It initially seems like quite a challenge looking back on the journey of my career, and examining the way in which it has led to the place where I’m currently at. But in some ways perhaps I’m not so very far from where I was when I first started.
I like to think I’m quite a versatile writer. About the only genre I’ve not worked in is romance (and some would even argue that point). In terms of style, I’ve written novels, short stories and screenplays. However, I do think there are certain themes and tropes that have recurred more frequently as the years have gone by. It’s probably a bit of a cliché, but in retrospect, near enough everything I’ve ever written feels like it was a preparation for the series of novels I’m currently producing.
On the surface, the DS Heckenburg investigations are crime thrillers, actioners, police procedurals, whatever you want to call them. They occupy familiar territory to readers, but I like to think there’s actually quite a bit more than that going on. But first up, here’s an outline of the series as it stands:
DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg is a highly-rated Scotland Yard detective, part of an elite team whose remit is to investigate serial murders through all the police areas of England and Wales. The outfit he is attached to, the National Crime Group, specifically the Serial Crimes Unit, is like a British version of the FBI in that they combine high level training and expertise with a real aptitude for criminal investigation. Naturally, this brings them into contact with the worst of the worse, and means they incur a much higher than average casualty rate. On occasion it’s more like a war than law enforcement, and this creates serious stress and intense drama in the unit’s day-to-day working lives – for Heck in particular, who thanks to severe trauma in his early life, now lives solely for his job.
Heck is a single guy in his late 30s, who has no social life and little time for romantic interludes (though deep down he yearns for his former girlfriend, Gemma Piper, the detective superintendent in charge of his unit), and dedicates nearly every waking thought to the pursuit and apprehension of whichever monster happens to be his latest target. That’s a Holmesian type thing, I suppose, but Heck is very far from a Holmesian character. To start with, he’s a northerner displaced to London. He’s of solid working class stock, and isn’t as much an analyst as an instincts man. He thinks outside the box, but he’s a chancer who takes big risks. A rough customer in some ways, but also pretty affable, he skates along the edge of a criminal underworld that hates him but also respects him.
We’re now five books in, with a sixth one due out in November, so I like to think that Heck has become my most fully realised and multi-faceted character. A good guy, yes, but with lots of weaknesses and faults, and a general method of working that involves every arm-twisting, rule-bending trick in the book, the overall upshot of which is that Gemma once described his career as “the longest suicide note in history”.
The concept of the flawed hero has always appealed. As a child, Superman was boring to me; he was simply too invincible. But Spiderman was very different; he didn’t always win and his private life was a mess. In Spidey’s case it was much more like pitting a normal guy against a range of villains so nasty they came more from the world of Grand Guignol than true criminality, which made it all the more exhilarating a conflict.
I’ve always loved the idea of a central character who is out of his depth as he confronts opponents and situations that are startling, horrible and far beyond his normal experience. So, for example, when I was writing horror stories, I liked to focus on everyday folk, be they coppers, journalists, or just young couples getting on with routine lives, who I could throw into the ring against enemies from outside their comprehension. The basic backdrops I used were designed to emphasise this conflict rather than distract from it: mundane environments like shabby cities, run-down housing estates. Clint Eastwood put it a lot better than I ever did when he said that he admired the western genre because it was a stripped down version of the human experience, because of “the simplicity of its moral landscape”.
I think I’ve sought to apply that same notion in whichever field I’ve been writing. For example, my 2003 novella, Twilight in the Orm-Garth, told the tale of the Norman conquest of England, but without any of the politics or medieval splendor, zoning in on a Norman knight so stricken with guilt that he renounced his vows and became a homeless vagabond in a desolated land, in which neither of the competing forces were his friend. Then there was an episode of The Bill, Protect and Survive, which went to air in 2000, the brand new character that was Mickey Webb undergoing a baptism of fire as, virtually alone, he played a cat and mouse game with an escaped murderer in a blighted part of town where he’d never been before. It’s even sneaked into my Dr Who work. In the novel Hunter’s Moon (2010), the Doctor was forced to go against his innermost instincts and impersonate a ruthless bounty hunter in order to save a bunch of alien abductees who were being used as big game on a planet so ruined and polluted that it was literally like Hell in outer space. In Strangers In The Outland (2014) he found himself shorn of all technology and assistance, and had to rely purely on his wits as he confronted a band of all-destroying Autons in the frozen wastes of Trenzalore.
I guess what I think all this boils down to is that my current incumbent in the hero role, Heck, is a more interesting character because he isn’t just at war with the mob, but with his own demons, and because the circumstances surrounding him are often reduced to the very minimum (that’s what I hope). Yes, he pursues criminals through all the land and cityscapes of Britain, involving himself in political and legal entanglements at every stage, but ultimately the human story is the big thing, the conflict and the rawness of the emotions and fear are at the forefront of each tale.
At least, that’s the idea, and I’m hoping the fact the books are selling very well is some kind of vindication of that.
(c) Paul Finch
Get hooked on Heck: the maverick detective who knows no boundaries. A grisly whodunit you won’t be able to put down, perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride and TV series ‘Luther’.
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…