Book 4: Sin Killers

As Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle hones in on his suspects, he becomes a target for their retribution. Hunter becomes hunted.

Who is acting as judge, jury and executioner? Someone is running a campaign of retribution against people with lax morals. Kidnapping, arson and blackmail are bad enough, but then the head of a convicted paedophile is found wedged onto a road signpost at a location where ancient public executions took place.

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19th-century gibbet

Various local businessmen and politicians have been blackmailed with incriminating evidence, fined £20,000 to encourage them to improve their behaviour. Sophisticated techniques have been used to surveil the victims and to attack them, including poisons, guns and explosives, implying that the perpetrators have military or secret service training.

The suspect in a series of violent raids on small businesses also appears to be ex-army. The efficient attacks speak of reconnaissance beforehand, and the lone raider strikes swiftly, incapacitating their target, before fleeing on a motorcycle with the loot. Where is the raider living?

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The death of the child abuser escalates the investigation. Neil has mixed feelings about the death of a paedophile, but murderers need to be caught. What is motivating the Sin Killers—financial gain or retribution?

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One of their victims owns a chain of massage parlours. Seemingly unfazed by the pressure, his young son was kidnapped then abandoned, and he vows revenge. His henchman, Cleaver, is a veteran of London gang wars in the 1960s, his heavily scarred face proof of his own capacity for violence with blades.

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Interference from a controversial government minister appears to confirm who the suspects are while muddying the waters. Devon & Cornwall Police are being used to clean up mistakes made by the secret service. Noah and Nina Shrike are ex-MI5 agents gone rogue and likely to turn terrorist, as they punish the sins of their former masters.

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Poison Dart Frog

As Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle hones in on his suspects, he becomes a target for their retribution overpowered by an exotic poison. Cleaver is on the prowl, his knives ready to slice and dice.

Hunter becomes hunted.

Why write An Elegant Murder?

Given the right conditions, corpses can mummify, rather than liquefy and decompose.

An Elegant Murder is set against the background of the Brexit Referendum. The voters’ decision to leave the European Union plunged the country into chaos. Having lived among the farming community, I’m keenly aware of their tight profit margins and dependence on subsidies. People voted in ignorance of the repercussions.

Marcus Aurelius noted that: Poverty is the mother of crime. Farmers faced with losing their livelihoods might well be tempted to turn to crime. They, in turn, become victims of crime. I’ve known several farmers who had possessions stolen from their barns when they were away at market. Others had their livestock rustled from remote fields. Such incidents breed suspicion of strangers, as well as discord within the farming community—what if it’s your neighbour who’s the thief?

Farming is a lonely existence. In recent years, there have been several sad real-life incidents of people dying alone, their bodies not found for ages. In the UK 34% of people live alone, some not socialising with their nearest neighbour, who could be next door or, if in the countryside, half-a-mile distant. Given the right conditions, corpses can mummify, rather than liquefy and decompose. The dead farmer in my story lives a hardscrabble existence, relying on no one but himself, effectively not a part of the 21st century. He’s both indomitable and vulnerable, too proud and guilt-stricken to seek help.

His guilt is driven by religious mania, but his conscience is stricken by how he treated his adopted sister. Signing her life away, by having her committed to what was once called a mental asylum, for her promiscuity which tempted him, he punishes himself physically and by denial. Once incarcerated in the system, it was difficult to impossible for a patient diagnosed as mad to gain release, especially without family support.

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The sister survives being committed, returning to the only place she was once happy, the remote farm in Cornwall. Not in her right mind and living in the past, she shares the house with the mummified corpse of her brother, something that people have done in real life, usually in a state of delusion, sometimes to carry on claiming the dead person’s pension. Oddly enough, the sister is the happiest person in my story, for though her attempt to resume her love life is a fantasy, she’s blissful until she meets her nemesis. I’ve worked as a counsellor with those afflicted by mental health issues, wondering sometimes at who was sane and who was insane and who had the right to make that definition.

Strong religious belief can be a comfort and a source of strength and inspiration, but also a way that people hold themselves back by pointless devotion, punishing their bodies and minds if they think they’ve failed.

