The Crime Trade

by Simon Kernick

Published by Bantam Press/Transworld UK

384 pages, 2004


Buy it online

The Murder Exchange

by Simon Kernick

Published by St. Martin's Minotaur

368 pages, 2004

Buy it online











" ... I like writing stuff that makes me laugh, but I also think that if you're dealing with the grimmer aspects of crime -- murder, random violence, shattered lives -- you've got to be able to do it with some form of underlying humor, however black that humor is, because otherwise the stories can get too bleak. In the end, I want my readers to feel that they've been entertained as well as unnerved."











Over the two years since Simon Kernick's debut crime-thriller, The Business of Dying, was first published in Britain, we've learned much about this novelist's world. And it's a dark place, indeed -- best that you bring a torch along. In Kernick's world, which centers around the ganglands of north London, it's often difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad. This is a domain bathed in the gray blur of contradictions and murky moralities; a world heavily populated by prostitutes, pimps, drug lords, hit men and cops so bent that it's a wonder they can still fit into their wardrobes. It's a world where scalding gun barrels and bruised knuckles, rather than arrest warrants and slamming jail cells, are the result of injustices being righted.

Which is not to say that Kernick's fiction can't be fun; on the contrary, all of his books so far have hinted at their author's hip sense of humor. However, it's their dramatic elements -- shoot-outs in car parks, police confrontations with Colombian drug smugglers, and an episode of torture that makes the abuses committed on George W. Bush's watch at Abu Ghraib prison look like tongue baths -- that really propel readers through Kernick's twisted tales. Add to those strengths his sizzling dialogue, distinctly un-PC view of modern society and characters who are fairly bursting with flaws and credible dimensions, and you begin to understand why critics have likened his yarns to those of American Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island). And why The Business of Dying not only won a spot among January's favorite books of 2002, but was nominated in the following year for a Barry Award, given out by Deadly Pleasures magazine.

With the recent publication in Britain of Simon Kernick's third novel, The Crime Trade, and the coming U.S. release of his second book, The Murder Exchange (reviewed in "The Rap Sheet," 7-8/03), his reputation only seems likely to grow.

Not long ago, and over several bottled beers at a London pub, I had the opportunity to talk with this 38-year-old wordsmith about his latest novels, his intent to launch a second series, his unexpected brush with the legendary Inspector Morse and why he hasn't completely escaped his parents' home.


Ali Karim: Could you tell me a little about your latest book, The Crime Trade?

Simon Kernick: The Crime Trade continues the loose London-based series I started with The Business of Dying and The Murder Exchange. Detective Sergeant John Gallan, now a detective inspector, returns from his forays in The Murder Exchange and quickly finds himself in trouble when a police sting he's helped organize to catch Colombian drug dealers goes horribly and tragically wrong. At the same time, we're introduced to a new character, a maverick undercover police officer named Montgomery "Stegs" Jenner, who was directly involved in the sting and who may or may not have had something to do with the way it turned out. When the gangland informer whose information originally set the whole thing up is found dead the following morning, Gallan and his partner, DS Tina Boyd, are seconded to the Serious Crime Group murder investigation that ensues. Suspicion quickly falls on Stegs, but as Gallan and Boyd dig deeper they find that things aren't quite so cut and dried as they'd first thought.

There's plenty of action in the story and the style's very similar to the first two [books], so if you liked them, I'm hoping you won't be disappointed. And, I have to say, as a character, Stegs is a personal favorite of mine. He was a joy to write, and like so many people who aren't whiter than white, he had all the best lines.

Would you consider Stegs Jenner to be as morally ambiguous as, say, Max Iversson in The Murder Exchange or Dennis Milne in The Business of Dying?

Well, that'd be telling. As I said, Stegs is certainly no goody two-shoes, and from early on in The Crime Trade we can see that he likes to cut corners in his dealings. He also has a certain callousness about him where his relationships with family and colleagues are concerned, but you have to wait until the end of the book to find out whether or not he's guilty of the crimes that a number of the other characters have him marked down for.

