The idea for a novel often begins with a single “What if?” question, and Sins of the Father was prompted by a TV documentary about a famous comedy actor of the 50s and 60s. Although he was much-loved by the public, it was clear that his family had had to endure the darker side of his character. I was struck by how difficult it must be to grow up in the shadow of a famous father, particularly if his private persona is at odds with his public image. That got me thinking, “What if the father had a terrible secret which came back to haunt his family?” And thus Nick Randall, troubled son to the late Eddie Randall, was born.
The story quickly took shape in my mind, and I began to build up a picture of my protagonist. I decided that Nick would inherit some of his father’s charm, but also some of his weaknesses – particularly where women were concerned. As for his occupation, I needed him to be plausibly capable of investigating his father’s murky past, but I didn’t want him to be a policeman or a private detective. Instead I chose something a little rarer in crime fiction: a freelance insurance investigator. This enabled me to draw on my experience as manager of a claims office, when I sometimes went out on the road to interview claimants, attend accident locations, inquests and so on. I also handled some large-scale fraud claims involving staged car accidents, and realised that a similar scam would make an ideal sub-plot.
The setting of the novel was very important. I have a great love of my home city, Brighton, as well as the beautiful Sussex countryside, and many of the key scenes take place in some very striking locations, particularly in and around the Cuckmere Valley. As a devoted crime reader I know all too well the importance of authenticity, and so I visited every location to make sure I could describe it accurately. That was fine, until it came to the moment when I had to lie on my stomach and peek over the edge of the cliffs near Beachy Head: not an experience I’m keen to repeat.
The search for a suitable rural setting for a dodgy scrap yard meant that I found myself driving aimlessly around the long, deserted perimeter roads of Gatwick Airport – possibly not the wisest thing to do in the current security climate. And during the novel’s climax, Nick has to dive into a cold, muddy river. In March. Surely that would be taking authenticity a step too far?
Absolutely. But fortunately I’d already dived into the river in question – in March – and I knew exactly how cold and muddy it was. (I hasten to add that it was the result of a youthful dare, carried out on a pleasant Easter afternoon, having first consumed quite a lot of alcohol.)
I wrote the book with a pretty good idea of the sort of ending I wanted, but never plotted ahead more than a couple of chapters at a time. Consequently there were some pleasant surprises as the characters developed and took on a life of their own. One of the villains, Roger Knight, turned into a much more sympathetic character than I had envisaged, and I also had no idea that his girlfriend, Caitlin, would take such a major role in the story.
Prior to Sins of the Father I’d written one other crime novel, which attracted the interest of a publisher but then fell at the final hurdle. After several similar “near misses”, not to mention years of collecting rejection slips, it was a major blow and left me close to throwing in the towel. I resolved that Sins would be my final attempt at getting published, and meant that I set out to write the kind of crime novel I most enjoy reading: fast-paced and thrilling, with some neat twists and lots of action. As one of the reviews stated, “there’s murder, sex, rape, blackmail, fraud and some lesbian snogging all within the first 50 or so pages!”
Sins of the Father was written as a standalone, but since publication I’ve had a lot of people asking when Nick Randall will reappear. He doesn’t play a part in the novel I’ve just finished, which is about a woman caught up in a Hungerford-style killing spree, but he does feature in a short story, Time and Tide, which has just been sold to Alfred Hitchock’s Mystery Magazine. So it seems we haven’t seen the last of Nick Randall just yet.
© 2006 David Harrison
David Harrison's first novel, Sins of the Father, was released earlier this year by Crème de la Crime - You can contact him at www.david-harrison.info.