much value to setting?
My last two novels have been set on the Somerset Levels and for a number of reasons. Most obviously it is because I live here myself, so research is made easier and an authentic background can be created through local knowledge. Secondly, I believe that readers like to read stories set in real places, particularly places in which they live or work. You have only to look at Colin Dexter with his Oxford based Inspector Morse series, Ian Rankin who sets his novels in Edinburgh and Peter James who favours a Brighton patch, to see how popular this strategy is. But, most important of all, the Somerset Levels, with its wild open countryside, dense mists swirling across marshes criss-crossed by a latticework of rhynes (or man-made drains); its haunting – almost primeval – atmosphere and its association with witchcraft and Mediaeval history, is an ideal place for murder, mystery and suspense. In such a beautiful evocative part of Somerset, what writer could not but be inspired?
What is (Twister’s) fascination with Kate?
It is two years since Twister disappeared after blasting two police detectives to death with an incendiary device and embarking on a murderous rampage across the Somerset Levels (FIRETRAP) But now, in REQUIEM, he returns to take his revenge on Kate, who is the one person who escaped his clutches all that time ago. In his cold calculating mind, he sees her as unfinished business, which hurts his pride, and he has devised a particularly unpleasant, but spectacular end for her. Yet he is in no hurry to make his move – he wants some fun first. And Twister’s idea of fun is the last thing Kate or anyone else would want.
Since you were a former police superintendent and now you write crime fiction with cops as main characters, would you ever consider writing anything else and why?
I have always liked good old-fashioned mystery – screams in the night, fog, sinister shadows in the moonlight! I grew up on this sort of story with Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, the tales of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. But my real love has always been Victorian gothic style thrillers and I have been an avid follower particularly of Sherlock Holmes stories for as long as I can remember. When I started writing at the age of 11, it was heavily influenced by the gothic style and when I got to my teens, I concentrated on this genre for several years before joining the police, but got nowhere. I created a particular character who still lives in my head and sometimes I think he is a real person and I hope one day to bring him into the light. Thirty years in the police put a stop to my writing ambitions due to the nature of the work, but when I retired I started writing again, producing a series of thrillers which were published one after the other. These were all modern style police thrillers because it was easier to write what I knew about. However, I would dearly love to complete the gothic Victorian mystery that is now two-thirds written and one day I hope I will realize my ambition in this respect. At present though, I am having too much fun and success writing modern thrillers, so long may it continue.
When your family read your stories do they ask if any of it had ever happened to you? If so, would you share an instance in which a scene or story was true to life?
My family have never asked this question, funnily enough. My wife, Elizabeth, doesn’t read this sort of crime fiction and my two children simply read my novels and comment on what they think of them. However, readers often ask me this question and I can only say what I tell them: all my stories are entirely fictitious and I would not refer to an incident I dealt with in reality in the police. Nevertheless, it is true to say that bits of different incidents have helped me to formulate accurate background material for my plots (eg. crime scene forensic work etc), but nothing specific comes to mind. Having said that, my characters – both police and non-police – are sometimes composites of different people I knew. People watching is a vital requirement for all writers and when I create a character, it has to seem real to me in my mind, so it is inevitable that I sometimes think of someone I knew and the characteristics he or she exhibited. But again, I would never create a fictional character from a recognizable real person; it would not be appropriate.
Where can your books be obtained and do you have another novel in the pipeline?
All my books are currently available on Amazon or can be purchased through any of the usual commercial outlets. The latest crime novels, SLICE, FIRETRAP and REQUIEM can also be obtained via the website of the publisher, Robert Hale Ltd, with REQUIEM due out in October this year.
SLICE, FIRETRAP, and my autobiography on my thirty year career as a police officer, REFLECTIONS IN BLUE, are also now available on Kindle.
I have nearly completed my fifth novel, BLAST, which will be offered to my publisher at the end of this year, hopefully for publication in 2013. BLAST is another crime thriller, set this time in London and the south-west of England, in Cornwall.
Former superintendent with Thames Valley Police, David Hodges is an accomplished crime thriller writer, with five novels so far published, plus an autobiography. His debut novel, FLASHPOINT, won critical media acclaim and was followed by a second novel, BURNOUT. His last three novels, SLICE, FIRETRAP and now REQUIEM are all published by Robert Hale. He is a family man, with two daughters and four grandchildren, and lives on the edge of the Somerset Levels with his wife, Elizabeth, where he can fully indulge his passion for crime writing.