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How Alex Gray Keeps the Mystery Alive in a Series.. & a Great Example: Pitch Black

Pitch Black by Alex Gray

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DCI Lorimer is back in the next gripping atmospheric police procedural by international bestselling author Alex Gray.

When Chief Inspector Lorimer returns from holiday on the island of Mull, he feels a welcome sense of calm. But that doesn’t last long. Kelvin Football Club’s new star midfielder is found brutally stabbed to death in his own home, and with his wife apprehended trying to leave the country, a seemingly straightforward new case begins. But the grisly murder of a referee after a Kelvin match throws light on some dark secrets. And when the newest player who signed to the club becomes the latest victim in a string of killings, Lorimer knows there’s a serial killer on the loose—one that’s only beginning to show his true colors. As lies emerge and tensions build, Lorimer must discover the truth before one of the players or managers become the next Kelvin fatality.

Keeping the mystery alive in a series

by Alex Gray

I didn’t expect to be writing a series featuring a tall, dark haired detective when I began with Never Somewhere Else back in the 1990’s. My only concerns were to authenticate my work and make sure that the story was written to the best of my ability. That it won a major literary prize for the best opening chapters of a first novel was a real spur to finishing it, however! Then came the task of finding a publisher, quite another story altogether.

To say that I fell in love with my main character would be an exaggeration but he intrigued me, nonetheless, this guy who cared deeply about each victim and had a tenacious grip on the cases as they unfolded. He was a person I could relate to in several ways (okay, so some of me filtered into him; his love of birding, his claustrophobia) and he was a man of great integrity, good humor and had a happy marriage to his English teacher wife, Maggie. Hey, almost sounds like my husband when I come to think of it! This is one important ingredient for maintaining a series: to really be fascinated by your protagonist and see him or her develop with each subsequent novel.

Unlike some other writers I rarely had a storyline that persisted from one book to the next, each book being a stand alone but with the same four central characters: Lorimer, my detective, his wife, Maggie, Solomon Brightman the psychologist and sometime criminal profiler and his pathologist partner, Dr Rosie Fergusson. I think maintaining these four as a group of friends whose different focuses on the same murders works really well, though I do have to take care that Maggie isn’t excluded since her profession is outwith the parameters of the criminal investigations. That was one reason why Glasgow Kiss, the sixth in the series, is set at Maggie’s own High School.

Settings are very important too, in keeping a mystery series alive and Glasgow is the place where most of mine are set. Now, my home city is a wonderful place, so friendly and full of different aspects of culture as well as being a place where violence sometimes erupts. I was quite tired of reading crime novels that depicted my beloved Glasgow as just this latter sort of place and showing the mean dirty side that any city has. No, I decided from the start, I am going to show my readers all the different facets of my Glasgow and so I created settings to reflect this. And, you know, I think that did help enormously to keep alive the interest in the stories. Beginning with the Glasgow Art world I ventured through it medical scene, its classical music (I was a singer in its main concert hall for many years), the world of business, sport, education, diversity in its population, its red light district, its student life, its prison (HMP Barlinnie is the biggest jail in Scotland and has an amazing history) and even into the way policing was run in the 1990’s when I wrote a book that was split in two time scales to absorb a cold case for Lorimer.

Things never stay the same and I have had to research constantly to remain on top of the changing technologies that affect criminal investigations. Thankfully I have built up a large network of helpful cops, forensic scientists and pathologists etc. who are very willing to give me their time and expertise. I have also undertaken two university courses to build up my own knowledge of forensic medical science and forensic psychology. Keeping a series alive means keeping abreast with all of the changes in science and technology!

A big change occurred here in Scotland when the regional police forces were disbanded and Police Scotland was formed instead. Some crime writers were appalled at this but I saw it as an opportunity to take my hero out of Glasgow and to other parts of Scotland though much of the action does still feature in my home city where Lorimer is based. Here, I told myself, was a way of keeping the series alive and letting my readers see the bits of Scotland I loved best. In Keep The Midnight Out I take Lorimer and Maggie to the Hebridean island of Mull, which is one of my favorite places in the world and was where my mother was born. I loved writing that book and took delight in sharing the landscapes and island life with my readers as I wrote that particular mystery.

Recently I have noticed that in a q and a session some of the audience wanted to know if the series will ever come to an end or if I will “bump off” Lorimer. That was never my intention and I always laugh and reply that I will probably hop off my twig long before he does, as he is so much younger than I am! Besides, I usually have the idea for the next story long before finishing the one I am currently writing and at the moment I have a lovely idea for the book that would be published in 2019. I did introduce a different character a few books back, a younger female cop, and that has also helped to mix things up and keep an interest going. But my plans for her are … oops! No spoilers!

