“Bombs detonate in a busy souk, causing massive devastation.
An explosion rips apart a mosque, killing and injuring those inside.
But this isn’t the Middle East – this is Cardiff . . .
In a city where tensions are already running high, DC Will MacReady and his colleagues begin the desperate hunt for the attacker. If they knew the ‘why’, then surely they can find the ‘who’? But that isn’t so easy, and time is fast running out . . .
MacReady is still trying to prove himself after the horrific events of the previous year, which left his sergeant injured and his job in jeopardy, so he feels sidelined when he’s asked to investigate a vicious knife attack on a young woman.
But all is not as it seems with his new case, and soon MacReady must put everything on the line in order to do what is right.”
I am thrilled to welcome you to damppebbles today as I’m kicking off the Unforgivable blog tour. Unforgivable is the second book in the DC Will MacReady series, is written by author Mike Thomas and will be published by Zaffre on 27th July 2017. Oh, and it’s a corker of a crime thriller!
I am delighted to have a guest post from Mike Thomas to share with you today. I also have my four and a half star review (which really does fade in comparison to this MEGA guest post!). So without further ado, I’ll hand over to Mike…
Why Writing a Crime Novel is Like Prepping a Case File for the CPS
There’s a lot of paperwork in the police force. Endless forms and labels and booklets, most of it designed to collate data or appease the suits in HQ or the Home Office, and a lot of it simply to cover your own arse when, as they say in The Job if trouble begins, ‘the wheel comes off’. It’s tedious in the extreme, but there was one part of the written work that I always found enjoyable: assembling a case file for the Crown Prosecution Service.
What struck me, especially when I began juggling being a copper with writing novels, were the similarities between putting together an air-tight case file for the Crown Prosecution Service (or CPS) and constructing a readable novel. I believe that all those days and weeks and centuries – or so it seemed – spent writing reports and liaising with overworked solicitors and collating evidence and cobbling it all together (to use the technical term) into a presentable, cogent case against the defendant was excellent grounding for creating a book.
The, ahem, evidence for this:
The Crime – As with a novel, your prosecution case file will begin with an offence that has taken place. The crime is where it all begins, where the ‘story’ starts. It is the centre point, and everything spins out from this one act, be it a theft from a vehicle or the murder of a spouse during a drunken argument over borrowing a cigarette. The offence, whatever it is, will appear on the front cover of your case file, just as the crime in a fictional novel will appear in the jacket blurb and be alluded to in the strapline beneath the book title. And in the CPS paperwork, the offence will appear on the charge sheet – or MG4 – in all its statute-heavy glory when it is handed to the defendant once they have been formally charged with the matter in the custody suite.
What Do We Believe Happened? – did we mention the jacket blurb? Oh good. Because this is where its equivalent can be found in a CPS case file: towards the front of the paperwork on the ‘MG5 Summary of Evidence’ form. This is where you sell your case, much as you’d try to flog your novel with an oh-so-intriguing handful of paragraphs on the back cover, designed to draw your reader in to the world you’ve created. There’s not as much hyperbole – it can be a very dry affair – but it is essentially the same: you are, as concisely yet – cough – arrestingly as possible, telling the solicitor (your ‘reader’) exactly what you have served up for them. And you hope they bite. You hope they proceed with your case. You hope they enter your world.
