*I received an arc via the publisher, in return for an honest review. I read/reviewed the novel, before I agreed to organise the blog tour*
Blood Rites by David Stuart Davies
Blood Rites is a Northern thriller set in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in the 1980s featuring Detective Inspector Paul Snow. DI Paul Snow has a personal secret He is a homosexual but is desperate to keep it secret, knowing it would finish his career in the intolerant police of the time. As this personal drama unfolds, he is involved in investigating a series of violent murders. All the victims appear to be chosen at random and to have no connection with each other. After the fourth murder, Snow is removed from the case for not finding the killer but continues investigating the matter privately. Gradually, Paul manages to determine a link between the murder victims, but this places his own life in great danger. Can Paul unmask the killer as he wrestles with his own demons?
This novel opens with a very thought-provoking quote:
“Homosexuals then had three choices.
One. To conform to society’s expectations.
To marry and have children.
Two. To be celibate
Three. To live a double life, fraught with danger – of violence or blackmail – and to live it alone”
John Fraser in his autobiography close up
As stated numerous times on my blog. I have a deep love for diverse novels. This one, and namely Detective Inspector Paul Snow immediately caught my eye. The idea of a protagonist being a senior police officer, a secret homosexual in an era, when there was little freedom to be gay.
I had to know more…….
The novel is set in 1980’s, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. In the months leading up to Christmas 1985. The novel opens with a killer having returned from a murder. The killer appears perfectly nonchalant about his crimes and although the chapter is short, it sets the sinister tone.
Three months earlier, DI Snow is courting local headmistress of the all-girls Catholic school, Matilda. Having invited her to a police function, he feels self-conscious and uptight. It would appear DI Snow has threes persona’s public, private and secret. I really warmed to Snow, despite his complexities. I found him to be a straight-laced, career copper with justice on his mind. The eternal struggles to deal with his homosexuality, show he has an inner depth. Knowing that marriage, would be to don a marital straight jacket, but also wanting to advance his career in the police force and desperate not to be considered a ‘nancy boy’ within the ranks. He entertains the idea of a long-term relationship with Matilda.
Across town, on the same night. Local delinquent and trouble maker Barry ‘Bazzer’ Donovan assaults a man and leaves him unconscious in the street. Unfortunately for Bazzer it would be his last criminal endeavour, as he is mown down by a drink driver and killed instantly. The victim upon learning of Bazzer’s death via the local newspaper, feels elated in the news and it sets of a series of sinister murders to follow.
The first domino has fallen
The murders all have a vigilante theme, amongst them. With no victim, truly being an innocent soul. The first murder, is of known wife-beater Sammy Tindall, found stabbed in the stomach multiple times. The police are bemused as to who would kill Sammy? And why? The following story of Maureen ‘Mandy’ Sullivan a teenage abuse victim, on the cusp of suicide, makes for heart-breaking and vivid reading. I had tears in my eyes, as her personal pain seeped from the pages. With news of this suicide, the killer wants vengeance and he knows exactly from whom to extract it.
Snow continues to act as a straight man, which is all new territory for him. He battles on investigating his case. With seemingly no leads and little in the way of evidence. He knows the murders are linked. But how? How is the killer choosing the victims? Chief Constable Clayborough applies added pressure, demanding progress. Then Matilda brushes Snow off, after the return of her out and proud gay brother Roger and everything suddenly becomes far more multifaceted.
One thing is for certain, someone is cleaning up the streets of Yorkshire, one scumbag at a time……….
This is a novel, with a case as complex as the characters it features. It is very cleverly put together and the ending left me astounded! It is at times very dark, but the characters really get into you head and you become desperate for the case to unravel.
DI Paul Snow is an incredible protagonist and won me over entirely! 5*
Yorkshire man’s mantra: see all, hear all and say nowt.
Q) The novel opens with a very poignant quote. What was the inspiration behind including this quote?
A) The quote is:
‘Homosexuals then had three choices.
One. To conform to society’s expectations. To marry and have children.
Two. To be celibate.
Three. To live a double life, fraught with danger – of violence or blackmail – and to live it alone.’
It comes from Close Up, the autobiography of the actor John Fraser, who, incidentally, played Lord Alfred Douglas in the 1960 movie of Oscar Wilde’s life, opposite Peter Finch as the great man himself. Although we now live in somewhat more enlightened times, even as recently as the 1980s there was so much prejudice and suspicion, which caused great pain and hardship for people, as the recent Gay Britannia programming on BBC TV has shown so brilliantly. I feel a great affinity with the gay community who, in my experience, comprise some of kindest and most creative and cultured individuals I know. I felt that the quote reflected something of the situation my lead character Paul Snow experiences.
Q) DI Paul Snow is quite a captivating character; he is so unique and multifaceted. My brother is gay and therefore I often read novels with a gay protagonist or a gay theme. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale being one of my all-time favourite novels. How did you create DI Paul Snow and what was the motivation behind his hidden sexuality?
A) With Paul Snow I wanted to reveal how difficult it was for him to deal with his own innate emotions and tendencies in a responsible job which he loved. At this time, exposure would destroy his career.
I spoke to two people who had been in the CID in the 1980s about the extreme prejudice faced by officers then, and felt there was something I could say about it. Even in these liberated times, away from the glitz of show business, gay people can still feel the harsh wind of prejudice and censure.
Q) I am a huge fan of diverse novels; I think they represent society in a realistic light. I read a wide range of novels with a BAME & LGBTQ theme. As writer, how important is diversity to you in the various genres of literature?