The most important thing, however, in keeping a series alive is down to the writer’s own love for her characters. If a writer became bored with them it would definitely show and perhaps that is why some of my writer friends have two series or more that they write turn about. Maybe my own boredom threshold is different or perhaps I am a little bit in love with Lorimer? Once, at a book event, I was asked; “Who would you prefer to go out on a date with? Solly or Lorimer?” My immediate response, not pausing even to consider the answer was, “Lorimer!” And, I suppose that says it all.

Alex Gray, Scotland 2017

Love it! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us, Ms. Gray! I know I can’t wait to read more about Lorimer & his colleagues!

More…

Author: Alex Gray
Source: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours
Publisher & Date: Witness Impulse, March 7, 2017
Genre: Mystery & Detective
ISBN: 9780062659149
Pages: 368
Series: A DCI Lorimer Novel
Never Somewhere Else
Never Somewhere Else
A Small Weeping
A Small Weeping
Shadows of Sounds
Shadows of Sounds
The Riverman
The Riverman
Pitch Black
Pitch Black
Glasgow Kiss
Glasgow Kiss
Five Ways to Kill a Man
Five Ways to Kill a Man
Sleep Like the Dead
Sleep Like the Dead
A Pound Of Flesh
A Pound Of Flesh
The Swedish Girl
The Swedish Girl
The Bird That Did Not Sing
The Bird That Did Not Sing
Keep The Midnight Out
Keep The Midnight Out
The Darkest Goodbye
The Darkest Goodbye

Excerpt:

Chapter 3

The dust motes swirled round, captured in the one beam of light that filtered through a gap in the blinds. Behind him an insect buzzed drowsily against the window, seeking to escape from the confines of the room. Listening to its feeble struggles, Lorimer felt some empathy for the tiny creature. At that moment he would have given a great deal to walk out into the warm air of the city streets. Before him on the videoscreen were pictures of the deceased, not happy snaps at all. The scene-of-crime photographer had managed to convey each and every aspect of the man’s death, from the bread knife sticking out of his chest cavity to the open-mouthed grimace portraying that final scream of agony. Close-ups of blood spatters surrounded the main pictures, adding graphically to the image.

‘It was hot,’ Mitchison commented, somewhat unnecessarily, releasing the stills and letting the film pan in on the body. The black patches around the wound showed a moving mass of flies. Lorimer could almost smell the scent of corruption and was glad for once that he had not been first on the scene. But now Mitchison’s peremptory call had stolen the final day of Lorimer’s break and he had to be brought up to speed if he were to take charge of this case.

‘We’ve got the woman in custody and she’ll appear in court in the morning,’ the superintendent began, ‘but there are some problems.’

Lorimer raised his eyebrows.

‘She says she didn’t do it, of course, despite the fact she drove all the way up to the Hebrides…’ Mitchison’s drawl tailed off.

‘So, the problems are . . . ?’

‘We need to have some forensic evidence to connect her to the crime. There’s been nothing on her person and we couldn’t find anything else in the house. Either she was extremely forensically aware and managed to remove any traces of blood from the scene, or she’s telling us the truth.’

Lorimer, fixing his gaze on the images of a man who had bled to death, wondered what had provoked the attack. ‘What’s your own opinion, sir?’

Mitchison frowned. ‘She certainly had the means to do it. There was a huge rack of knives on one of those magnetic strips. It was one of these that was the murder weapon. No prints, I’m afraid. No residual traces, either. And the door was locked. There was no sign of a forced entry.’

‘Just circumstantial evidence, then?’

Mitchison nodded and screwed up his eyes in the half-light, then blinked. He’d probably been working through the night, Lorimer realised.

Method, means and opportunity, a familiar voice intoned in Lorimer’s head. It had been old George’s mantra. A wave of nostalgia for his former boss washed over him just then. Weary or not, George would never have delegated a case like this. He’d have ferreted away at it, looking for something more than the obvious. Though a runaway wife was a fairly obvious place to begin, Lorimer had to admit to himself. The method was straightforward enough and, despite his level of athleticism, the victim might have been taken by complete surprise. His expression alone was testament to that theory. She’d had the means easily to hand. And the opportunity? Who could say? Knife attacks were usually random affairs undertaken in a moment of frenzy.

‘What d’you reckon, then? A domestic gone wrong?’

The super made a face. ‘Janis Faulkner’s saying nothing. No plea for mitigating circumstances. Just a persistent refusal to admit she’d had anything to do with her husband’s death.’

