A new twist on crime writing is attracting growing interest and an increasing number of fans.
Real life BBC TV Crime Correspondent Simon Hall has created a fictitious television crime reporter who covers a range of extraordinary cases, and becomes so involved that he ends up helping the police to solve them - the tvdetective series.
SHOTS had the chance to turn the tables on Simon and question him about the books.
‘I think the basis of the books is that if you look at it on a fundamental level, the arts of the journalist and detective are similar,’ says Simon. ‘It’s all about asking the right questions, cutting through the lies, deceit and spin and getting to the hidden truth.’
Adam, the detective in the series, and Dan, the reporter, realise they can use television to effectively talk to criminals, to influence them in subtle ways which can help the pair to catch them. Simon is coy about whether some of the storylines for the books are based on his own broadcasting career.
‘It says in my book of how to be a writer that mystery sells, so no comment,’ he teases. ‘But it’s certainly true that it would be strange if some of my experiences from work weren’t reflected in the books. I’ll leave it to the readers to judge where the fact ends and the fiction begins.’
In The Death Pictures, which came out at the beginning of last year (2008), a dying artist creates a riddle – a statement of great importance to him – which is hidden in his final ten paintings. But before the answer can be revealed, the painter dies. Initially, it appears to be suicide, the artist attempting to cheat the cancer which was about to end his life, but the more Dan and Adam investigate, the more suspicious it looks.
Simon is flattered that no one has yet managed to solve the riddle – not without turning to the last pages first, anyway! ‘I suppose it’s a little cruel, but I can’t help but enjoy how many people have said to me, “I spent ages trying to solve that riddle. And then when you revealed how it works, I really kicked myself. It’s so simple, but so clever.”’
Evil Valley, which has just been published, sees the same family of characters return, but this time the book centres on the hunt for a psychopath, a man tormented by memories of war, who is trying to teach society a lesson by committing a crime so shocking it which appall the nation. And it’s down to Dan and Adam to try to stop him.
All Simon’s novels are set in his home county of Devon, and the book is named after a real place on Dartmoor - Evil Coombe, in the south west of the moor.
‘It’s ideal for the denouement of a thriller,’ he comments. ‘Bleak, cold, lonely and very sinister.’
Simon’s books are reviewed by senior Devon and Cornwall police detectives to make sure the investigative procedures are correct. He began writing crime when he was switched from Environment reporting to the Home Affairs, or crime beat. It’s a similar fate to that which befalls Dan in the books.
‘I wasn’t at all comfortable with the new job at first,’ he says. ‘I knew nothing about it, and the other crime reporters seemed to know all the detectives and the cases. Dan had the same experience. My solution was to shadow the police on a major investigation, to get a crash course in detective work. Dan does likewise in the books.’
Simon found himself so drawn into the eternal battle of wits between detectives and criminals that he found he wasn’t content with covering real life crimes, but started creating some of his own – only fictitiously, of course.
‘I think that’s why crime fascinates so many people,’ he says. ‘It’s the age-old fight between good and evil. And there’s so much scope for riddles and puzzles, twists and turns, and fantastic characters. And I just love coming up with them all!’
The books provide an insight not just into the world of the detective, but a television reporter covering a case too.
‘Because I do the TV job every day, it becomes almost routine to me, so I only put bits of it into the books,’ says Simon. ‘But the publishers always ask for more. I think one of the reasons the novels are becoming popular is because they give that behind the scenes taste of TV life, as well as being enticing mysteries.’
Simon began writing crime fiction four years ago. The idea came to him whilst he was on honeymoon.
‘I always reassure Jess, my wife, that it’s because she’s my muse, not because I was bored!’ Simon jokes. ‘She’s supported me brilliantly through it all, although when I get deeply immersed in writing a book, she does sometimes like to draw me out of it and get me to notice her by pointedly referring to herself as my “writing widow”.
The combination of crime reporting and crime writing has endowed Simon with an interesting reputation. He got a little surprise when recently he was sent to cover a story in Cornwall.
‘My producer Chris was setting up the filming,’ he explains. ‘I rang in to ask him for directions to find this man we were going to interview. But Chris was laughing so much I could hardly understand him. After he’d finally calmed down, I found out why. When the man heard it was me coming to see him, he said – “Oh, no, not Dr Death. Wherever that man goes, there’s always death and disaster.” Dr Death eh? It took me a while to get over that!’
Simon began writing as a hobby, but the tvdetective series is threatening to become more of a full time job as its success grows. He’s made a series of appearances at libraries and literary festivals, and his books have been warmly reviewed by the critics as a fresh take on a favourite genre.
“A compelling thriller... very difficult to put down." (New Books Magazine)
"One to savour... absolutely first class." (Books Monthly)
“Fiendishly clever.” (The Scotsman)
“Hall is a first-rate storyteller with an enviable ability to present unusual page-turners with a twist.” (Reviewing the Evidence)
“..an excellent storyteller and a highly competent writer.” (SHOTS) read the review
His new tvdetective novel – The Judgement Book – is due out in September (2009), published by Accent Press. It’s a tale of sordid secrets, corruption and blackmail, involving the deaths of an MP and a senior police officer, prostitution, double crossing and murder. Simon is just currently putting the finishing touches to the book.
‘I’ve had real fun working up the ideas on this one,’ he says. ‘It seems to me that just about everyone has a guilty secret, be it small or large, and one of our greatest fears is seeing them exposed. And when the scandals hidden in The Judgement Book are revealed, then chaos ensues.
‘Naturally, there’s a twist too, because as the case goes on it becomes clear that Dan and Adam are both in the Judgement Book for some of the less than scrupulous methods they’ve used to solve previous cases. And unless they can find the book, their very futures are under grave threat.’
For more about Simon, and his work, visit his website – wwwthetvdetective.com
You can also see Simon talking about thetvdetective series on You Tube –