A) I don’t think of it consciously as I’m a very instinctive writer. I also write in a cinematic fashion – in other words I see my characters and scenes unfolding before me as though they were in a movie. I do actually just pick up a pen or hit my key board, start writing and see where I’m led. There must be some subconscious distillation of influences and selection going on in my poor brain but I just try to write the best story I can and luckily some amazing characters have arrived to help me. I don’t sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a novel about’, or ‘I see such and such an anniversary is coming up in three years, I’ll pitch a novel about that theme’ – I’m not that clever. I don’t plan – I begin with a concept, an idea, just an opening sentence or scene or a theme and see where it leads me. The characters and events just tend to pop up.
With the Blood trilogy, I thought there was a story to be told about prejudice in the 1980s and, as a crime writer, a policeman was the obvious choice to tell that story.
In The Scarlet Coven, my crime and black magic novel set in New York in 1936, my lead character Simon Finch was in a tricky situation and the black private eye Patrick Murphy just popped up out of my imagination fully formed to help him. He was to be only a subsidiary character but he took over and actually became the third member of the detective trio.
My World War II series features Johnny Hawke, a disabled former policeman who had turned private eye after an accident in the army in which he loses an eye meant that he couldn’t continue active service.
I guess I like to write about rounded human beings in extremis, and some of them are individuals who could be seen by the mainstream as outsiders. We can all identify with feeling ‘other’ – certainly they face challenges and some form of discrimination, though I wasn’t really aware that was what I was doing when I wrote the books – this Q&A is making me see things I didn’t realise were there!
Q) 1980s Yorkshire provides the period and location. What made you decide this was the perfect era and setting for your novels?
A) I chose the 1980s because this was a time before so much technical policing really came into its own – the use of DNA profiling and really serious forensics. I’m not particularly fond of such detail – I’m a broad brush person – and would struggle to research and write about that kind of investigation. I like the dramatic interaction between individuals. Policing then involved much more face to face detective work rather than relying on science to provide the clues and lead them to the culprit.
I chose Yorkshire because that is where I live. I hope something of the essence of the place seeps through without it being spelled out. I hadn’t written about the area before and I liked the idea of placing a detective in my home town. Morse has his Oxford; Rebus has his Edinburgh; and Snow has his Huddersfield!
Q) The plot is set in the build up to Christmas 1985, as this is due for release on 9th November, it is the perfect Christmas purchase, for the crime fiction fan. Do you write in the season that the novel reflects? Does this help you to feel inside the plot?
A) Thank you for suggesting that people might like something nasty in their Christmas stocking. I hope some of you may follow up that suggestion!
I can write any time about anything – I use my imagination, dredge my memory or watch films which I feel might inspire me. I don’t necessarily have to be in a place or have experienced something in order to write about it. The contrast between the so called jolly season and the grim events in the novel appealed to me. It’s a kind of blood on my shiny Christmas tree baubles sort of thing. And I wanted snow to be on the ground at the climax which I believe will shock most readers.
Q) The sinister murders in the novel, have a theme of the victim being deserving of death. How did you come up with this motive? Was it inspired by a real life murder?
A) Here was another serial killer, but I didn’t want your cliché crazy man. I wanted him to have a reason to kill and the victims to be in one sense diverse and yet having a tenuous connection. The challenge is to keep that connection hidden for as long as possible from the detective and, indeed, the reader. I pondered how this could come about and the idea came to me. Without giving the game away, I liked the irony involved in creating this killer!
Q) Finally, what is next for you and what are you working on currently? Can we the readers have any sneaky snippets of news?
A) My next book with Urbane is The Mystery of Throate Manor, which features a grown up Oliver Twist (now a solicitor) and the Artful Dodger, Jack Dawkins, investigating a murder mystery. In this novel I have attempted to tread the same path as Dickens by blending dark tragedy with scenes of comedy, romance and the grimness of the times. I don’t seek to emulate Dickens’s style; that would be doomed to failure, rather to echo the spirit of the great man. That is what I have always done with my Sherlock Holmes novels, which, I hope, remain true to the spirit of Conan Doyle but not necessarily the letter – I try to bring something fresh to it.
I have just finished another Sherlock Holmes novel: The Instrument of Death and am thinking about returning to my wartime detective Johnny Hawke (Johnny One Eye) moving him into the post-war austerity of the 1950s for a suitably grim tale!
DSD: Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat. I really enjoyed it and love your blog and what you do to support books.
*Huge thanks to David Stuart Davies for taking the time to complete a Q&A for my blog! I wish you every success with the release of your novel Blood Rites.
David Stuart Davies
David Stuart Davies is an author, playwright and editor. His fiction includes six novels featuring his wartime detective Johnny Hawke, Victorian puzzle solver artist Luther Darke, and seven Sherlock Holmes novels – the latest being Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Legacy (2016). His non-fiction work includes Starring Sherlock Holmes, detailing the film career of the Baker Street sleuth. David has also penned a Northern Noir trilogy of gritty crime novels set in Yorkshire in the 1980s: Brothers in Blood, Innocent Blood and Blood Rites.
David is regarded as an authority on Sherlock Holmes and is the author of two Holmes plays, Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act and Sherlock Holmes: The Death and Life, which are available on audio CD. He has written the Afterwords for all the Collector’s Library Holmes volumes, as well as those for many of their other titles.
He is a committee member of the Crime Writers’ Association and edits their monthly publication Red Herrings. His collection of ghost and horror stories appeared in 2015, championed by Mark Gatiss who said they were ‘pleasingly nasty.’
David is General Editor of Wordsworth’s Mystery & Supernatural series and a past Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund. He has appeared at many literary festivals and the Edinburgh Fringe performing his one man presentation The Game’s Afoot – an evening with Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle. He was recently made a member of The Detection Club. Moved this higher up the piece as it is the trilogy we are promoting.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DStuartDavies @DStuartDavies
Via Urbane: http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/david-stuart-davies/