Sunday, June 14, 2020

The book that first inspired CITY OF VENGEANCE, my crime fiction debut, coming 2021 from Macmillan

I've always been a crime writer, but spent a lot of my career before CITY OF VENGEANCE writing other stories. Crime was almost always the narrative engine for my stories, whether in science fiction novels, screenwriting episodes of Doctors for the BBC, or scripting graphic novels and comics.

Like so many crime writers before me, I grew up reading mystery stories. I loved the brain-teasing puzzle element of those narratives, but also the way they brought alive the time and place in which they were set, and how another story wasalways  being told alongside the questions of whodunnit, howdunnit, or whydunnit?

CITY OF VENGEANCE has been a long time coming. I started the novel in 2017, thanks to the push provided by a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship from the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland. The fellowship gave me a month largely free to write, and in that precious time I was able to draft what became the first fifty pages.

The book that started it all...
But the origins of my crime fiction debut go back a lot further, to the 1990s in fact. I was working as a comics editor in London, but couldn't resist the lure of bookshops in the English capital. One day I wandered into a shop near the British Museum, just browsing in kill some times, with no idea what I might find there.

One book caught my eye: Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence 1537-1609, by John K. Brackett. Published by Cambridge University Press, it was a monograph that did what it said on the cover, exploring criminal justice in 16th Century Florence.

Glancing through the text, one sentence leapt out at me. Writing about the Otto di Guardia e Balia, the most powerful criminal court in Florence, Brackett wrote that this law enforcement organization with its investigating officers and constables was 'roughly comparable to that of a modern police force'.

In moments my writer's brain was working overtime, imagining what a police procedural set in late Renaissance Florence might be like. How did criminal justice work in this period? What was crime like in the 16th Century? What sort of mysteries would law enforcers have to solve?

I bought the Brackett book and set to reading it on my way home. One thing quickly became apparent: I would need to do an awful lot more research before I could dream of attempting to write such a novel. I hadn't even visited the city of Florence back then.

My heavily annotated copy of Brackett's inspirational book!

The fact I didn't start writing CITY OF VENGEANCE until 2017 tells you how long the journey has been to see this novel approach fruition, and why its publication by Pan Macmillan means so much to me. But I owe a debt of thanks to John K Brackett and his monograph, which started me along the path that lead to creating Cesare Aldo...

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