Keith Dixon, UK author of the popular Sam Dyke tales, kicks off a new series with the story of a man trying to escape an event that ruined his professional life, and leaves him vulnerable to the kind of riff raff that put him in a tight spot in the first place.
But when he finds himself drawn to a manipulative con-woman and is dragged into a high-profile antiquities scam, Storey realizes escaping his past may not be as easy as he’d hoped. In fact, it could turn deadly.
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Dixon shares his inspiration for this new series, talks about his love for Elmore Leonard, and what it’s like to start with a fresh new character.
What can you tell us about your new series protagonist, Pail Storey?
Paul Storey is a man who has been extremely good at his job in law enforcement but an unfortunate event undermines his self-belief. Storey has come home to Coventry because he feels his professionalism has been compromised by what transpired in London, and he can’t get his head straight to function properly in that former role. He wants to reset, find something different to do—returning to Coventry to take care of his father’s property is a good prompt to do just that.
What’s your relationship with Coventry?
I was born in Yorkshire but raised in Coventry. When I was growing up it was a dynamic place, the home of many car manufacturing companies, and called a “boom town” by the press, partly because of the rebuilding it underwent after the German bombing of World War II. My previous crime novels had all been set in the North West of England, where I’d spent many years, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit my home town almost as a stranger. Because I had a new character to deal with, it seemed sensible to give him a different location to roam around in, a place where he could best the bad guys.
Speaking of bad guys, what villains feature in STOREY?
In my previous crime novels, I’ve tended to create a bad guy who was in “master criminal” mode – smart, ambitious, with big plans. Their outlandishness was appealing and fun to write. However, I’m a realist at heart, so I thought this time I’d try to invent a lead bad guy who was more in keeping with the kind of villains you find if you read the local papers – average to low mentality, socially inept, thinking they’re smarter than everyone else. That’s how Cliff Elliott came about. But also, in this book, I thought it would be a challenge to introduce two antagonists for the hero, and the female villain and her story are based on a real case—a con-woman who gypped a man out of several thousand pounds while at the same time adopting disguises to fool the man’s family. I liked writing her sections from her point-of-view and finding those moments when her real evil demonstrated itself. I try to explain the psychological basis for her actions—why she became who she is—while at the same time acknowledging that sometimes people behave badly just because they can, or because they don’t understand, or realize, that actions have consequences.
You’re obviously known for your Sam Dyke series. What did you want to do differently with STOREY?
My previous crime novels had been deliberately written in the style of the classic private eye/noir novel—first person, ironic, tough, though I’d also added in the third-person perspective increasingly used by writers such as James Lee Burke and Jefferson Parker. In this book, I wanted it to be third-person and to have the lightness of touch of Elmore Leonard’s classic works. I’d read his books when they started to come out in paperback in the UK, thirty years ago, and re-read them all again recently, for pure pleasure. I wanted to try writing with the fleetness-of-foot and wit and rapid characterization that Leonard was able to produce, apparently without effort. So, for example, I was much more conscious—when starting a scene in a different POV to the previous scene—of getting into the mind of the POV character quickly, seeing events unfold from his or her perspective, using their language and thought processes, taking myself out of the scene altogether, and not editorializing. That was great fun, though a technical challenge.
STOREY, as well as being a tense thriller, is also funny. When you’re writing humorous scenes and dialogue, are you conscious of cracking jokes, or is this something that evolves more naturally?
I like to keep a sense of irony about my characters, inasmuch as they’re often aware of the situation they’re in, whether it’s dangerous, foolish, threatening, or whatever. They can’t help but notice their situation and are self-aware enough to comment on it, sometimes at their own expense. Also, I’m always conscious that scenes should be built on conflict, and for me that often seems to mean the characters take the mickey out of each other, or belittle each other comically. Plus, of course, an element of wit is good for showing character—you laugh at what the individual says even as you understand him or her a little better. Usually the characters show their sense of humour as you write them. If you’re far enough “into their head,” the way they express themselves comes as a matter of course. Elmore Leonard used to write “in the voice” of his characters until he heard them talking—that’s when he knew he was ready to write the book.
As well as being a writer you’ve also worked as an editor and proof reader. Do you have any advice for authors?
Far be it from me to give advice to other authors, except to say: listen to criticism but don’t always give in to it—know what you’re trying to do. You soon realize once you’re published that your book will be praised by some, and pilloried by others, so you need to be certain what you’re trying to do and stick to it.
Keith Dixon was born in Yorkshire and grew up in the Midlands. He’s been writing since he was thirteen years old in a number of different genres: thriller, espionage, science fiction, literary. He’s the author of seven novels in the Sam Dyke Investigations series and two other non-crime works, as well as two collections of blog posts on the craft of writing. When he’s not writing he enjoys reading, learning the guitar, watching movies and binge-inhaling great TV series. He’s currently spending more time in France than is probably good for him.
Learn more about Keith by following him on Twitter (@keithyd6), by reading his blog, or connect with him on Facebook. On his website you can download a couple of free books and find out more about the others.