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Hair Shirt

Bodmin Moor is an ageless place, not much changed for hundreds of years. It’s the ideal location to set a story with ancient themes of love, lust, avarice and betrayal. I wanted to write a narrative that allowed me to focus on face-to-face confrontations between my Cornish Detective and witnesses and suspects, without the interference of technology. One of the biggest problems in writing crime novels set in the 21st century is having to include CCTV cameras, mobile phone tracking, social media accounts, DNA and fingerprinting. What if none of those elements could be used or were of limited use?

The scheming of people, how envy and lust drive foolish actions that have might have repercussions for decades, is made irrelevant if those selfish people suddenly realise that they are on the food chain…that they’re being stalked by a big cat! All of their weaknesses come into sharp focus. The legend of The Beast Of Bodmin Moor is older than that of the Loch Ness Monster.

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It has more probability of being true too, for The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 brought in a licensing system that proved difficult to satisfy. Faced with having their exotic animals humanely destroyed, some owners released them into the countryside. One of the biggest surprises for me, when researching An Elegant Murder, was finding how many licences are still granted that enable people to keep bobcats, lynxes, wolves and mountain lions in captivity.

Anything smacking of myth will be used to promote tourism, including King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but a big cat on the loose in the Cornish countryside is believable. Dead sheep and deer savaged to death, on farms neighbouring where I lived, weren’t killed by dogs. The scene in my story, where the detectives realise a mountain lion is standing on the other side of their hide, is based on a true incident that happened to a sound recordist acquaintance of mine.

He was part of a team sent out to investigate reports of a mountain lion being sighted near to Minions on Bodmin Moor. The plan was to camp out overnight to record audio and video of the big cat on the prowl. It rained heavily, so thinking the assignment was ruined, the sound recordist duo were just about return to their car, when they heard something big moving stealthily outside their canvas hide.

Figuring it was one of the camera crew having a laugh, their annoyance changed to terror when the mountain lion screamed! Holding on to one another, the two men attempted to work out where the big cat was, backing away from that wall of the tent. Their car was parked 200 yards away, too far to run in pitch dark, so they spent a sleepless night waiting for dawn. The cat only screamed once, and they hadn’t recorded it. Tracks around the hide had been made indistinct by the rain.

Imagine hearing that nearby in the dark!

No one really believed them, thinking they were making it up, but I did, for a couple of years later, I experienced a moment of great fear, when I realised that I was being watched by something in the bushes on the other side of the stream, twenty feet away from where I was standing on the sheep farm where I lived. I froze, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, as I slowly moved my eyes to see a dark shape move away from me. It silently crept off, slinking like a cat would, not trotting like a dog or waddling like a sheep and making a noise. I immediately returned to my cottage. Carrying a large walking stave and a diver’s knife, I returned to the scene the next day, to look for tracks, but could find nothing on the leaf litter.

As soon as you talk about anything like this, people immediately look for explanations to debunk what you saw and ridicule you. But, just think about how wildlife adapts to living among us, even in cities. Rewilding projects are moving ahead in the UK, for animals as diverse as beavers, bobcats, wolves and the native wild cat, all of which once lived here, but were driven into extinction by hunting.

I used many real locations in my story, including The Cheesewring and Gold Diggings Quarry. These are attractive tourist destinations, which have historical significance. The geology of Cornwall can’t be ignored, for it’s affected the industry and agriculture so much. Granite makes laying sewage, water and gas pipes impossible, hence so many septic tanks, boreholes and Calor gas ovens and heating systems. It’s also inconvenient for murderers wanting to bury a corpse, leading to shallow graves, which is how one of the victims is discovered in An Elegant Murder.

Farmers are hardy people—feuds exist—ghosts haunt the lives of those who live on. Face-to-face tough-guys bluff their way through gossip in the community and police interrogations, while being tormented by the spirits of those they hurt and destroyed. Superstitions abound and farmers invent their own, cleaving to habits that brought them luck before and not doing activities on particular days, as that was when something went wrong.

Three innocent people die in An Elegant Murder, two by physical violence, the other by stealth. Their killers sought money and freedom but condemned themselves to an eternity of torment.

