‘What will your next movie be about?’ the interviewer asked Alfred Hitchcock.
‘Oh murder, mystery and mayhem,’ he replied with something of an enigmatic smile, ‘and maybe a joke or two.’
So when I sat down to write The Piltdown Picasso, the first in a series of thrillers featuring disgraced forensic psychologist Matthew (Fax) Fairfax, I decided I wouldn’t go far wrong following the guidance of the master of suspense himself; that and a deeply held belief that thrillers must always thrill.
My inspiration came from news reports in 1990 when conman John Drewe and forger John Myatt held London’s fine art world to ransom with what they believed to be the perfect art fraud. Drewe, posing as a professor of nuclear physics, gained access to art archives which he doctored to establish fool proof provenances for the paintings which Myatt forged. The scam was only discovered when Drewe’s disgruntled girlfriend went to the police and both Drewe and Myatt ended up serving jail time. The scam provided the basic plot-line for my thriller which, with a respectful nod to Hitchcock, I added a goodly helping of murder, mystery and mayhem, not forgetting a joke or two. Crime novels need a touch of humour, it makes the blood thirsty bits more acceptable and what self-respecting thriller reader doesn’t like a bit of splatter?
It’s an honour to be asked to share The Piltdown Picasso, with the Author’s Lounge. I chose the title because the ‘Piltdown Man’ was a great archaeological hoax, The Piltdown Picasso is also about a fraud, a fraud in the art world.
Fairfax arrives in London after spending some years travelling and is quickly drawn into the capital’s fine art community. He finds himself framed as the prime suspect when celebrity Mika Slade, who has just purchased a dubious Picasso, is gunned down. Released from police custody due to lack of evidence he joins forces with Gabi, Slade’s zany PA in an attempt to identify her murderer. They discover that beneath the gloss and polish of London’s art world lurks a sleazy underbelly of drugs, insurance scams and art fraud. An industry where crooked dealers threaten, maim, kidnap and murder to ensure their lucrative trade continues in a rigged marketplace where no work of art is quite what it seems.
Thriller readers enjoy mystery and suspense, and they like to become involved in the story. They are also the most wonderful readers on the planet. They don’t just read crime books, they devour them. They love nothing more than a fast moving thriller with compelling characters, lots of action, maybe just a little romance and of course, ‘a joke or two.’ They like a freewheeling maverick of a protagonist who gets him or herself into scrapes and who might find themselves at the mercy of the villain when they have to draw on resources they never knew they possessed in order to extract themselves. These were the readers I wrote The Piltdown Picasso for and thankfully they loved it, and so did the judges of the Wishing Shelf Awards where it won the gold medal for fiction and the judges of The Eric Hoffer Award who made it a finalist.
The Piltdown Picasso (ISBN 978-1-78462-319-7 published by Matador) is the first of a series of thrillers featuring Fax Fairfax with books two and three (The Sinking of Roscoe Kincaid and Razer’s Razor) still waiting in the wings for a publisher.
I became obsessed by thrillers and adventure stories ever since the day, when I was a teenager, that my mother in an effort to interest me in books and reading thrust a dog-eared copy of Alistair MacLean’s Puppet on a Chain into my hands. After the stodgy literature they served up at school I was blown away. I just didn’t realise books could be like that with a laconic hero, fast moving action and an astonishing body count. I vowed that one day I’d be like Alistair MacLean and I’d sit down and write a thriller of my own. I started writing in the early 1990s first with short stories and magazine articles slowly making a lumpy progression from fumbling amateur to jobbing wordsmith. I’d trained as a psychiatric nurse (a job I loved almost as much as writing) and after years working in clinical areas I had moved on to lecturing nurses in a university. This was the point when I finally took the plunge leaving the security of a day-job to become a full-time writer and substituting frayed nerves for frayed cuffs!
Alongside thrillers I also enjoy writing non-fiction. Ideally I like to find a fascinating, yet forgotten story which I can breathe new life into. This is the case with my forthcoming book The Great Billy Butlin Race; the story of the only ever footrace from John O’Groats (in the far north-eastern corner of Scotland) to Land’s End (on the most south-westerly tip of Cornwall, England). Dubbed as The Race to End All Races; a 1,000 mile winter dash the length of Britain and organised by Sir Billy Butlin the flamboyant millionaire holiday camp entrepreneur. In 1960 this contest became a nationwide craze in the UK with massive TV and newspaper coverage. It’s packed with heroic and quirky real-life stories and climaxes in a nail-biting grandstand finish in both the men’s and the women’s races where an enthusiastic newcomer beat the race favourite into second place. Some competitors followed this up with a race across the USA later that same year. The Great Billy Butlin Race is due for publication in early 2021 by Stairwell Books who are based in historic city of York in the UK and Connecticut in the USA.