There are always some significant twists in your books, and that's true too of The Crime Trade. How hard do you work to develop these twists?

Very, and they tend to come to me as I write. I think, as with anything, the more you practice and the more time you spend on something, the easier it gets, but at the same time, you've also got to be careful not to use similar [twists] every time. In my opinion, one of the most important rules about writing any crime thriller is to keep it unpredictable. That's what gets the reader to keep turning the pages. There are plenty [of twists] in The Crime Trade and one very big one at the end.

I know. I didn't see that one coming at all. The Crime Trade is also very funny in parts. In my opinion, it's your most humorous book to date. How important is humor in your writing?

For me, it's essential. First and foremost, I like writing stuff that makes me laugh, but I also think that if you're dealing with the grimmer aspects of crime -- murder, random violence, shattered lives -- you've got to be able to do it with some form of underlying humor, however black that humor is, because otherwise the stories can get too bleak. In the end, I want my readers to feel that they've been entertained as well as unnerved.

Your books feature a strong gangland element. What first got you interested in organized crime?

I've always been interested in organized crime, both in a contemporary and a historical context. I find it fascinating that criminals can run their operations like big corporations, often right under the noses of the authorities, while the latter seem curiously unwilling or unable to do much about them. I think that's particularly the case in [the UK], where this type of criminal activity has thrived for many years, and attempts to set up laws along the lines of RICO [America's 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] have yet to have much effect. Even when they're caught, the bad guys usually get a book deal!

From a writer's point of view, I also think that gangsters help to make great crime stories because they tend to be entertaining, if amoral, characters, while at the same time, they always have the necessary resources to mount multiple challenges to the hero, which is always useful if you want to keep your story moving at a rapid pace.

Your tales also feature some very interesting, and decidedly dodgy, minor characters, people like Big Mick, Slim Robbie and the psychotic "man with the steam iron," Frank Rentners, from The Crime Trade. Are any of these players based on real people?

The majority of the characters I use in my books, both minor and major, are based (albeit very loosely) on real people. And at least some of the events, including "the man with the steam iron" scene from The Crime Trade, have actually happened. I've met a few dodgy characters on the wrong side of the law during my research, and they always seem to be far more interesting and outlandish than I could ever make up. It might be a cliché to say it, but it's true that most of the time, truth is stranger than fiction.

A substantial number of modern British crime novels feature Asian sidekicks. Your own works include Milne's partner, Asif Malik. Can you explain the appeal of ethnic cops?

Funnily enough, as with Milne, Malik simply wrote himself. I didn't think of him so much as Asian, but more of a foil -- and one with more obvious moral values -- to Milne's antihero. I also think that having ethnic cops gives a good representation of the make-up of the British police force, particularly these days when the drive for ethnic recruits finally seems to be bearing fruit.

So, when did you start writing?

I've been writing stories ever since I was old enough to pick up a pen, and as I've got older, so they've got longer, more lucid and, hopefully, more entertaining. I knew from a very young age that writing was something that I wanted to earn my living doing, even though my mum kept telling me that writers never made any money (not that she actually knew any). The thing was, though, it was one of the few things I was any good at. Having said that, it still took me several hundred rejection slips and a good few years of trying until I was able to get a publishing deal, at age 35. Before that, I'd written two crime books (neither of which was good enough to see the light of day) and two science-fiction/fantasy books, which were basically teen scribblings. I think, with me, it was a case of practicing constantly until the end result was finally publishable.

Which books from your youth do you think were pivotal in your development as a writer? And was there a specific book that acted as a turning point?

