It’s the chicken-and-egg question: which came first – your novels, or Carter Blake? Did he grow out of them or did they grow out of him?
A bit of both. The idea for the first Carter Blake novel, The Killing Season, came from wanting to tell a fast-paced, action-packed story focusing on two driven professionals pitched against one another. The character of Carter Blake kind of grew organically from that. I had a military-trained serial killer on the loose, and I had to think about what sort of person would have the capabilities to track him down. I knew Blake would need to have a past that equipped him with the skills and experience to do that. He starts off as something of a mystery man, but both I and the reader find out a little more about him with each new book in the series.
Is Carter Blake now a bestselling franchise in his own right? Does he have a lot more stories in him, d’you think?
I’ve always enjoyed reading about characters that continue through a long series: John Rebus, Temperance Brennan, Travis McGee, Harry Bosch and James Bond, to name a few. When I came to write my own novels, I thought a lot about what makes the most successful protagonists tick. I knew I didn’t want Carter Blake to be tied to one employer, location or even supporting cast. His status as a freelance finder of people gives me a lot of freedom to take him to different places and drop him into different types of adventures. So in answer to the question, Blake has a lot more stories in him, and I hope I get the chance to write them all.
You were born in Glasgow and still live there, but here you are setting your plotlines and characters 5000 miles away on the west coast of America. Did you need to do a lot of specific research into places and Californian speech patterns (specifically ‘cop talk’)? It certainly reads very authentically.
Thank you! That’s really good to hear. I’m fortunate to have some American friends who are incredibly generous with their time and act as advance readers; they’re able to read through and pick out the occasional rogue Britishism. But I have to say that it’s easier than I expected to plug into the popular conception of how American cops speak. I read a lot of LA-based crime novels, so that’s probably given me an ear for the rhythm and vocabulary. I’ve also visited the West Coast before, spending time in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, so that was a big help when getting the overall vibe right. For me, the trick is not to think too much about creating realistic dialogue, per se. If you were to transcribe a real-life conversation, it would be pretty dull. Instead, I think it’s most important to write interesting, creative dialogue that’s fun to read.
Why do you think western fiction generally is so drawn to the whole LA crime scene, be it through novels or movies?
It’s a great question, and the simple answer can be summarised with one word: Hollywood. Pretty much everyone alive today has been marinated in American movies and television for their whole lives, much of it filmed and set in Los Angeles. With crime fiction in particular, so many of the masters of the genre have used LA as their setting, from Raymond Chandler to James Ellroy, right up to Michael Connelly. LA is quite simply the city for noir, and that’s why I was drawn to it for The Samaritan, along with the fact that I had been there and know some of the locals. I found LA a fascinating city to visit, and I was intrigued that almost everyone I met had, like me, come from somewhere else. That and the contrast between the glamour of Hollywood and its sometimes seedy underbelly make it an irresistible setting for a crime writer.