Dave Warner gazes out to the Cottesloe pylon, but instead of admiring the sparkling turquoise waves, he’s talking murder mysteries.
“My challenge as a writer is to get you to like my main character, who’s been a bad guy. . I think I’ve managed,” says Sydney-based Dave.
The former lead singer of iconic Perth band From The Suburbs, also a prolific author, has just completed his ninth thriller, River of Salt, (Fremantle Press) and he says it’s one of his most satisfying novels to date.
Set in the early 60s. in a mythical coastal town up the NSW Coast, River Of Salt is about Blake, a mobster from Philly who’s moved across the world, trying to put his past behind him. He forms a surf band, opens a bar, and settles into his sleepy new life.
“But then a woman is murdered murder up the coast,- and our reformed protagonist finds himself forced to help solve the crime in order to restore harmony to his new-found patch paradise.”
“The idea of writing something set in the 60s came to me eight or nine years ago when was at a concert in Manly, seeing my friend, guitarist Martin Celia, perform songs in tribute to Australia’s iconic 1960s surf band The Atlantics,” Warner explains over coffee at Beaches cafe.
“At the time, I’d been watching the series Mad Men, set in the early 60s, which I’d loved. I also loved the way each episode had its own theatric identity.”
Feeling nostalgic for the era – when he was a lad, growing up in Bicton – Dave decided there and then, at his friend’s show, to write something set in that time frame.
“I walked into this 60s bar, and it felt like the soundtrack to a movie. My head started exploding with ideas. I was thinking of Gidget, polka dot bikinis, Elvis surf movies and Watusi dancing and surf guitar. I just wanted to create a story in this era.
“At that early stage, I wasn’t even sure whether it would be a TV series, perhaps a comedy at an Aussie beach location in the 60s, or a novel. But later I found myself thinking, ‘what if it were to be a crime story, how would that work? I would have to have that innocence of the 60s on the coast – but with something dark in there too. Which is when I started to think about throwing a hitman from Philadelphia into the mix, a bad man who wants to be good.”
“When I got home, I made a few notes, and filed them away,” he recalls.
A few years later, he re-visited the three paragraphs in his computer summing up his basic idea, and began tapping away at the keyboards.
“I didn’t have to research the 60s to include little authentic touches, I have such vivid memories,” he says.
“For example, at the time it was a big thing to have a tropical fish tank, so I made sure there’s one in the book! It was the era when men started playing golf, not just for golf’s sake, but to form business connections. And surf guitar was a thing. So of course that’s in the book.”
In order to better understand his main character Blake and his budding musical abilities, Dave went to far as to actually compose the song his fictional fellow was composing.
“Once I’d written it, I phoned my friend, guitarist Tony Durant, and said, ‘let’s record this!!’ he recalls with a grin.
“I think it’s probably the first time an author has written and recorded a real song for a character in his book!”
So of course, it made sense, when launching River Of Salt, for Dave to perform the song written especially for it, No Good Can Can Come From This.
He decided, while promoting the book, to put on a show, reading excerpts from some of his favourite books in between songs.
“It’s not a typical book tour; it’s much more of a perfomance, with Tony Durant. I’m including personal, autobiographical material that joins the dots between my career as an author and as a musician.”
Warner, who has won several awards for his crime writing, says this many of the chapters in River Of Salt “are almost a short story unto themselves, a bit like those episodes in Mad Men which have their own theatric identity, they’re part of the overall story but they also stand alone. Well there are at least eight chapters in River Of Salt like this.”
He says he was pleased his new book is with Fremantle Press, because, aside from maintaining his WA links, “I love working with the editor there, Georgia Richter. She’s without peer! A good editor is responsible for turning very good books into great books and Georgia certainly has that ability. ”
River of Salt is out now.
The Starfish went to David’s Subiaco Library talk on Monday night, where the crowd was kept enthralled with David’s readings and songs.
Here are the dates for David’s remaining WA performances (he’ll then tour NSW for the last two weeks of April):
Tuesday 2 April, 11 am Mandurah
Tuesday 2 April, 4 pm Rockingham
Wednesday 3 April, 10 am Leederville
Wednesday 6 April, 6.30 pm Bassendean
Thursday 4 April, 6 pm Melville
Here’s his new song No Good Can Come From This: