Good Reading : November 2017
GOOD READING NOVEMBER 2017 31 BEHIND THE BOOK 1 Around 1990, I found the road I’d been travelling on had turned into a cul-de-sac. I’d been a songwriter and musician all my adult life, but if I’d ever been hip, I certainly no longer was. I had no recording contract, and my inclination to write and perfor m had waned: What’s the point if no radio station is going to play you? I’d wr itten some musicals and murder weekends in the recent past, and these had worked well giving me confidence I could write drama, but what I really wanted was to write a novel. For me, a crime novel was logical. I liked crime fiction, understood plot mechanics and had found that there are some powerful connections between rock music and cr ime fiction. Both gave me the same primal buzz. So I was going to write a crime novel, but about what? And in what style? Given the most successful music I’d created was about my suburban life in Perth, I decided to set something in 1979, an era I knew well, when Perth was jumping with pub bands and overnight millionaires. For style, I went first-person Chandler. I’d been to LA a couple of times and reckoned Perth wasn’t that dissimilar – hot and flat, the automobile king. I wound up creating a detective lead, Snowy Lane. At the beginning of the book he’s a well-meaning young cop and fringe footy player. By the end, which concludes a decade on from 1979, he’s been corrupted and redeemed and works as a private detective in which capacity he finally solves the ser ial killing case that opened the book. The journey of Snowy’s character mirrors that of the city. These were the days of WA Inc., with political corruption at the highest level. Inspired by James Ellroy, I used a number of Western Australia’s most iconic cr ime cases as prototypes for my fictional events and wove a single narrative around them. This gave the novel City of Light a kind of third dimension, particularly for West Australian readers. It sold well and shared the WA Premier’s Award for fiction in 1996. Readers kept asking me when Snowy was going to reappear, but there was a big impediment. In January of 1996, just months after City of Light was published, the Claremont serial killer struck for the first time. The killings were geographically close to where my fictional abductions occured, the victims were of the same demographic. Spookily, the first head of the Claremont Serial Killer Task Force was named Detective Richard Lane. Snowy’s first name is, you guessed it, Richard. That wasn’t the only reason I left Snowy on ice, but it was a big one. Other books with other protagonists followed, but around 2003 I had an idea to set a crime novel in the unique world of the Kimberley, with roots of the crime that would take readers to its polar opposite location, Germany. For a decade the idea sat there barely sketched out, but finally I got down to some serious plotting, thinking it could be an opportunity for Snowy to return. Not long into plotting, however, I realised that the connection to Germany required a police protagonist. Also, the tone of the book, a seemingly minor crime in a small community, sat at odds with Snowy’s legacy of a crime that could act as a metaphor for the morality of a whole state. Snowy equalled big, this demanded small. As a result I created a new detective, Inspector Daniel Clement, who has returned to little old Broome after being a high profile Perth homicide cop. The book he features in, 2015’s Before It Breaks, has been a success I think, winning a Ned Kelly and some readers along the way. While pondering my next novel, I was roused one morning by a knock at my door in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Two suited men introduced themselves as cold-case detective working on the Claremont ser ial killer case. They told me I had no recording contract, and my inclination to write and perform had waned ...