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MARTIN EDWARDS- interviewed by
|Where Do You Find Your Ideas? and other crime
stories, is a collection of 27 short stories written over the
past ten years by Martin Edwards and published in a wide range of
magazines and anthologies in Britain and overseas.
Edwards explains why hes been so prolific, Ive
used the short form to experiment as a writer, and to expand my
range as far as possible, by exploring a wide range of themes and
settings. To demonstrate the width of his range, the book
contains nine stories with historical settings, including two Sherlockian
pastiches, ten (including the title story) are tales of
psychological suspense and eight feature Harry Devlin, the heroof
Edwards books, a hapless Liverpool solicitor with an
unfortunate ability to stumble upon murder.
The Harry Devlin series began in 1991 with All The Lonely People.
Firmly set in Liverpool, as hinted at by the evocative Beatles echo
in the title, Harrys ex-wife Liz, with whom he is still
infatuated, turns up at his dockside flat. Sadly, she is not there
to kiss and make-up - but is very frightened. Harry wants to help,
but the next day Liz disappears and it appears that she was right to
be frightened. When Liz is found brutally murdered, the police come
looking for Harry. He sets out to find out the truth, while still
coming to the terms with the fact that his ex-wife is dead.
Loneliness is a key theme to this story - indeed Devlin is a lonely
man. Even when he does finally discover the truth about his ex-wifes
death, he is still very much alone.
The novel was nominated for the CWA John Creasey Memorial Award for
best first crime novel of the year - the winner was Walter Mosley
with Devil In A Blue Dress. Heady stuff though, even to be
So why fiction? And in particular, what made Martin Edwards, a
respectable lawyer, turn to crime?
Id written legal books. All told, Ive published
half a dozen, as well as four or five hundred articles and that gave
me experience of dealing with editors and writing professionally.
But I had always dreamed, ever since I was a small boy, of
publishing a novel. Not just any old novel, specifically a crime
novel. The genre has always fascinated me. It still does. Its
possibilities seem to me to be almost infinite and yet there is an
element of structural discipline which, thoughtfully applied, can be
enormously attractive, to writers as well as to readers.
If you combine the authors passion for crime fiction and
working as a Liverpool solicitor, perhaps Harry Devlins
conception was inevitable - although Harry is not, Edwards is quite
adamant about this, in any way a self portrait. They have one or two
things in common, but there it ends. Not least the number of dead
bodies they encounter. Which one would hope, would be considerably
less in Edwards case.
There are difficulties of course, when using a series character, in
keeping the body count plausible. Edwards is philosophical about
"Its often said that there isnt so much scope
nowadays for the amateur detective, except possibly for the amateur
who may have professional connections with the world of crime such
as a lawyer, a journalist or an insurance investigator. Fictional
sleuths are, at least in this country, more and more likely to be
professional police officers. But I tend to think that this trend
has emerged mainly because many of our best crime writers - Rendell,
James, Dexter, Hill, Rankin and so on - simply happen to have
policeman as their heroes. In reality, its not much more
likely that one chief inspector would keep stumbling over mysterious
murders in his own backyard than an inquisitive amateur like Harry.
With the success of his first book, a second followed and
Suspicious Minds was born. A music lover, Edwards takes each of his
titles from pop songs which give significant clues to the themes of
his books. Its a wonder Harry is able to sleep at night in
this book, as first, a clients wife goes missing, then his
daughter and her boyfriend. At the same time, a sex attacker is
terrorising the neighbourhood. Whats a man to do? Solve it
all, if your names Harry Devlin. But its never that easy
and when brutal murder is involved, Harrys suspicions lead to
inevitable disaster and a clash of personal and professional
The second book has a more complex structure than Harrys
first, in which the murder was very close to his heart, so there was
more emotional involvement for him. Its often said that the
second novel is harder for authors to write than their first, I
asked Edwards how he felt about this.
At the time, I was very happy with the book and my publisher
gave it a rapturous reception. All very exciting. With hindsight,
though, Id like to have developed the character of the culprit
in more detail. Its a common feature of the detective novel -
as opposed to a work of psychological suspense - that the killers
motivation is sketched in quite lightly, so as not to give the game
away too early in the narrative. As Ive gained in experience,
Ive devoted more and more attention to characterisation. Yet Ive
tried to avoid sacrificing strength of plot. It does seem to me that
the literary quality of crime novels is, in general, higher today
than ever. But there are plenty of well written suspense novels that
arent quite as suspenseful as they might be, because of a
tendency to neglect plot. The best crime novelists - again I think
of the likes of Ruth Rendell - are skilled not only at delineation
of character but also at composition of plot.
