Was Robert Maxwell Poisoned Then Drowned? UK Crime Writer Investigates
Deadly Waters will be released by Severn House on September 27th, 2007, and sees the return of Tide of Death's fearless hero DI Andy Horton. Author Pauline Rowson admits that her family of tough South Welsh miners and her fire-fighting husband and his watch, have been influential in creating brave earthy characters like Horton. But it's Rowson's love of the sea that's created these unique Marine Mysteries. And the controversy around the most famous death at sea, the Maxwell drowning, is a real life example of the difficulties detectives face, when bodies are swept up in the tide.
Every known murder scene has a detective combing for clues. Every detective has a prime enemy - and it's not the criminal. For the detective, the first enemy is often the crime scene itself. It is here that the battle begins to uncover the grim truth about the murder. And a detective's 'nightmare crime scene' has got to be a place where all the best clues could be swept away by the tide. There couldn't be a better place to set a crime story.
Rowson is well aware of the pull of murky watery places for the twisted criminal mind. She has created a whole new crime genre - the Marine Mystery with both Tide of Death and In for the Kill, featuring in Waterstone's and Borders best reads promotions. So what would sailing and Harley Davidson riding detective, DI Andy Horton have made of Robert Maxwell's death at sea? Rowson says:
"When the body of a tycoon gets fished out of the sea there are three questions to be asked, did he slip, was he pushed or did he commit suicide? A strong Type A personality - dominant, forceful and unafraid – simply doesn't give in and suicide isn't normally an option. This kind of personality believes he will find a way out of whatever trouble he is in."
So how did Maxwell die? Rowson moves into Horton mode and steps up a gear:
"Horton’s first reaction would be that it stinks! He’d be straight on the case asking questions like: who identified the body? Was it really Maxwell? Why was it flown to Gran Canaria for identification – was there nowhere else to keep it when it was fished out of the sea? Who fished it out? What did they do next? What happened to them? Have any of them died or disappeared in mysterious circumstances since? What do the government and the Serious Organised Crime Agency really know about this? And the key question – why was his cabin hot? Why did he ask for the air conditioning to be turned up? What was in the air conditioning that made him leave his cabin and go to the rear of the boat? What made him topple over the low rail? Why did three post mortems fail to detect the real cause of death? Could it have been poison in the air duct…?
DI Horton, an expert on marine murders, will never get the chance to solve the Maxwell mystery, as he is purely a fictional character and his patch is firmly rooted in Portsmouth. All of Rowson's Marine Mysteries, Tide of Death, In Cold Daylight, In for the Kill andDeadly Waters, are based in and around this area, but her books have an international readership, spanning as far as Asia, and South Africa with plans for US releases in January 2008, and interest from as far a field as Japan and Brazil. Closer to home, In for the Kill, has also been chosen as a great crime fiction read in Bertram's catalogue, alongside other international authors. Deadly Waters, Rowson's latest mystery, sees the eagerly awaited return of Horton. So who is this detective? Well, Horton, like Rowson's marine mystery genre is a one-off. He's as tough as a container ship, having dredged through the sludge of life's sewerage, since childhood. He seeks solace in the fresh sea breeze, which blocks out the stench of his own personal injustices. Often, as in real life, there's little distinction between this 'hunter' and the hunted'. Rowson says:
"DI Andy Horton turns from battling with crime on the streets of Portsmouth, to battling with the elements on the ocean, anything to stop him dwelling on his past, like why did his mother walk out on him one day when hewas ten? Where is she now? Who was his father? Who are his family, his roots? Then just when he thinks he's found some family with a wife and daughter, his wife, Catherine, decides to believe the accusation when Horton is accused of raping a girl whilst undercover. In Tide of Death he not only has a complex crime to solve …a body washed up on the beach, but he needs to find out why this girl lied and ruined his relationship. He's back on his own again and fighting for access to his daughter along with everything else…"
Like Horton, the pace in Rowson's mysteries is dagger-sharp, with as many unpredictable twists as the sea's changing currents. Her excellent writing ensures there are no sticky labels marking out the perpetrators, which leaves us guessing until the very end - 'Who did it?' And Deadly Waters is no exception. The plot is as appetizing as ever:
"When a woman, the head teacher of a struggling local school, is found brutally murdered in Langstone Harbour DI Andy Horton is appointed to lead the investigation – but not for long if Superintendent Uckfield has his way. Horton is given only a week to find the killer, after that he will be shunted off the case. Horton now has a point to prove as well as a complex murder case to solve. A note was found on the victim – Have you forgotten ME? – along with money wrapped up in a five-pound note and smothered with honey. Is there a clue in 'The Owl and the Pussy-cat' rhyme? Is it simply a senseless murder by an unhinged killer or does someone close to the head have a motive for murder? As Horton delves deeper into the investigation, aided by Sergeant Cantelli, the tension mounts. With the clock ticking Horton is soon forced to take a decision that will put his life on the line."