I was a big SF/fantasy reader in my youth, particularly in my teenage years. The "Lord of the Rings" books were probably the most influential of those I read, followed very closely by the early works of Michael Moorcock, most notably the sagas of Corum and The Runestaff (stunning stuff and very underrated, as are most things in that genre). They helped to get me writing longer stories and finally books, and even if what I was producing wasn't much good (and I can assure you, it wasn't), it was a useful way of learning the art of storytelling. However, it was reading some of the classics of the crime genre that pushed me in the direction I'm in now. I remember devouring [Raymond] Chandler's The Big Sleep in one session back when I was in college, and thinking that the style was so original and so tight, that it mesmerized me as a reader. It also taught me that you don't have to go over the top in descriptions of either a narrator's surroundings or his or her feelings. Less can often be more when writing, particularly when you're putting together a thriller, and that's a valuable lesson that certainly improved my own style tremendously.

Fill me in a bit more about your background. What were you doing between leaving school and getting your first publishing deal, in your mid 30s?

I was brought up in Henley-on-Thames, a small town 40 miles west of London, and attended all the local schools. I left college at 19 and got a job as the assistant plant and transport manager at a local company of civil engineers, and do you know what? It was the best job I ever had. My boss was an old geezer nearing retirement who'd been in the industry for years, was very laid-back and prone to disappearing for long boozy lunches with his missus, leaving me to hold our very quiet fort, which meant reading a book, or, as was sometimes the case, writing one. After I'd done the job for a year, I emigrated to Canada and lived in Toronto for a couple of years. I went to college there for a while, did a few menial jobs and even managed to get myself engaged at the grand old age of 21 (although the relationship didn't make 22). In the end, I succumbed to homesickness and came back [to England] via Australia, before starting university (or polytechnic as it was then) in Brighton. After that, I held jobs as a laborer building roads, a Christmas tree feller and a barman before finally settling into the computer industry as a salesman, a career I held for getting close to 10 years, although if I'd been a bit swifter in producing my breakthrough book, it would have been a lot shorter [time].

Oh, so you were never a master criminal, then?

Sadly, no. Although I did have a brush with literary crime. While I was living with a group of friends in Henley way back in 1986, our landlord approached us and said that a film company wanted to borrow the house for a day to film a brand-new TV detective series. He paid us £25 each to vacate the place for the day, and the film unit even promised to provide us with lunch and supper. I took the day off work and hung round to watch what was going on, and was amazed to see [actor] John Thaw suddenly turn up. It turned out that what they were filming was the very first series of Inspector Morse. They had a car chase up our road and a big scene in the kitchen, where Morse confronts the killer and the killer attempts to escape, smashing one of our windows in the process (luckily a guy was on hand to fix it). By the time I saw the episode years later, the program, like the books, was huge. I even got John Thaw's autograph.

Let's talk briefly about your debut novel, The Business of Dying. What was the inspiration behind that book?

A few years back I was introduced to a couple of serving Metropolitan Police officers by a friend of mine, and I was surprised at how seriously pissed off they were with their lot. They told me that they and many of their colleagues felt they were being hounded and demonized by politicians, pressure groups and even their bosses, just for doing their jobs, and were consequently unable to do anything like enough to quell the rising tide of violent crime in London. They felt caught between a rock and a hard place, because as crime rose, so they were criticized by the very same politicians (as well as the public) for not doing enough to keep the city safe. The only reason any of them cited for remaining in the job was the pension rights, which made pretty depressing listening. From talking to them, I felt that it wouldn't take that much to send a police officer less professional than they were over the edge. That's where I got my inspiration for copper-turned-hit man Dennis Milne.

In one of my earlier, unpublished crime books, I had a chapter that centered round two men waiting to carry out a gangland hit in the carpark of a hotel called The Traveller's Rest. The chapter ends with one of the two shooting dead three men as they pull up in their Mitsubishi Shogun, and I thought that if I took that chapter and turned it into a short story with a twist in the tale -- the twist being that the shooter was a corrupt police officer -- then it might be publishable. I made the requisite changes, then decided that there was no point having it as a short story. Why not make a whole book of it?

What actually happened, however, was that I didn't get round to writing it, but finally decided, on my dad's advice (not that he knew a thing about the publishing industry), to send the story off as a first chapter to literary agents and make out that I'd written the whole book. I did as he recommended, putting a brief synopsis in with it, and the first agent I sent it to said he wanted to see the rest. What followed was three months of desperate writing, using up all my holiday entitlement for the year, only to have him reject it right at the end! Still, at least it was written, and much of that original draft remains in the finished book.