In his third book, I Remember You, Edwards continues with the
interweaving of plots, definitely not at the expense of character,
as the appearance of the colourful tattooist, Finbar Rogan, can
testify. Someone seems to want to harm Finbar, first his studio is
destroyed in a fire and then a bomb is planted under his car. The
fire provides a dramatic, and gripping opening to the book. Flames
licked at the building, greedy as the tongues of teenage lovers.
And once again Harry is drawn into a tangled web of secrets and
deceit. I asked Edwards for his thoughts on the novel.
In this book, memories - Harrys, the killers and
the principal victims - play a key part in the story. There is
also a sub-plot connected with Harrys legal work. Readers
often point out that he doesnt spend as much time working in
the office as he should - but who can blame him?
To a certain extent, Edwards stayed with a memory theme with his
next book, Yesterdays Papers. This time, Harry finds himself
looking into an incident which occurred thirty years previously,
when an amateur criminologist tries to persuade him there was a
miscarriage of justice. When Harry begins investigating and another
death occurs, it appears that someone out there is frightened of
what might be uncovered.
An atmospheric book, Edwards admits he enjoyed writing this book
The plot is multi-layered, it concerns a strangling back in
the sixties and I had the opportunity to dig into Liverpools
past and the Mersey Beat era. Great fun. The Sunday Times ranked it
as one of the paperbacks of the year, which was wonderful and would
have been even more wonderful if it had prompted the publishers to
get a few more copies into the shops!
That said, limited distribution certainly didnt prevent his
next book, Eve of Destruction, reaching the shelves. Edwards says, In
all my books, I like to touch on aspects of society that intrigue me
and this is no exception. Voyeurism for example, is a key element of
this story. Once again, an intriguing and interwoven plot is a
key element to the book.
Yet after this book, Edwards, though still writing about Harry
Devlin, seemed to change direction a little, The Devil in Disguise,
was a very different book in many ways. I asked the author what had
brought this about.
Id been determined for many years that one day I would
create a classic Golden Age type mystery, but set in a contemporary
urban setting rather than Mayhem Parva. This is one of the lightest
of my novels, full of jokes about the legal profession, with another
elaborate whodunit puzzle. It wasnt in any sense a trendy book
and I wasnt sure how people would react to it, but my new
publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, were tremendously enthusiastic
and, thankfully, the reviews turned out to be great.
First Cut Is the Deepest, followed which was much darker than his
earlier works - and also more gruesome.
Edwards agrees, Yes. Im keen to ring the changes with
the Harry Devlin series. I dont want to stick to a formula or
become stale. Quite simply, Im trying to write a better book
each time out.
Edwards is also a regular contributor to various magazines
including Shots writing both articles and reviews.
Because Im so keen on crime fiction, its no
hardship to review books. The only problem is finding the time to
read as many as I would wish. Its probably a mistake to
over-intellectualise about any type of popular culture, but I do
enjoy writing essays on aspects of crime writing that interest me. A
couple of dozen or more of my pieces - including an article on The
Prodigal in Crime Fiction, would you believe? - appear in the
new Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. One day, Id
like to write a whole book about the genre. And if it turned out to
be half as good as Julian Symons classic Bloody Murder, Id
Novelist, short story writer, reviewer and editor too, for Edwards
has reviewed several volumes of short stories.
Ive always enjoyed reading them and editing anthologies
for regional chapters of the CWA was a labour of love. When the
chance came to edit the CWAs national anthology, I jumped at
Edwards versatility was further underlined a couple of years
back when he was commissioned to finish The Lazarus Widow, the last
Scottish police novel to be written by the late Bill Knox.
Wed never met, we came from different generations and
our interests as writers were very different, so completing his
novel was a tremendous challenge - all the more so since Bill never
left any notes to indicate what the solution was going to be! But I
didnt want the reader to be able to see the join,
where Bills manuscript stopped and I took over. I found the
whole project utterly fascinating.
With so many demands upon his time, I wondered how the author
managed to balance everything in his life.
Badly! Im focused on trying to write so much and am
motivated to write, so it is difficult to fit everything in.
That said, hes still managed to fit in writing another novel.
Take My Breath Away will be published by Allison and Busby in May.
It represents a complete departure from the Harry Devlin series. The
book is set mainly in London and opens with a shocking murder -
committed by a dead woman. This is, by far, his most ambitious book.
As well as the crime theme, there are also underlying elements of
The idea for the book haunted me for years. I desperately
wanted to write it. Then, when I set down to work, I found it was
the hardest task Id ever set myself. But Im thrilled
that, after two and a half years, all the strands of the story
finally came together in a way that was very rewarding. Thrilled and
Thrilled is exactly what Edwards fans will be knowing his
book of short stories is available now and his new novel set to
follow in May. Whatever Edwards tries next, with his commitment and
talent, its bound to please.