Introducing the Characters – your cast list in the case will appear on what the fuzz call the ‘MG9’ form, or the ‘Witness List’. It will start with the major players – the defendant, the IP (or Injured Party) – and continue onwards to include even the smallest bit-part character who may or may not have been at the scene (we don’t know if he’s lying) and is prone to making stuff up just so he can have some attention from the Old Bill so we’ve got to include him anyway or someone will complain. Possibly the guy’s mother. But this is where your ‘thespians’ start to bring your case file to life, with their names and relationships and a hint at what part they are about to play as you read what they have done and what they have to say…
Witness Statements – characters in a crime novel can be open and honest or harbouring myriad secrets; you can never tell which at first, and it is only as the story progresses do you unravel what can often be a complex web of truths, half-truths and downright lies. The same goes for real people in real cases. Witness statements make for absorbing reading. For whatever reason – protecting family and friends, not wanting to get involved, hating the police so deliberately misleading them – human beings can be as helpful or unhelpful as their fictional counterparts. It is down to you, as the investigating officer – the protagonist – to work out what really happened and ‘whodunit’, much as your heroine DI or maverick, heavy drinking (if you must) DS will do in your favourite series of crime novels. People are fascinating, and flawed, and often bloody infuriating, and it is through their statements you will – hopefully – piece together what really happened, and your solicitor counterpart will see it also, and will be able to convince a magistrate or jury that what you have found is the truth.
The Good Evidence – it’s all well and good having three witnesses who can place your defendant at the scene of a street robbery, but a seasoned defence barrister will always muddy the waters so hard forensics is where it’s at. Fingerprints, footprints, blood splatter? Just like your protagonist would, get it if you can. Any CCTV cameras on nearby shops and houses? Your heroine would seize them all, review the video, find the bad guy. Did the defendant grab the IP? Your fictional DI would always remember Locard’s exchange principle and seize the IP’s clothes for examination because he might find the defendant’s DNA all over them, proving he was at the scene of the crime. You, as the SIO (Senior Investigating Officer), will collate the witness statements and write your own to tie everything together but the clincher – the evidence that solves the case, that sells it to your ‘reader’ as authentic and convincing – will be forensics, and as much of it as you can muster.
Your Statement – this should be the icing on the cake. This is where you, the protagonist in this little tale, deftly tie it all together in a professional, objective, authoritative manner: what you saw, what you heard, what the defendant said to you after you arrested and cautioned him. How he behaved, any unsolicited comments he made while under caution that you immediately noted in your pocket notebook. What he said during the recorded suspect interview, and what he disclosed. What he said once you’d formally charged him and handed him the MG4 and a court date and turfed him out of custody with his plastic bag of personal belongings. This is the point where you box it all up so it’s neat and squared away and the file can be sent to the CPS for review. And where you start counting the hours before it comes back to you asking for further investigation…
Proving Your Case and The Resolution
Defendant Interview – this is where you sit in a bright, windowless and well-ventilated room with hi-tech recording equipment and politely interview – sorry, Detective Inspector Gene Hunt fans – your suspect, offering them frequent ‘comfort breaks’ and opportunities to make shit up confer with their solicitor. This, much like the denouement of a novel, is where all the evidence comes together and is put to the defendant, albeit in a less-exciting-than-a-climactic-car-chase kinda way. You question, and question, and question, and show them the CCTV images of them hitting that guy, and the blood splatters on their shirt, and their DNA found under the IP’s fingernail where they tried to push you away, you naughty man. This is the climax, the end, the part where chummy throws his hands in the air and says how he would have got away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids and your dog. Sorry, I meant the police.
Fine-tuning – anyone who’s published a novel will tell you about editing. Editing your first draft. The second, fifth, twelfth. Editing it until you can’t look at it ever again, until the mere mention of the book’s title sends you into a murderous, climb-a-clocktower-with-a-rifle rage. Then sending it off, utterly relieved at it finally being over, only for your publisher to email you with Great! We’ll be back in touch with edits ASAP! It is no different with the CPS. They will want another witness. They will want an old witness re-interviewed. Again. They will want to ‘cut’ a witness who does not help the ‘story’. The forensic evidence needs more forensic evidence. They have misplaced the defendant’s interview recording DVD, can we have another copy by yesterday please? As with a novel, there’s a lot of toing and froing, a lot of haggling and cutting and moving stuff around, some of which can take the better part of a year. There’s a reason novels can take a few years to see the light of day, and that same reason applies to court cases and why they drag on for so long…
In short, what you’re doing with both a CPS case file and a novel is creating a storyline that hopefully sustains reader interest and propels them towards a suitably rewarding climax. But after all your work is done, what does ‘the jury’ decide? Does your case/novel get the defendant convicted in court/get your book onto the bestseller lists? Or does the CPS discontinue the case/does your book sink without trace?
