For decades, Dave Warner has relished treating audiences to a juicy murder mystery. In the early 80s, when he was best known for his rock music, he and his pals used to occasionally host creepy whodunnits on weekends, in which paying guests helped solve the crime.
These days, Warner’s still crafting suspenseful tales involving ghoulish deaths, in the form of award-winning crime thrillers.
His latest novel, After The Flood, (Fremantle Press) is out this week.
Fittingly, considering Dave is now officially one of our State’s Living Treasures, the mystery is set in the harsh WA outback.
Dave chats to The Starfish:
What’s it about, in a nutshell?
My main protagonist Detective Dan Clement is getting bored up in Broome dealing with petty crimes like anti-vaxxers breaking into the infant health clinic. He wishes he had something more important to deal with. Next thing a naked man is found crucified to an isolated service road on a vast cattle station. Be careful what you wish for, Dan. Ultimately, Clement starts to realise that everything seemingly unimportant up till now may hold the key to the mystery. As to theme, the consistent theme is that personal trauma can lead people to terrible paths of action. There is also a constant debate on personal and corporate responsibilities.
What does the title refer to?
At the onset of the book, we are on a mine site in Brazil when a dam wall breaks and the village in the valley below the mine is inundated with terrible loss. Those left must pick up the pieces of their lives. But how do you do that? Dan himself is still trying to establish his new life years on from the break-up of his marriage.
The book’s chief detective, Dan Clement will be familiar to some of your fans. How many crime thrillers of yours has he starred in now?
This is the third Dan Clement book. His first incarnation was in `Before It Breaks’ that went on to win the Ned Kelly Award. Then in `Clear To The Horizon’ he teamed up with Snowy Lane, the main character from my first novel `City of Light’.
Is it enjoyable bringing this character to life again in a new set of grisly and trying circumstances?
To be honest it is challenging. This novel sees him a few years on at least from the previous novel and because character plays a big part in my novels, I have to assess where his life is at now. Sherlock Holmes and Poirot never really had to change much from book to book but with Dan I try to get the crime he is investigating to resonate with his personal life. Then, once I know where Dan’s head is at, I can pitch him into the story. But because this is third in the series, I wanted the story to be quite different in nature to the first two books. I decided to make this book more of an action thriller with a ticking clock, although still psychologically intense.
Poor Dan Clement has the task of trying to solve a gruesome crucifixion; does it take much effort dreaming up new and interesting causes of death?
Funnily enough I’d had the idea for a couple of years that a great way to start a crime book would be to have somebody crucified to a road with a truck bearing down on them! So, in a way, the first beat of this book was that scene, although now the dam breaking comes first. I’ve discovered readers all have different thresholds to blood/gore/mystery. Some readers love the slow mystery build up with ever increasing complications, others want immediate threat.
How many hurdles and obstacles have you thrown in Dan’s path to hamper his quest to solve the crime?
I try to make my Dan Clement novels believably procedural without being photo-realistic, so I had him first need to establish the identity of the victim. The means of death makes him think it might be a bikie execution. But once he discovers who the victim is Dan believes he has likely been killed by one of his lovers, so he is approaching this as a homicide with relatively normal motivation. However, he gets thrown a curve ball. The victim was lying to his lovers and involved in something else. But what and with who? I won’t disclose more but you get the picture.
Did the book take long to write?
There was more than the usual research with this book because I know nothing about explosives, and they form a key part of the plot. I met with some great characters back in 2019 when at the Margaret River Writers Festival and began the manuscript shortly thereafter. The first draft probably took 10-12 weeks and then it is a matter of when my editor can get to it and bounce things around with me. The book was actually completed more than twelve months ago.
Though you’ve lived in Sydney for decades, it looks to us like WA still holds a big chunk of your heart; you’ve again chosen to set the novel in the West. What made you pick Broome?
Back around 2006 I was enjoying the work of Henning Mankel; who sets his novels in southern Sweden; and James Lee Burke whose books are set around the Louisiana delta. In both their cases the location was almost the main character of the book, so I determined to write an Australian book where the geography and isolation was paramount. This was before the now trendy `outback noir’ avalanche. It was 2013 before I actually finished my manuscript, but I picked the Kimberley region because I thought it would be a totally unique area in which to locate a crime fiction story. Now of course, every second Australian crime novel is set in red dirt, but I still think the region is unique, especially the vastness needed to be policed.
Has it been tougher than normal, writing your latest thriller in the time of Covid, or were there less distractions than usual?
Ah Covid! Challenge one whether to feature Covid in the story. At the time I finished the first draft Covid was only just emerging but then by the time I got the publication date the world had changed. I chose to ignore Covid in the story. I’ve had lots of time to write though over the last three years – no band touring – so I now have two more crime novels completed to first draft. In the interim I also co-wrote Marlion Pickett’s biography `Belief’ with him and self-published a volume of thirteen original short stories of mine titled `Briefly’. I’m a bit over writing for now!
Speaking of the pandemic, in general, what has the last three years been like for you and your family?
As mentioned, the first eighteen months probably didn’t affect us too greatly. None of the family got Covid until April this year, however, where we live, we were in lockdown twice. For the live shows I do it has been a disaster. Since Perth February 2020, I have done one show in June 2021. My upcoming book and music tour in September through WA will be my first live stuff since then. Even getting together with my musician friends to record was impossible. My wife Nicole had her album launch booked for March 2020 with 200 plus tickets presold. It had to be cancelled three days before and we only managed to get a small launch going in June 2021 with a maximum 50% attendance. The live entertainment industry has been all but wiped out.
You’ve won several prestigious awards for your fiction, and your crime writing; how much does it mean to you to win these accolades?
You hope that it helps get more readers to your books. And look, it’s fantastic to get an award because believe me it is no fun when the creator – be it a musician or writer – is on the other end of the stick being told your latest record/novel/play is crap. For me though, it is immensely satisfying when somebody I don’t even know drops me a line to say how much they loved one of my books. I just hope I keep selling enough books that it’s worth a publisher’s time to keeping my books out there.
Do you think after 15-odd books, your writing continues to improve?
I know I keep trying to get better but who knows? It’s rare that I re-read an earlier book of my own but sometimes I need to, and I think `Wow that’s pretty good, I don’t know if I can get to that level again’, then other times you see things that you would change if you were editing it again now.
When are you next here in the West and what will you be up to?
All being well I am in WA pretty much all September with writer festivals in the Kimberley (Sep 9-11) Armadale (Sep 15-16) and Geraldton `Big Sky’ (Sep 30-Oct 1). In between I’m doing a heap of Perth metro library talks with music with my great friend Tony Durant from the original Suburbs. There is a full run down on my Facebook page and website for anybody interested. The shows are fun, they last for around an hour, stories, music and readings. Please come!
When asked to describe your occupation these days, what do you put on the form – writer or musician or entertainer or WA State Living Treasure?
No one asks me anymore, they just assume I’m a senior long since retired!
After The Flood (Fremantle Press) is out now.