Pauline Rowson Profile
So who is the private person behind 'Pauline Rowson-Crime Writer', the creator of such intriguing mysteries? And what sort of a woman enjoys wading through the underworld of crime, spending long hours creating this fiction? When most of us are deciding which shoe shop to pop into, Pauline is stepping into far more sinister places. What personal experience has she drawn on to create a man like DI Horton? Some very brave men mark Pauline's marine murder mysteries. Pauline explains:
"Horton is a combination of many men. My husband, Bob, is an ex fire fighter, and some of Horton’s qualities are based on the fire fighters that I know: fit, cool, resourceful, fearless even if they are afraid inside they don't show it.. Think of fires, 9/11, tube disasters and train crashes. It's the firemen who go in when everyone else is running away. They don't think twice at risking their lives. Horton's like this, he goes charging in risking his life, often when he shouldn't or when procedure tells him differently. I see him as a modern day cowboy cleaning up society or the mariner/sailor battling against the elements, and each time he learns a bit more about himself and other people."
The tragedy of her victims too is very lifelike. Have any personal tragedies influenced these scenes? Pauline says:
"My great, great grandfather was a pioneer in sinking the first pits in Wales, (very brave and very dangerous) and other family members were miners. I've lost relatives in pit accidents but the one that stays vividly in my mind was when there was an explosion which buried some miners and my father told me that when they dug the bodies out they found this miner sitting up with a sandwich in his hand about to bite into it. Not a hair on his head had been touched. The gas had come instantly and killed him. Shiver."
Pauline's description of fear is also very realistic as if she has experienced it. She says:
"I believe that no experience is ever wasted and that you take something from it. Some years ago when I was working alone in a public service office, I looked up to see a very large and very angry man yielding an axe and threatening to smash the place up (and me). I was completely on my own, no panic button, no one to call for help, nobody else in the bloody place. I had no option. My inner voice said, 'Deal with it'. And I did."
You can find out how later. But such an experience has definitely added authenticity to her crime writing. Does Pauline research murder case histories for her books? She replies:
"I do keep press cuttings on some murders. I hope the police never raid my house because they'd see my press cuttings file and think I was a serial killer! I'm quite fortunate because my husband is an ex fire fighter, so he has attended hundreds of grisly incidents and been to tons of post mortems and is good on the gruesome. When I attended an Institute of Forensic Science course, the other authors felt sickened by the gory details, whilst I was sitting there thinking this is nothing; it's what I usually get when Bob comes home from work after a particularly nasty incident like having to scrape a body off the railway line, or handle a decapitation or a burnt victim. It's the fire fighters that scoop up the bodies along with the undertakers, not the police!"
So how are Rowson's books different from other crime writers?
"I've been described as creating a new genre – the Marine Mystery, because they're all set against the backdrop of the sea. The sea has become a character in my crime and thriller novels. It's alive, it's beautiful, it's calming but it's also dangerous, misleading and evil."
Why is the sea so important in the books?
"I LOVE the sea and get withdrawal symptoms if I'm away from it for too long. In London I need to be by the Thames otherwise I go into panic mode! In fact everywhere I go I have to find some water. But I also fear the sea. It's wild and uncontrollable and very dangerous, (not like me at all, so maybe this is my alter ego!). No matter how much you think or wish you can control it, you can't. Sometimes you need to go with the flow and other times swim against the tide and the trick is knowing when to do which. Andy Horton hasn't quite got it sussed, or when he thinks he has something happens to throw him completely off course."
Does this mean that a good night out for Rowson is sitting in marine pubs listening to yarns of crimes?
"I'm like a vacuum cleaner hoovering up bits of information and snippets of conversations from people everywhere and often think, hey, that would make a good story, or that person would be ideal to drop in as a character. I can't pass a boatyard or a cove without thinking there must be a dead body or a skeleton here somewhere."
How does Pauline research her villains?
"There are always shady characters especially if you're a crime writer - everyone you see can become suspicious. I once sat opposite a man on a train to London who told me it was the first time he'd been on a train in years. He was pale, thin and wearing an old, very cheap suit. By the time I got off the train I had this man down as a complete villain who'd just come out of prison after killing his wife. The poor man was probably the nicest person you could wish to meet on earth, but that's what crime writers do - they make up little stories about people in their heads and then it ends up in a book. "
Pauline is the sort of woman who is attracted to characters that most of us would walk a mile from. She says:
"I've studied and lectured on personality profiles in the past and I am always curious about people's behaviour and motivations. I love talking to strangers. I think I'm the only person in the world who doesn't mind the nutter sitting next to me on the bus!”
So the next time you get into a conversation with a stranger, make sure she's not a polite, petite brunette, or you might just recognise yourself as a cold hearted murderer in Rowson's next bestseller!"
Finally, what would Pauline be doing if she wasn't writing crime stories?
“Unlike many writers I’m not the shy retiring type. In fact, quite the opposite. I love being in front of a TV camera or microphone and giving talks to audiences both large and small. If I wasn't writing I'd be hosting a crime writers TV slot, or presenting a documentary on crime. When I appeared on Legal TV’s Crime Writers programme, twice, I thought - yes I could see myself doing this - and if the opportunity arose, I'd definitely say yes. I have lots of ideas for great TV on crime writing.”
Pauline Rowson is definitely the most original UK crime writer on the scene. Having already taken Asia by storm, her sails are now hoisted to conquer the States with her unique Marine Mysteries. And judging by the film clip from Legal TV below, hopefully we'll be seeing more of her in front of the camera too!
To see the interview of Pauline Rowson talking about Deadly Waters and her Marine Mystery crime novels visit:http://www.paulinerowsonmarinemysteries.blogspot.com/
Deadly Waters (Hardcover £18.99)
Severn House Publishers Ltd (Sep 2007)