How did the first novel finally get published?

Well, after The Business of Dying was rejected by the agent who'd originally shown some interest in it, I got pretty down and shelved it while I started thinking about writing something else. But my wife, Sally, had a real go at me and told me that I was being defeatist (which I suppose I was) and encouraged me to keep sending it out to other agents. Reluctantly, I took her advice (I have to admit that the initial rejection hit me very hard), rewrote a few of the scenes and was lucky enough to find another agent [Amanda Preston, at Sheil Land Associates] who was interested very quickly. They took me on, sent the book out to a number of publishers, and Transworld were the first ones I saw. I was so impressed with them (and I mean that, honestly) that, when they made an offer for The Business of Dying and a second book, I canceled the other meetings we'd set up, and accepted immediately. I'm glad to say that it's a decision I'm very pleased with.

So tell me: What did those Metropolitan Police officers you'd spoken with earlier think of The Business of Dying?

I'm happy to say that, to a man (and woman), they all liked it, although I had to promise faithfully that Dennis Milne wasn't based on any of them! Also, no one's yet picked out any faults in the police procedures, which is always a relief. My mother-in-law, who works for Customs and Excise, found a mistake, though. Apparently, Customs don't have a third in command (anyone who's read The Business of Dying will know what I mean).

Dennis Milne is a character full of contradictions, almost a London version of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley. What's your take on having a hero who is deeply amoral and, in some respects, evil?

I knew he was a deeply flawed character, but I couldn't help but like him, and obviously I was hoping that the reader felt the same way. Having talked to people who've read the book, it seems that most of them agreed. I couldn't have someone like him as the "hero" of every book, though. I'm interested in characters with contradictions in their make-up but, like most readers, I also like to see the good guys win, and I think it would be stretching things to look at Milne as a good guy. Having said that, he will be making a return in my fourth one, so there must be something about him.

The Business of Dying won some excellent reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred rating, while Kirkus called it "impressive," describing your narrative voice as not unlike James M. Cain's in Double Indemnity. In the UK, the Independent on Sunday's Mark Timlin called it "the debut of the year." Dying also made January Magazine's best of 2002 roster. How critical were those reviews to the book's success?

Extremely so. Not only were they very encouraging, but I think they certainly helped get publicity, which led to the all-important objective of books being sold. As a reader, myself, I don't tend to buy books unless they've got at least a couple of good reviews on the cover, and I know a lot of other people think the same way, so it was a huge boost that I got so many positive ones.

Your second novel, The Murder Exchange, is set for its U.S. release in July, and has already received a starred review from Kirkus. Can you preview it for your American fans?

Sure. It's a thriller with two main protagonists: Max Iversson, an ex-soldier and ex-mercenary, now part-owner of a company providing bodyguards; and DS John Gallan, a down-at-heels detective, recently divorced, who's been demoted over an incident at his last station, and who's now trying to get his life back on track. The story starts with Iversson being employed, along with several of his colleagues, to accompany a local nightclub owner, Roy Fowler, to a meeting at an isolated warehouse that could potentially turn nasty. It does, with one of Iversson's guys doing the shooting, and Iversson only just manages to escape. Now he wants to know who set him up, and why. At the same time, Gallan is investigating the murder of a doorman at Fowler's nightclub. The case is an unusual one, because the killer used cobra venom, of all things, to dispatch his victim. Leads on the case are scarce and when they do turn up, so do bodies. But Gallan's a determined man and he keeps digging, unearthing in the process a ruthless conspiracy that spans not only the investigation he's working on, but another far more heinous crime that's been lying in the ranks of unsolved cases for close to a year. And as he closes in on the solution, he also finds himself coming into conflict with Iversson, who's himself closing in from the opposite direction.