It’s often those we’re closest to who kill us.

Book 3: An Elegant Murder

Investigating the puzzling deaths of two pensioners on Bodmin Moor, Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle uncovers hidden torment, avarice, lust and violence from forty years ago, which has modern day repercussions.

It’s a long, hot summer—good for Cornwall, which depends on tourist income—but, bad for crime. The heatwave drives people mad, and two corpses are found on Bodmin Moor.

The corpse of a mysterious elderly woman is found floating in a flooded quarry. Dressed in a 1950s ballgown, she carries no identification and can’t be traced.

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Days later, a burglar discovers the mummified corpse of a reclusive farmer, who’s been sitting at his kitchen table for five years. His farm is off the grid, and only a short walk from the quarry. Are the two victims connected? No one has missed them.

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The farming community on Bodmin Moor is insular, not given to sharing information, something Neil knows from personal experience, having grown up on a sheep farm. Thieves are around, stealing property from remote barns and rustling livestock. Stolen to order, by armed gangs from upcountry, it’s likely that they have cooperation from locals betraying their neighbours. Farmers are guarding their animals with shotguns. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a shootout.

Not all dead cattle, deer and sheep have been taken by rustlers. A stealthy four-legged killer stalks the land: the legendary Beast of Bodmin Moor looks to be a flesh and blood exotic big cat.

In a primitive landscape, unchanged for hundreds of years, and with no CCTV cameras and weak mobile phone signals, Neil Kettle tracks down his suspects, while becoming prey himself!

Why Write The Perfect Murderer?

I’ve noticed a hardening of attitudes towards what is morally acceptable.

This novel grew out of a few preoccupations that have been troubling me. Some of these concerns date back decades, while others have grown in recent years. Few things change about human existence, at least in how we react to cataclysmic events, though I’ve noticed a hardening of attitudes towards what is morally acceptable.

I stole the titles of two rock albums, to place into an embittered contemplation of society by one of the killers in The Perfect Murderer. These titles have resonated with me since reading them, as they’re both a succinct comment on modern times. The Doobie Brothers issuedWhat Were Once Vices Are Now Habits’ in 1974, and at the time it was more of a reflection on sexuality and drug use. These days, such an observation includes a host of what was once seen as appalling transgressions.

Jane’s Addiction released ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ in 1988. Though lead singer Perry Farrell was referring to more than sex and drugs, I think that even this louche counter-culture leading light would have found it impossible to predict quite how debauched the world would be twenty-six years later. It really does take something horrendously bad to produce revulsion in people nowadays.

Many things that would have been condemned and not spoken of forty years ago, now immediately enter the world as sources of entertainment. Comedians make jokes about paedophilia, while executions and horrible accidents provide a thrill on YouTube and the foulest details of murders are revealed. People are inured to being affected by witnessing violence, which must alter how they feel about helping victims or worse, administering pain to others. Many would take out their phones to record the plight of a stricken person, rather than offer them help.

The rise of computer gaming has been inexorable. Gamers can kill opponents on-screen with no physical risk to themselves. Some slaughter thousands of people online every week. Where’s the harm, you may ask? In 2011 in Norway, Anders Breivik killed 77 people, injuring 319 others in two attacks, including shooting youngsters attending a youth camp. He’d been immersed in the video games ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ for years. The prosecution portrayed his mass killings as an extension of his merciless role-playing online. The killer was devoid of empathy for his victims, seeing them as targets.

One of my grandfathers was a veteran of the WW1 trenches. He saw, and no doubt was involved in perpetrating some terrible acts of violence. Bayoneted and gassed at Ypres, he was invalided out of the fighting. He was ill in more than obvious physical ways, and treatment of shell shock was in its infancy back then. Drifting through a series of dead-end jobs, he was a heavy drinker and a violent, abusive family man. He had a brooding presence, and I was afraid of him as a little boy. Photographs of him taken at the time of the war show a haunted and stunned expression as if he doesn’t understand the horror he’s just been through and is terrified about what’s going to happen next.

