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Crying Blue Murder

Republished by MIRA UK in April 2009.

NB! The title of the first Mavros novel has been changed from A Deeper Shade of Blue to Crying Blue Murder. Well, after I discovered that the execrable pop group Steps had a hit called A Deeper Shade of Blue, what did you expect? Also, Crying Blue Murder screams 'crime novel' even louder...

Author's Introduction

Crying Blue Murder was a tricky book to write. For a start, it's the first in a new series. After five books featuring Quint Dalrymple, there were inevitably a lot of gear-changes involved in doing something completely different. And completely different is what Crying Blue Murder is. Okay, it's still a crime novel with a private investigator (Alex Mavros) as the protagonist, but there aren't many other similarities with the Quint novels. The new series was originally pitched as 'Aegean noir', the idea being to see if it was possible to set a noir novel (that tradition being primarily urban) on a small, sun-baked island. So there was an experimental undercurrent to the project from the outset.

The main stylistic difference is that the book is written in the third person, with access given to the thoughts of several characters - unlike the Quint novels, which are seen exclusively through the hero's eyes. This is the kind of issue that's significant to authors (try writing a single line without having first decided which person to write in), but probably less so to readers, at least on a conscious level. I was beginning to feel tied down by being able to illuminate only one character from the inside. I hope the cast of Crying Blue Murder is more rounded.

Another major departure is that the action mostly takes place in the present day rather than the 2020s. I say 'mostly' because another aim of this series is to examine the influence of the past on the present. In Crying Blue Murder, prehistoric sculptures play a part and there's a major plot-line from the Second World War that weaves into the contemporary action. I think the issue of time both in life and in fiction - the ways that past, present and future interact - is endlessly fascinating. Because of the rigidity of chronology in an investigation (a crime is committed, investigated and solved in that order), traditional detective novels often foreground the real-time sequence of events in a pretty unimaginative way. More progressive crime writers have subverted this, cutting between past and present at will. I've found certain other authors' handling of time very stimulating. You want names? Okay, Paul Auster, James Lee Burke, Robert Wilson, John Connolly. To varying extents, all the characters in Crying Blue Murder are haunted by their pasts and by the lives of people who lived before them. The role of the family in crime fiction also interests me, in part because the relationships between different generations cast light on the past-present-future issue. I have deliberately given Alex Mavros a lot of emotional baggage bound up with his family, reflecting the importance of that institution in Greece.

That brings me to the most striking difference - Crying Blue Murder takes place in a foreign country, while the Quint novels were set in Scotland (well, all right, there was a bit of England in The House of Dust). There are two aspects to this, the first of them personal. I initially lived in Greece for six months in 1976 and have had a house there since the late Eighties, so it was only a matter of time before I used my experiences of expatriate life in my writing. (In fact, there were quite a lot of references to Greece in Body Politic, as I was reminded recently when the book was translated into Greek, but that's another story...) Since I live on a small island, I didn't want to run the risk of being lynched by locals who disapproved of a noirish treatment of the place so I decided to invent my own island, called Trigono. In doing so I gave myself a lot of extra work to make the atmosphere and descriptions of an 'unreal' place realistic. Come to think of it, concocting my own location was something I did with independent Edinburgh in the Quint series, so maybe this isn't a change at all. I've always been interested in fictional landscapes. In fact, I wrote a postgraduate dissertation on the subject twenty years ago, but that's probably more than you wanted to know.

The other important aspect of the foreign location is the effect that it has on the characters, in particular the investigator Alex Mavros. He's half-Greek, half-Scots, though he grew up and spent most of his life in Greece rather than Scotland. Of course, Greece, with its three thousand plus years of recorded history, is a particularly complex country to come to terms with (which links in with the issue of past time discussed above). The problem for Mavros is that he frequently wonders what nationality he is at heart. His Greek friends mock him for being a half-caste, not really one of them, but Mavros gains from living on the margins - he has insights into the country that elude people who are a hundred per cent native. The downside is that those insights bring him doubt and insecurity about how he relates to the society he lives in. That makes him a typical fictional private eye; an outsider who knows how to work the system to find missing people, but struggles to find himself. I suppose Quint Dalrymple suffered from existential angst too, but at least he didn't have long hair and worry-beads.

So there you have it. Crying Blue Murder is something different as regards technique, timescale and location as far as the author's concerned. But all that really matters is what you, the readers, think. Why not drop me a line? I've taken a vow to reply to everyone who writes in. Now there's a challenge...

Mass market paperback ISBN 978 07783 02889 published by MIRA April 2009.
Unabridged audio recording (CD Version) ISBN 185903652X read by Geoffrey Annis, Magna Story Sound
Unabridged audio recording (Cassette) ISBN 1859036295 read by Geoffrey Annis, Magna Story Sound
Translations - Dutch, Czech

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