The Murder Exchange is written in an unusual style. It contains alternating first-person narratives from the two main characters, Iversson and Gallan, who converge when the mystery reaches its climax. How did you arrive at this style, and why?

Originally, I wrote it in the third-person, but it didn't work. The characters simply didn't come alive and their humorous sides were utterly lost. Since both Iversson and Gallan were equal protagonists in terms of the amount of space they take up in the book, and since it wouldn't have felt right to have one narrate in the first-person and not the other, I changed them both for the second draft, and it worked very well. It's an unusual way of telling a story, but sometimes it's good to do things differently.

How difficult was it to shift between these two completely different viewpoints?

A lot harder than I thought it was going to be. The problem is that, because I was flitting between the two characters as I wrote, their voices tended to become blurred. They'd come out with the same phrases, the same mannerisms, so I had to go over the narrative again and again to make sure that in the final draft, they were fully distinct.

Right in the middle of The Murder Exchange is a torture scene. As jaded as I am, it made me wince, and I finally found it almost impossible to read. This is the only third-person section in the book. I realize that it is required to show how really bad Krys Holz is as a villain, but did you have any reservations about that scene?

I didn't at first, because I'd tried hard to play the scene for laughs in an attempt to ease the general ferocity of what happens, and thought I'd succeeded. However, when my wife read the book, she told me she thought the whole scene was unnecessary and too gratuitous, so I took another look at it, and agreed with her. By that time, though, the book was in the hands of the publishers, and both my editor and agent thought that the scene should remain. In the end, I hemmed and hawed about it for a while, but finally decided to keep it in because I wanted to show the reader -- graphically -- what a nasty piece of work Mr. Holz truly was, something that was important to the latter part of the book.

What's been the reader response to that scene?

Not surprisingly, it gets mentioned a lot. On balance, the majority of people think that I was right to keep it in. However, a few people do disagree, but I'm glad to say that it doesn't appear to have spoiled anyone's enjoyment of the book at all. And it can easily be skipped without losing anything of the overall plot.

Tell me, when it comes to violence, are there any lines you would not cross? Or can fiction be devoid of moral responsibility?

I personally wouldn't write a scene that involved gratuitous violence against a child or children, because I find that sort of thing too shocking. I think a writer has a responsibility to be careful what he or she writes, because certain crimes should never be viewed, however indirectly, as entertainment. But at the same time, I prefer the idea of self-censorship to that of censorship by any other body.

Speaking of children, you have two daughters of your own -- Amy, 5, and Rachel, 14 months. Do you think that having children affects your writing, either practically or psychologically?

Psychologically, I don't think it's made that much difference. Practically, it does, though. Since having kids, I've had to decamp to my mum's house just round the corner to do most of my writing. My house isn't big enough for peace and quiet. Maybe one day when I get famous, I'll have an annex of my own, but in the meantime, I have to hassle the parents. Most of The Murder Exchange and The Crime Trade were written round their house, which is embarrassing to admit, but absolutely true.

One last question about The Murder Exchange, before we move on. The book is generally very witty, with some diverse and funny metaphors in the sections written from Iversson's perspective -- leading me to think he might actually be more like you than, say, the world-weary Gallan. Do you think that's true?

Iversson was definitely an easier character to write, but I don't know if that means he's closer in personality to me. I think there's a bit of me in both of them, although I share Iversson's sense of humor. I'm a much nicer bloke than him, though. Honest.

Earlier, you brought up the subject of your fourth book. Can you tell me something about it? And has it actually been written yet?

It has. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, although I'm sure my editor will want me to make a few changes. It's tentatively entitled A Good Day to Die, and it begins three years after The Business of Dying ended. The story involves Milne returning to London from his exile in the Philippines to try to solve the murder of a former colleague, a murder that he feels he has some indirect responsibility for. I'm extremely pleased with it, and more importantly, so is my editor. There's plenty of action and once again, plenty of twists.

North London has provided the setting for all three of your books so far. Do you have any plans to set future work elsewhere?