He died in his fifties, propelled by alcoholism into an early grave. I was very young, but still detected a sense of relief from my mother and aunt—a strange emotion to process. Since then, I’ve known veterans of many wars, on a friendly basis and as colleagues. Most were seemingly unaffected by their wartime experiences, while others knew that they still had post-traumatic stress disorder. Some sought counselling and medication, others plunged into oblivion through overindulging in alcohol and drugs. There are many ex-services personnel among the homeless.

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Living in America for three years, I met Vietnam vets and heard some terrible tales. I was there when 9/11 happened, and it was worrying to witness a nation gearing up for war. Any people who criticised the military build-up were seen as unpatriotic. It put some veterans in an awkward position. They wanted to support the red, white and blue but knew the hell that their children and grandchildren were heading into. The thirst for revenge outweighed any logical thinking, however, and few stopped to consider why America was attacking Saddam Hussein and not tracking down Osama Bin Laden.

As a legal alien in the USA, I had to be circumspect about what I thought and said. It was tough to witness the turmoil that some were going through. My then-wife had a friend whose brother was killed in Vietnam. She’d been a protester against that conflict but was now seeing her son go off to war in Iraq. I found myself thinking of a protest song that was popular in that era—Country Joe McDonald’s ‘The Fish Cheer/ I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag’, with its dire prediction “And you can be the first one in your block/To have your boy come home in a box.”

Wars accomplish few of their declared aims, though there’s always more success for the things that are going on beneath the surface. A simple example of this is what has happened to honest citizens in the last ten years, with the massive increase in unwarranted intrusion into their lives by surveillance of many kinds. Governments welcome wars as a way of tightening their control of the civilian population. If there’s an enemy to fight, be it the Nazis seventy years ago or terrorists today, then stringent measures are brought in to monitor the public in the name of security. Once in place, they aren’t relaxed or removed when the threat is gone. We become the enemy for our lords and masters.

It’s often said that the UK has the most CCTV cameras per head of the population. I can well believe it. In 2008 I visited a friend in Andalusia for a week. She lived in a remote mountainous place above Estepona, but we went on trips to Malaga. There were certainly security cameras in place to discourage shoplifting, but I didn’t notice as many on the streets. I didn’t see any GATSO speed cameras on the roadside at all. My friend was an ex-pat who left the UK in the 1980s, and when I told her that in the fifty-mile journey between my home in Cornwall and Exeter airport, where I’d parked my car, there were at least thirty-eight speed cameras, she found it impossible to believe.

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I wondered how much being ground down and watched all the time, contributes to the dour expressions on the faces of people in a typical British high street. The Spaniards are happy, smiling and relaxed by comparison—and it isn’t just down to the nicer weather there. I live in a dozy part of Cornwall, some six miles from the bustling resort of Newquay. Nothing much happens around here, but all the same on my weekly walk into town a mile away, I pass through the view of at least a dozen cameras on buildings—and those are the ones I’ve spotted.

I have to admit, though, that I’m in two minds about the value of watching people all of the time. I helped to run a busy community centre for four years. One of our main problems was vandalism—bored youngsters entering the site and breaking windows. This was a major drain on the resources of the charity which ran the centre, but we couldn’t afford to install a modern surveillance system on the old Victorian building, and would it have done any good anyway? Someone has to watch the monitor screens, and even if any recordings made helped to identify who’d committed the vandalism—what then? Punishment of the miscreants we did catch was weak.

Another theme of ‘The Perfect Murderer’ is about how we’re affected as individuals by what we choose to do, and which happen unbidden to us. There’s an odd denial of consequences for some things. People alter the state of their minds with drink and drugs, but still claim to be ok to do most activities. Warriors return from doing battle and are expected to slot back into society as if nothing traumatic has occurred to them. Anybody who watches television or uses a computer can witness shocking acts of violence and depravity. Gamers commit cyber violence, yet declare that it doesn’t affect them in any way. Academic research shows that it does.

Perhaps the sanest character in my story is the lead detective Neil Kettle. He seeks help for the depression and panic attacks that he’s experiencing in a delayed reaction to bereavement, as well as the intense stress he’s under from hunting for a serial killer. He knows that he’s troubled, but does something about it.