‘Anything else suspicious?’

Mitchison paused for a moment then looked past Lorimer. ‘What would I call it? A strange absence of grief, I suppose.’

Lorimer gave a non-committal shrug. You couldn’t charge the woman for failing to mourn her dead husband, but still . . . His thoughts wandered for a moment to the sight of Janis Faulkner’s face as she’d glanced up at him on Fishnish pier. Had she been showing remorse? That haunted look had stayed with him since he’d seen her yesterday.

‘What do we know about her own movements before she scarpered?’

‘Says she was down at the gym. We’ve checked and her signing in and out times tally with her story. But as for simply setting off afterwards and not returning home first, well that was fairly unlikely, don’t you think? A few rounds on an exercise bike then she suddenly decides to leave her husband. It doesn’t make sense.’

‘So she’ll be charged?’

‘Yes, first thing tomorrow. There’s not another shred of evidence to show anyone else was in the house. I don’t care what Janis Faulkner claims; she did it, all right.’

Lorimer looked at his boss. The vehemence in Mitchison’s tone surprised him. Or was it simply that he was afraid Lorimer would see things in a different light, take away his prime suspect and cause problems? There was a past between these two senior officers that had never been adequately resolved. Mitchison had been promoted to superintendent when everyone’s expectations had been on Lorimer stepping into his old boss’s shoes, but it was their different attitudes to police work that had been the real cause of friction between them. Mitchison did everything by the rule book, creating masses of paperwork for everyone, while his DCI preferred a more handson approach. Lorimer remained silent. He was being officially designated as SIO and unless something new emerged, Janis Faulkner’s guilt or otherwise remained a matter for the jury.

‘Her solicitor is bound to ask for bail to be granted, pending a full investigation. We’ll see what happens in court tomorrow, but I have my doubts.’ Mitchison passed over the case file. ‘Don’t expect you’ll have too much bother with this one.’

Famous last words, Lorimer told himself as Mitchison left the room. Whether it was that quirk of fate placing him at the scene of her arrest on Mull or the victim’s high profile, the DCI had a strong feeling that this case was going to be anything but straightforward.

The woman had been brought back from Mull and placed in the police cells for one more night until she could be brought to court and officially charged with Nicko Faulkner’s murder. Lorimer waited outside as the duty officer unlocked the cell and stood aside. The first thing he noticed was the smell. It wafted towards him, a mixture of stale sweat and something more pungent that he recognised as menstrual blood. He’d smelt it before from women banged up over long weekends without any facilities to shower or change their clothes. Janis Faulkner was sitting in a corner of the bunk, feet together, head down and clutching her stomach. A movement as the cell door was opening made him realise she had looked up for a split second but now her expression was hidden under that curtain of damp hair.

‘Anyone thought to give her some paracetamol?’ he asked the uniformed officer.

‘Hasn’t asked for it,’ the man shrugged. ‘What’s she want it for anyway?’

‘Just go and get some,’ Lorimer told him, ‘and a drink of cold water.’ He let the man close the cell door behind them and stood waiting for the woman to look his way.

‘Feeling bad?’ he asked, as if she were an old acquaintance and not a stranger who was also his prisoner. He heard the sigh first, then Janis raised her head and looked at him. There was a brightness in her eyes that spoke of unshed tears. Her little nod and a flicker of recognition were all Lorimer needed to know he’d begun to win her confidence.

The door clanged open and the uniform strode in, proffering a tumbler of water and a strip of foil containing two painkillers. Both men watched as she unwrapped them, her fingers shaking as she clutched the glass and tilted back her head, then swallowed.

‘Thanks,’ she said, her voice hoarse. But it was to Lorimer that she spoke, to Lorimer that she handed back the empty tumbler.

‘You’ll have been told that we have to keep you here till tomorrow?’ he asked quietly, a hint of apology in his voice. She nodded again, but her head had drooped once more and Lorimer sensed she was withdrawing into herself, just as Mitchison had described. ‘You can talk to me if you want to,’ he told her. There was no response at all this time and as the minutes ticked past he realised that there was little point in trying any longer.

As he turned to leave, the silence inside that cell was redolent of misery.

***
Excerpt from Pitch Black by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2017 by Alex Gray. Reproduced with permission from WitnessImpulse. All rights reserved.

Check Out This Awesome Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Alex Gray and Harper Collins. There will be 2 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Pitch Black by Alex Gray. The giveaway begins on March 20th and runs through April 21st 2017.

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Author Bio:

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English.

Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of thirteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Websites & Links: Alex Gray's website Alex Gray's twitter

 

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