In reality, it doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked on either, the end result is out of your hands…
Quite possibly my favourite guest post, EVER! Seriously, how good was that? I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, Mike. My thanks for such an interesting true crime/crime fiction focused piece!
I have had the first book in the DC Will MacReady series, Ash and Bones on my TBR since it was published. I remember thinking at the time how drawn I was to the book, how gritty and real the blurb felt. Unfortunately time has not been on my side and I have (so far) completely failed to read it. So when I was given the opportunity to read the second book, Unforgivable it was a no-brainer for me. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first in the series, I wanted to be a part of the launch tour. And oh wow, I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed.
This book opens with a catastrophic bang and I was immediately hooked. The scenes of chaos, the terror…my heart ached for the families, the normal everyday people caught up in a cataclysmic event. The author has expertly created an incredibly tense opening to what proves to be a terrifying yet realistic story, one I thoroughly enjoyed.
I’m still unsure exactly how I feel about DC Will MacReady. I do like him, but there are certain aspects that left me feeling cold. I loved his determination, his work ethic, his budding relationship with his newborn son and his utter distaste towards his thuggish, wife-beating brother. What left me feeling was cold was his extra-marital affair with a television journalist and his frostiness towards his wife. However (and it’s a big however) MacReady has been through some emotionally traumatic times, that’s clear for the reader to see. But whether these painful incidents permit him to pursue his affair…well, I don’t know. The author has put MacReady in a marital situation that would test the most devoted of couples. And it’s an interesting one. Really, really interesting.
There were several mentions of an event which occurred in the first book. At certain points, I wish I had been able to read Ash and Bones before Unforgivable so I could find out the intricacies of the previous investigation and exactly how it had played out, as it spills over ever so slightly into Unforgivable. Saying that, the author has done a great job of ensuring you have just enough of the back story for the book to make perfect sense. I would say, if anything, I now want to read the first book in the series more than ever!
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! You can tell from early on that the author is ex-police. There is no messing around in Unforgivable, you’re thrown head first into the melee and it is BRILLIANT! A terrifying tale of revenge and bitterness expertly narrated by an author who has lived life on the front line. A must read for crime thriller fans!
Four and a half out of five stars.
I chose to read and review an ARC of Unforgivable. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.
His teenage years were spent breakdancing, spraying graffiti around the town’s walls and office blocks and just about staying on the right side of the law, until his early twenties when, inexplicably, he joined the local constabulary and began locking people up for spraying graffiti around the town’s walls and office blocks.
“…inexplicably, he joined the local constabulary and began locking people up for spraying graffiti around the town’s walls and office blocks…”
While working as a plod in Wales’ capital city of Cardiff, Thomas continued with his childhood passion: writing. As a freelance he produced articles for local newspapers, various websites and national travel magazines, while in 2007 he was one of the winners in the annual Rhys Davies Short Story Competition organised by Literature Wales. After completing a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Wales between 2007 and 2009, Thomas published his debut novel, Pocket Notebook, in 2010 with William Heinemann/Penguin Random House.
The author was on the prestigious list of Waterstones’ ‘New Voices’ for that year, while Pocket Notebook was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year and optioned for television by Carnival Films, the producers of Downton Abbey. His second novel, Ugly Bus, was released by Heinemann in 2014 and is currently in development as a six part television series with the BBC. Both novels deal with the uglier side of policing.
“…He currently lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife and children…”
Thomas left the police in the spring of 2015 and grew his hair and a pathetic attempt at a beard. He currently lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife and children. Alongside chopping wood, cementing crumbling house walls and trying to find somewhere that sells his beloved Marmite, he continues to write articles and web pieces for a variety of sites and publications, and is contracted to London’s Bonnier Publishing for three new novels, the first of which – Ash and Bones – was released August 2016. The second in the series, Unforgivable, is due for publication in the summer of 2017.