Several of the other characters are familiar with their own maladjusted way of thinking but have bent it to their will as it suits their purpose. In researching the novel, I found many examples of links between make-believe violence and the real thing. It’s foolish to pretend that we’re not affected by what we use for recreational purposes, whether it’s a book, film, piece of music, video game or drug, including alcohol. We wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t affect us in some way.

We are all supposed to be in charge of our thoughts and emotions, though, so that’s just about the only safeguard that’s in place. But what if someone has tipped over the edge of what is acceptable and is functioning in a different way? That’s what has happened to the two killers in The Perfect Murderer. One has been made into a killing machine, through wartime experiences. The Watcher started as a boy soldier and hasn’t stopped fighting since. He has no moral compass and exists only to play The Game which is as much a way of life for him as being a mercenary or paramilitary fighter. With little education, his family exterminated in ethnic cleansing and unable to trust friendships, he clings to a deadly framework to support himself.

Boy soldiers are commonly used in revolutionary warfare. The atrocities in Africa, the Middle East and Slovenia featured children as fighters—often kidnapped, it’s still going on. I once met and worked with a man who’d been snatched from his classroom by the army of the Ayatollah in Iran. He was 14 years old, and with minimum weapons training, he found himself in a firefight with a machine gun forty-eight hours later. He killed people, was the victim of chemical warfare, and twenty-five years later was still coping with the guilt of what he’d done, trying to make amends by working as a social worker with refugees in London.

Iran's 'Military-Religious Amusement Park' Lets Kids ...

The Watcher is committing acts of great evil, though he doesn’t see them that way. The other murderer, the vengeful detective sees things differently too. He’s a psychopath, and even knows that he is—but this only reinforces the moral crusade that he’s on. Much has been written and filmed about psychopathy, and it’s common to view all ‘psychos’ as cold-blooded killers. They’re not, though they are often more successful than most people would credit for people with a major mental affliction.

If you’re interested in learning more about psychopathy, I recommend The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry‘ by Jon Ronson. They are among us, though only comprise 1% of the population. However, in prisons, the percentage rate rises alarmingly, with some 25% of convicts reckoned to be psychopaths. We might look on that figure as reassuring that not all of them are as cunning as the malign detective in my story.

It may also comfort you to know that when I did the Hare PCL-R psychological assessment test for psychopathy, I scored a lowly 4—though I wouldn’t claim that I’m normal by any means. While I’m denying things, I should point out that nor do I share the particular sexual predilections of the lorry driver Fred Denyer. I love trees—but not that much!

Roger Rule’s behaviour is affected by the tumour growing in his brain, but up until that begins to happen he’s been sure that what he was doing was correct. This happens with serial killers, for they see things in such a different way that it’s hard to rationalise their thought processes. Just think of the crimes committed by high profile men from the world of entertainment against trusting and vulnerable children, women and young men. None of the convicted perpetrators has expressed any remorse—they considered what they did to be their right.

Psychopaths are sometimes extremely sexual people, though their desire is motivated more by manipulation and a tactic to achieve another conquest, than any feelings of love. They can be at the opposite extreme too, as I found when meeting two murderers who’d killed their wives for being licentious.

As with most of my writing, there’s a lot of true personal stuff in the fiction. They say to write about what you know, so I distributed various maladies I’ve suffered from around my characters. I have Raynaud’s phenomenon, which gives me cold feet, and was plagued with Aspergillosis for seven months—caught from the mildewed walls of my cottage home. I cured myself with a visit to the dry hot air of the mountains of Andalusia—which The Watcher fantasises about visiting. I had a lucky escape, as I was not long returned when the unfortunate gardener, mentioned in the novel, died of this deadly lung infection.

