|Our recent publication of Murder of a Doctor makes a total of three books by Tony Bassett published since we signed this talented author earlier in the year. The books have been popular with crime fiction fans the world over, so we caught the author in a quiet moment and found out more about what informs and inspires his writing.|
TBF: What made you want to write crime fiction?
Thank you for giving me the chance to tell you about my writing. I’ve always been fascinated by detectives and, while growing up, watched TV programmes such as The Saint, The Avengers, Danger Man and Sherlock Holmes. I also read crime novels. I had always dreamt of writing crime fiction and, when I became semi-retired after my career in journalism, I finally got the chance to try my hand at it.
TBF: …and what made you set it in the Midlands?
I was a journalist for more than 40 years. Some of my happiest years in the profession occurred towards the start – when I was a general news reporter on an evening newspaper in Worcester. I never forgot the happy times I spent in Worcestershire and Warwickshire.This beautiful region of England was known to me. It experienced its fair share of rural crime and, being close to Birmingham and the Black Country, its fair share of urban crime.
So many crime novels are set in London and the South East that I thought the area in and around the UK’s second city would make the perfect location.
TBF: One of your main detectives is a second-generation younger Asian woman. An unusual choice for an older white bloke from Kent. Why the choice and what challenges has that presented?
I decided at the outset that there were already plenty of books involving fictional English male detectives bustling round quiet country villages solving murders. In order to try and make my novels stand out, I realised I would have to be more inventive.
As a result, I decided to make the main protagonist a female detective from a West Bengali background.One reason why I created this character with an Indian and Hindu heritage is that I have been extremely impressed by the amazing career of Neil Basu, whose family hail from West Bengal.He has been until recently an Assistant Commissioner with the Met Police and was at one time touted as a possible successor to the former Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick.
Like my character Detective Sergeant Sunita Roy, he was raised in the Midlands. For my research, I approached an Indian association in Kent and they were helpful in providing information about the way people from West Bengali backgrounds live in Britain – the style of clothing, religion, culture and so on. An author friend (who hails from the Punjab and was educated in West Bengal) has also kindly given me advice.
TBF: Not only do your books feature the English-born Asian community, there are other characters with different backgrounds such as West Indians and the Polish. There’s a real mix. The multicultural element seems intentional… tell us more about this.
Some of my storylines are set in Birmingham, which, like most British cities, is a diverse society containing, apart from white British people, large Irish, Asian and Afro Caribbean communities. After London, it also has the largest number of Polish-born residents in the UK (17,000 in 2015). I wanted to try to reflect this so that my novels gave a view of life that was as realistic as possible.
TBF: Inevitably your books cover much police procedure and criminal activity like the drugs trade. This all reads very convincing. Where do you get your information on these matters from?
During my career as a journalist, a large part of my work involved dealing with the police and covering courts. So I gained a lot of knowledge about police procedure and crime in this way. I have recently also done a great deal of research online about police activity and I have a good friend (also a writer) who is a former custody sergeant. He has been very helpful in providing advice.
TBF: How else did that prepare you for fiction writing?
For example, the widow who walks out in the middle of a press conference in Murder On Oxford Lane is based on the wife of a true-life missing man. She walked out of a press conference while I was working for the Sunday People. Afterwards the chief inspector told me, ‘You don’t realise how terrifying it is to face a group of journalists in public like this.’ A short time afterwards, the wife who walked out was charged in connection with her husband’s death.
Another example in the same book occurs when Sunita Roy is trying to trace the cleaner Tessa Griffiths. A neighbour reveals Tessa has moved house. Sunita questions the neighbour thoroughly and finds the removal van was purple. As a result, Sunita traces the removal firm and obtains the new address from them. This was an initiative that a photographer and I once used to track down someone.
A third example is when detectives gain a particular forensic clue from suspects’ clothing. I gained this idea from an intriguing assault case I covered at Cardiff Crown Court.
However, the worlds of journalism and fiction writing are very different. I have had to learn how to write fiction partly from studying the work of other writers. I have also learnt a great deal from author Elaine Everest’s writers’ group in Kent.
TBF: How did journalism change over the many years you were in the profession?
The first major change in the world of journalism came in the early 1980s with the advent of computers, which for newspaper journalists ended the era of typewriters. Then the arrival of Sky Television and the explosion in the number of TV channels brought 24-hour televised news. Newspaper circulationS declined as a result. Finally the internet and mobile phone brought readers instant news and this all added to the steady decline in print news. I worked partly for the Sunday People and, despite the technological changes, I know there will always be a hunger on newsdesks for good stories. But because of falling sales, newspapers have been relying more and more heavily on their reporters and sub-editors. Now staff journalists are required to work harder and for longer hours.
TBF: There is nothing too gritty or brutal in your stories. They are quite gentle for the genre, really. Again, was this a decision?
The Roy and Roscoe series has included details of some gruesome murders – some stabbings, someone found strangled and bludgeoned to death and someone stabbed with a barbecue fork. However, I accept that I have tended on the whole to spare the reader graphic descriptions of the murders. Instead, I have shown the detectives as they gradually piece together what happened and over time readers gain an impression of how the killings were carried out.
Until now, I have tended to write the books in this way in order to appeal to readers who, like myself, enjoy a good mystery. But this style is not set in stone and I’m sure there will be occasions in the future when I will write about the actual murder in full gory detail!
TBF: DCI Gavin Roscoe comes across almost like a father figure. His family is a strong unit. Mum, Dad, son and daughter and grandparents. It’s quite a cosy set up. They are also central to events throughout these books. Is there something of you in your DCI?
I have deliberately created two contrasting principal characters. There’s the avuncular Gavin Roscoe, who has to deal with frequently hideous crimes but comes home to a fairly typical Warwickshire family. On the other hand, female detective Sunita Roy, from a British Indian background, is 23 years younger and has a rather more unsettled love life. I think it is fair to say that (as a father myself) some of Roscoe’s character traits could have been sub-consciously inspired by myself and some may well come from my own father – who investigated insurance crime.
TBF: Which writers do you most admire?
Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Peter James and Arthur Conan Doyle.
TBF: What are you reading at the moment?
I have just finished the 2016 novel The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. It concerns a couple like Gerry and Kate McCann who leave their daughter alone while having a meal nearby. They return to find her missing. I was gripped from the start. I found the writer maintained the mystery and twists to keep me enthralled. But I was disappointed towards the end by the way some of the themes concluded.
TBF: What are you writing at the moment?
I’m currently writing a fifth book in the Roy and Roscoe series. It is provisionally entitled The Culverdon Curse. It concerns the rebel son of an aristocrat found brutally murdered after a row over loud music being played in his apartment block in Queensbridge.
We are currently getting Tony Bassett’s fourth book ready for publication. We’re not letting anything on about this but believe it when we say it’s a cracker. Links to his other books can be found by visiting his author page here.