It’s not easy to write a meaty, entertaining crime thriller.
It has to be suspenseful, plausible, and pacy, and it’s competing on the shelves with other masters of the genre.
With their fertile – and creepy – imaginations, WA writers David Warner and Alan Carter both hold their own with their latest novels, dipping into the darker side of humanity.
Warner’s Clear To The Horizon is about a private eye’s quest to track down a serial killer, and is clearly inspired by Perth’s “Claremont killings” mystery.
Carter’s Malborough Man is set on New Zealand’s south island, where Carter is based for much of the year, where a word-weary cop from the UK has moved to have a quieter life. Of course, chilling events propel the cop back into action.
The Starfish recently caught up with both award-winning authors for a cuppa in Napoleon St. It was interesting to hear them compare notes about the way each tackled their tales.
While Carter went out of his way to befriend a cop so that his research was right, Sydney-based Warner says he deliberately avoided this, preferring to delve into his imagination.
Bizarrely, several years ago Warner was paid a visit by Perth homicide cops, wanting to question him about the Claremont serial killers. They’d been reacting to rumours that Warner’s first crime novel, City of Light, about a serial killer, seemed too accurate for comfort, as just months after its 1995, publication, a young woman went missing in Claremont.
Of course, it didn’t take long for police to rule out the entertainer as a suspect, but the experience influenced Warner to touch on a case like this in his next crime novel.
“City of Light was fiction, inspired by real life events – Eric Cook, the Birnies and the Shirley Finn murder,” he says.
“So I used that technique again this time – fiction, inspired by real life events.”
“I’d already been toying with the idea of writing about my private eye character Snowy Lane searching for a missing couple in the north-west, so then I decided to link it to another unsolved murder case. Of course my story is entirely fictional.”
The book is peppered with references to events an West Australian of a certain age can relate to: eg slipping on a cassette of Terry Serio’s band The Elks while on a road trip.
Carter, too, writes about the environment he knows, and its idiocyncrasies; his cop, Nick Chester comes from Sunderland, where Carter grew up. And the enchanting rural area of NZ where Chester is now based, is similar to where Carter now spends much of the year. “I live on a farm, raising sheep and chooks, just like my main character,” he beams.
“When I started writing Malborough Man, I went to the local police station and introduced myself to an officer, asking if I could tag along so I could study how they operate,” he reveals. “Some things are done differently in New Zealand to Australia and I wanted to get it right.”
While each author has a different style, Carter’s is more sparse while Warner’s, more mosaic-ed, both tell their stories from the perspective of a jaded, world-weary and wise upper-middle aged man – not unlike themselves, perhaps?
They tell their stories slickly, managing to inject humour and humanity amongst the corpses.
“That’s the kind of stuff I like to read, with light and shade. You need some lighter moments to hold on to,” says Carter.
“I think that comes with my main character, Snowy’s personality, the way he looks at the world. That’s not the same in all my books. Big Bad Blood, for example, didn’t have much humour.”
A former screenwriter, Alan’s book is written in a way in which it could easily be turned into a movie:
“I’ve certainly been having talks with a few people – we’ll see if it comes off! You never hold your breath,” he shrugs.
Warner says he’s in the same boat.
“Yes there’s always interest, but whether it comes together or not, we’ll see! I’d still like to see City Of Light turned into something. I think it would make a great TV mini-series.”
Malborough Man and Clear To The Horizon are both out now, published by Fremantle Press.