I’ve gone through depression and panic attacks several times, helped more by counselling than medication. CC’s gout is from pained personal experience. I’ve only had a few attacks, but they are excruciating. It feels like the affected joint, usually the big toe, is being gripped in a vice which is being heated with a blowtorch while someone hammers the metal. Maddeningly, it’s a tough condition to get any sympathy for, as it’s become a cliché that it’s caused by rich eating and excessive drinking of dark spirits. It’s not, as it’s a form of arthritis that is hereditary in origin—I recall my grandfather having a gout stool to rest his foot on in front of his armchair. He was the shell-shocked man who left me a Hebel verey pistol from the WW1 trenches—which makes an appearance in the story.

The mental phenomena that Roger experiences are not all familiar to me, thank goodness. I’ve seen floaters in my eyes, but many people have, and I’ve had my sleep disturbed by exploding head syndrome four or five times in the course of my life. The black cat which the detective sees as a hallucination happened to the father of a friend when he was declining with a brain tumour. He took it in good humour and wasn’t alarmed by it, thinking it to be a visitor from his boyhood.

Morag Mallory is loosely based on a couple of female characters I’ve known. One of them had a lucrative sideline in producing hooch in her garage, a form of poteen that she learnt to make as a teenager in the Hebrides. I was thinking of an old head shop called Spice Island which operated in Southsea, Portsmouth in the 1980s when describing ‘Feed Your Head’. That emporium closed, but there’s plenty like it in Glastonbury. I knew a woman who used the community centre, who never wore shoes—not even in deep snow!

I played a bit fast and loose with the geographical location of ‘The Perfect Murderer’. Writers tend to do this, so I apologise to any purists who may try to track down the exact locations. Initially, I tried to make the story set in some unspecified county town. This was partly to give it a universal quality, which I hoped wouldn’t deter any readers—some like stories set in their home county and would be put off by a tale set hundreds of miles away. But I started to get a bit lost within my own story such as when sending characters to a specific street or settlement.

I started to think of places I’ve lived and known, though I mixed and merged them in some cosmic godlike way! Liskerrett is the ancient name for Liskeard, as well as the name of the community centre there. I added the high street in Andover, Hampshire to Liskeard, along with some woods and rabbit warrens I knew in Suffolk. The area of Bodmin Moor where the climax of the manhunt is set is real, though with names changed. Minions becomes Penamena—a blend of Pensilva, a village three miles away and Gonamena, a nearby mine. ‘The Cheesewring’ pub has its name changed to ‘Gold-Diggings’—the name of an abandoned and flooded quarry nearby.

Raven’s Nest is really Crow’s Nest, and Corneston is the new name for Launceston, once Cornwall’s county town. I renamed Saint Cleer with its ancient name of Saint Clarus. The standing stones of Long Tom and The Hurlers are rechristened Long Don and The Happy Maidens—nicked from The Merry Maidens down Penzance way. The hidden flooded burial mound really exists and was shown to me by a friend who knows the area well.

Old adits and mines are a hazard on the moor. The sinkhole that happened in 2009 over by the Cheesewring quarry is real, and there forever. I had a friend who explored abandoned mines on his own, without telling people where he was going and I thought him mad! Mining was carried out without proper maps being made for centuries, so the ground can be very unstable, especially after heavy rain.

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Emulating Zeus, I dragged the old military airbase of Saint Mawgan closer to Liskerret, though there are several decommissioned and WW2 era runways in Cornwall, including RAF Davidstow Moor, just to the north of Bodmin Moor.

Various themes emerged during the writing of the novel, not all of them pre-planned. The great novelist E.L Doctorow observed that “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” He’s right, and some of the things that I realised I was writing about surprised me a little.

One of my preoccupations was feet and tracking, including tracing the trail we leave in the lives of others. Feet cropped up in different ways—through the impressions left in the soil, the scent marker that the bloodhound follows, CC’s gout, The Watcher’s Raynaud’s phenomenon, Frank’s sprained ankle, Morag’s bare feet, the gouge wounds in the victims’ heels. All of the investigating team become more aware of their feet and walking, realising that by travelling everywhere by car, they’ve lost touch with the public. The decline of the beat bobby that occurred in the 1960s was precipitated by the increased use of patrol cars.