The first part of A Good Day to Die actually takes place in the northern Philippines, and I had to travel out there to research it, which was a bit of an eye-opener. I went there with a mate of mine, and the transport that was going to take us from Manila Airport to the island where we were staying never showed up. After three hours of waiting round, we had to commandeer a taxi to take us to the ferry port. [The driver] promptly got lost, and we didn't get there until after the last ferry had gone. We were then accosted by a band of local brigands, who jumped in the cab, much to the driver's distress, and promised us passage to the island on their brand-new boat. After we'd agreed on a price, they made the taxi driver take us all along these untarmacked back roads until we came to a mosquito-ridden swamp, where our "brand-new boat" awaited. Except -- you've guessed it -- [the boat] was about 50 years old, and nothing more than a few planks of wood cobbled together, with a crappy little engine. It didn't look like it would get us across the swamp, let alone the 20 miles of shark-infested channel to our destination, parts of which were more than 3,000 feet deep. To add insult to injury, the bastards even jacked up the price, and since we were stranded miles from civilization, we had no choice but to pay them the extra. Thankfully, they kept their word and got us to the island, but with typical Third World chutzpah, they tried to sting us for a tip as we were disembarking. Needless to say, they got a few choice words instead.

The trip, I have to say, was very worthwhile, but it did feel good when the book moved back to north London, because I have such a familiarity with the place. I'm going to stick with that area for the next few books (I've got five, six and seven roughly worked out, although no contract to publish them yet!!), but after that, I'd like to perhaps try my hand at something a bit more international. Maybe a whodunit, set somewhere in the Caribbean -- the research side of a book like that certainly appeals! The thing about London, though, is that it does provide a very atmospheric backdrop to the kind of books I write, and that's going to be difficult to replicate somewhere else.

Different writers take different approaches to the writing of a book. Some plot virtually every page in advance, others prefer to make it up as they go along. What's your process?

I tend to have a basic plot (i.e., a beginning, a middle and a rough ending) before I actually sit down and put pen to paper, but that's about it. All the subplots and much of the underlying structure come about during, and even sometimes after, the first draft. With my third book, The Crime Trade, I changed the ending three times during the writing. So nothing with me is written in stone.

Which writing style do you feel most comfortable using, first- or third-person?

A few months ago, if you'd asked me that, I would have said first-person, no question. But in The Crime Trade, while DI John Gallan returns in the first-person, the man he's investigating -- undercover cop "Stegs" Jenner -- has his point of view told in the third-person. And for some reason I haven't yet fathomed, it works really well (and that's not just me saying that; my editor at Transworld agrees). The story also includes the viewpoints of a number of other lesser characters, and these too are told in third-person, so the book works out at about 40 per cent first, 60 per cent third, and the whole thing felt completely natural to write. I think the answer to your question's in there somewhere!

When it comes to American crime fiction, who do you read?

Lawrence Block is one of my personal favorites. I got the opportunity to meet him a few weeks ago when he was honored by the British Crime Writers Association, and I was totally tongue-tied. I didn't know what to say. I rate him that highly. I love the New York atmosphere of his Matt Scudder novels. You can almost smell the stale beer and the New York traffic fumes. The first one I read [in that series] was A Walk Among the Tombstones, which was so good, I bought up pretty much his whole back catalogue, and when you're talking about the prolific Mr. Block, that's one hell of a lot of books. I also like his Bernie the Burglar books, and never cease to be amazed that two such opposite characters can be created from the same pen.

I'm also a huge fan of Dennis Lehane. His Kenzie and Gennaro books showed how good he is at putting together a really fast-moving, action-packed story that also delivered twists in abundance, whereas Mystic River proved that his characterizations are second to none. And Harlan Coben is one writer I never miss. I've always read his work, and I loved the Myron Bolitar series, but his standalone books are second to none in their pace and plotting. I've just completed Just One Look, which in my opinion is his best so far. Man, that guy knows how to write a twist! Other writers in the field whose work I like to keep up with include the usual big guns, such as Michael Connelly, Richard Price and Robert Crais, but also up-and-coming people like Victor Gischler and Eddie Muller

And which British crime fictionists do you favor?

I read less British crime fiction than I should, which is something I'm trying hard to rectify. I recently completed Louise Welsh's debut novel, The Cutting Room, and now I can see what all the fuss was about. Her protagonist, Rilke, has a truly original voice, which these days is something of a feat to achieve, and the story's a gripping one from start to finish. I read it in two sittings. I'm also a lover of Mark Billingham's work -- again, because he puts an original spin on things. The serial-killer genre's a hard one in which to say something new, but with Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat and Lazybones, Billingham managed it. I also like his DI, Tom Thorne, and I'm eagerly awaiting number four, The Burning Girl. Other British writers I tend to read include Reginald Hill, Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson, all of whom can tell a damn good story. I'd also like to mention John Connolly and Ken Bruen, because as Irishmen, they might get left out of this otherwise. I love Connolly's books. Gothic, bloody, twisting and still retaining that cynical humor in even the darkest of tales; he's a real class act. And The Guards, by Ken Bruen, is a phenomenal piece. Definitely deserving of an Edgar nomination.

Critics often speak of your books in relation to classic British gangster movies. Do you watch those old films?

I love British gangster movies, particularly those that I'd consider classics. The Long Good Friday [1980] was one of my favorites, because Bob Hoskins was such an intense and charismatic character, and the end was stunning. Possibly the best of all time, however, and based on one of the best gangster books of all time, was Get Carter [1971]. Fantastic stuff, and Michael Caine was perfect for the title role. Ted Lewis never really got the plaudits he deserved for writing that [book]. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best British noir title of all time.

So, what sort of promotion are you doing for the launch of The Crime Trade in the UK, and for The Murder Exchange in the States?

Quite a lot, to tell you the truth. I'll be on the radio in the UK a number of times over the next couple of weeks, plus doing signings around southern England, and then I'm off to Bahrain, where I've been lucky enough to have been chosen as the literary representative for Gulf Air's launch of its "Bookshop in the Sky" campaign. This is a promotion in which all Gulf Air flights will carry one or two books by certain authors. Passengers are informed which titles are being carried on any particular flight and invited to view a one-minute video summary of the book delivered by the author. It's a clever idea and an opportunity for me to sign a lot of books. After that, it's festival season in the UK with Crimescene and the Harrogate Crime Festival, both of which I'll be attending, and I'll be traveling to Toronto in October for Bouchercon, and then Texas next February for Left Coast Crime.

Finally, tell me what to expect from you in the future. You say you've already got books five, six and seven worked out. Care to elaborate?

Well, I'm hoping that my fifth book, which was part-written several years ago, and based on screenplay I put together in the late 1990s (for a competition that ultimately never took place), will see John Gallan saying farewell to readers -- at least for the moment -- with something of a bang. It's a fast-paced thriller told once again in dual first-person, over a period of four days, and with a huge twist in the tale that took me months to think up, and which I've been dying to use ever since!

Books six and seven, meanwhile, will start a new series, involving a team of police officers, led by a hard-nosed but charismatic DCI (that's the plan for him, anyway), who work for the UK's National Crime Squad. This new series will be written entirely in third-person, and the plots once again will emphasize pace and thrills. I'm very excited about it, to tell you the truth, as I've put a lot of planning into the new set of characters, which will also include DS Tina Boyd from The Murder Exchange and The Crime Trade, and I think they're going to click really well together. But, as always, that theory will either be proved or disproved when I've finished my first book with them. And that, in essence, is the beauty of writing: You never know quite where you're going to go. | June 2004


Ali Karim is an industrial chemist, freelance journalist and book reviewer living in England. In addition to being a regular January Magazine contributor, he's also the assistant editor of the e-zine Shots, writes for Deadly Pleasures magazine and is an associate member of the British Crime Writers Association. Karim is currently working on Black Operations, a violent techno-thriller set in the world of plant viruses and out-of-work espionage agents.