I can imagine it’s quite difficult to write a new detective novel. There are so many different detectives out there already, all with a substantial series of books to their names, that it’s hard to distinguish them from each other.
Sure, the plots are often quite different, and the settings vary, but ultimately, they all cover the same ground: a detective must track down a killer before it’s too late.
And yes, I’m afraid I did just boil down one of the most popular genres of fiction into one sentence. But my point is, how do you make that one sentence unique?
The answer is through your heroes, your detectives. They must be rich, deep characters who the reader can care about easily, and passionately. The real point of a crime novel, is not how and when the detective can catch the criminal, but how the case changes the detective.
Finding a new crime series can be just as hard for the reader as it is for the writer. How do you know which ones you’re going to like? Do you just have to take a punt and hope for the best?
Well, yes, unfortunately.
However, you do get a little bit of help. Sometimes a recommendation from a friend, or a blog, or a striking cover.
In the case of The Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill, it was a tagline that caught my eye:
Two childhood friends
One became a detective
One became a killer
This told me straight away that this writer at least got the point of a detective novel. So… I took a punt.
DI Ray Drake – the detective in question – starts the book out in a pub, a party for him and his Murder Investigation Team, following a commendation for a series of homicide investigations.
He doesn’t want to be there, and about the only person he can find who also doesn’t want to be there is the newly promoted DS Flick Crowley.
Ray is Flick’s boss, but when Flick begins to investigate a series of murders, Ray does everything he can to put Flick off the scent.
We witness events unfolding from both Ray and Flick’s point of view, as well as those of various other characters – including flashbacks to a children’s home in 1984. It should be difficult to keep up with so many different viewpoints, but it just about works because of the ambiguity between Flick and Ray.
With The Two O’Clock Boy Hill has managed to introduce us to a new crime series by giving us not one but two lead characters – the only problem is, we’re not sure who we should be rooting for. For a reader, this is fantastic. It adds a new twist to what can otherwise be quite a formulaic genre.
Parts of this book are predictable, but these are embraced by Hill, who leads us down one route, and then in the final pages, pulls the rug from under our feet.
The ending is, frustratingly, incomplete – but again, that’s a hallmark of the genre, they often end at the resolution of the case, without fully exploring the aftermath, however here, you really do get a sense it will be picked up again in subsequent books.
Hill has built a solid foundation for a new crime series and in Flick and Ray has created two characters that the reader will want to invest in – even if they’re not sure who the hero of the piece is.
The Two O’Clock is published by Sphere and available in paperback from April 7th.