Trust features heavily in the story. Neil is isolated by being in command, and only really opens up to his father-in-law, Roger—a man who trusts no one. The Watcher is similarly untrusting, though his reluctance to be close to anyone comes from his survival instincts. Frank shares with those who can help him, such as Brian and Bruce, but keeps things back from his colleagues and family.

Some of this reticence to be communicative comes from the solitariness of the characters. Neil reads that 34% of the population lives alone, as does he, Roger, CC, Mac, Super-Cooper, Brad Whitford, Barbara Thompson, Nigel Fletcher, Robbie Frazier, Eamon O’Flannery and Mal Lavelle and several of the potential suspects. Some of them alleviate their loneliness by having the company of a pet, but those who exist as solitaries can get out of the habit of talking. Instead, they channel their energies into hobbies and activities—photography, orchids, bees, cycling, wildlife and good causes.

The story is set against what some of the characters see as a breakdown of morals. Video gaming, social networking, television and newspapers all view murder as a source of entertainment. The wildness of the countryside shows how we become more at risk out of town. Hunter and prey can include human beings. Few people could survive for more than a couple of days if lost in the wilds—and we’re not on the food chain in the U.K.

But what if a human predator was around?

Book 2: The Perfect Murderer

Then, another murder happens, which doesn’t fit the pattern.

A second killer has joined in.

A serial killer, known as The Watcher, is terrorising the small market town of Liskerrett, Cornwall and the surrounding area, taking victims seemingly at random and with great expertise.

Neil Kettle is running a major murder investigation, as he struggles with depression, a delayed reaction to the accidental death of his wife four years ago.

Three people have been murdered, a child, an old woman and an American tourist, all dying by different methods. The perpetrator is playing a game, one as old as time. He’s a fantasist, but is he a psychopath? His killing skills suggest military training—he might have PTSD.

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A master of disguise, he never appears the same way twice when spotted in public on CCTV, imitating women and disabled war veterans. Neil’s detectives have close encounters with the killer, not realising who he is. He could be targetting them.

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Asian woman vinyl full head mask

It’s almost Christmas, and Liskerrett is busy with thrill-seeking ghouls, visiting the murder scenes and hampering the hunt for a murderer who kills perfectly. Neil and his team of detectives are under enormous pressure to catch the killer, for Liskerrett is already being referred to as ‘Murder Town.’

The investigation becomes even more complicated, when MI5 and the FBI take an interest. They provide Neil with useful information about the perpetrator, but what are they keeping secret?

Neil feels isolated in command, his only friends the forensic pathologist Christie Cook, known as CC, and his father-in-law, the retired chief detective Roger Rule, an autocratic control-freak with a heart of ice. But, Roger was a highly successful murder investigator, so Neil turns to him for advice.

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Then, another murder happens, which doesn’t fit the pattern.

A second killer has joined in.

Book 1: Who Kills A Nudist?

A pensioner is found drowned on a beach used by naturists. An autopsy shows his death was violent, that he’d been sexually molested.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is a grieving widower of three years. The last time he visited this beach was with his wife. Already running investigations into human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and weapons, Neil’s enquiries into the victim’s life reveal links to a shady millionaire car dealer, Rupert Mansard, a man who’s risen from nowhere to prosperity.

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The reclusive car dealer is rumoured to be involved in gay BDSM, not an illegal activity, but he knows men of wealth and influence, including law enforcement officers. Guns and explosives are being brought in from Eastern Europe, by sea and air, to arm organised crime gangs. Desperate immigrants are sneaked into the country, forced to work as slaves to pay off their debt. Cornwall’s rugged coastland with sheltered coves, quiet rivers and inadequate customs patrols has favoured smugglers for centuries, and only the contraband has changed.

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The drowned man was found by an American photographer called Mish Stewart, who lives in a remote cabin overlooking the beach. Someone is stalking her, a shadowy man who could be their suspect Rupert Mansard. She’s separated and though Neil is still grieving, they get on well enough for him to imagine falling in love again one day.

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Huge profits are guarded with malevolence, destroying the innocent and the corrupt. Neil Kettle is pursuing men with assault rifles, who treat human life as a disposable commodity. Anyone and anything can be bought and sold. Mish, the only woman he’s cared about for years is under threat.

The car dealer isn’t intimidated by police interest in him, insulated by his wealth and insider knowledge about their investigation—someone is a traitor.

Then, a bullet is fired through Neil’s kitchen window.

Is he about to become a target?

Creating Kettle

A country copper with a strange mind, a weary heart and quick fists—what could possibly go wrong?

After returning to creative writing in 2013, I wrote enough short stories, novellas, poetry and song lyrics to self-publish 45 titles online. Initially, I used Smashwords, followed by Amazon, but then I moved my eBooks onto Draft2Digital, a relatively new operator—more 21st-century in its technology and look. Although I was satisfied with them, I recently decided to try KDP Select, which meant several weeks of waiting for my titles to be unpublished from vendors D2D had distributed them to. KDP Select insists on exclusivity.

It had always been my intention to write novels, but I was learning the business of publishing and improving my writing technique, so didn’t rush things. My first thought was to write a literary novel set in modern times and tackling such issues as social media, online dating, surveillance of the population, terrorism, austerity and the recession and Brexit. Thankfully, I hadn’t even got as far as making notes, when I saw advice from several writing gurus, that placing a literary novel with an agent and a publisher was the most difficult of all books. Genre writing was more popular. I changed tack to write crime novels.

After half-a-century of reading crime stories, I know the genre very well. Of course, every genre has sub-genres and I’m more a devotee of psychological thrillers, hardboiled tough guy mysteries, Southern noir and writing that has literary flourishes, including strong characterisation. I’m not a fan of cosies or animal detectives. My favourite crime writers include James Oswald, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson, Jo Nesbø and Andrea Camilleri.

I wasn’t that commercially aware when starting out, but I knew that Crime is the second best-selling genre after Romance/Erotica. Also, I live in Cornwall, where my stories would be set, which already has several noted authors, such as Daphne Du Maurier (Jamaica Inn), Winston Graham (Poldark), W.J. Burley (Inspector Wycliffe), Dominic Minghella (Doc Martin) and Patrick Gale (Notes From An Exhibition).

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Cornwall is one of the most beautiful places in the world, making it a popular tourist destination. But, beauty goes hand in hand with danger, for people die swimming in the sea and rivers, falling off cliffs or into disused mines. It’s a great backdrop for violent crimes. Daphne Du Maurier was inspired to write Jamaica Inn after getting lost on Bodmin Moor in the fog, whilst out horse riding. I know Cornwall well, having lived here for thirty years. I also know coppers (good and bad) and criminals, victims of crime, social workers and probation officers.

Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandemos stated that: “The only things worth writing about are love and murder.” I’m inclined to agree with him, for both show life at the extreme. Writing about crime allows me to tackle anything in society.

In creating a protagonist for my stories, I wanted to diverge from the usual detective or private eye, who drinks, takes drugs and smokes too much, while gambling his money away, breaking laws and chasing women. Many authors have done well with such rebellious antiheroes, particularly Jo Nesbø with Harry Hole, but I decided to go with a career copper who’s a son of the soil, and also rather weird!

It always helps an author if their hero is monied, and Neil Kettle is a millionaire from the sale of his parents’ sheep farm, following their premature deaths. His wife died in a traffic accident, meaning a life insurance payout. He’s not interested in money, rarely thinking about his savings, but it does give him a reputation for being his own man. He stays a copper for the intellectual challenge and to right wrongs in society.

In those ways, he’s conventional, but he’s unusual in how he’s in tune with nature, which helps him in his rural investigations. Clean-living, he’d rather have herbal tea than a shot of whisky; he doesn’t smoke. He’s more left-wing or green politically. A frustrated artist, he paints, draws, is learning to play the guitar and is growing a wild garden to encourage wildlife. He reads widely and listens to different types of music to help him meditate on cases.

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Neil Kettle has a rebellious streak, riding a long black Big Bear chopper, which was a trophy taken from an evil criminal. He loves being a copper with a chopper, for he gets treated as an ordinary bloke while out riding it. Like his surname, Neil Kettle is content to simmer away most of the time, but he comes to the boil quickly with a violent temper. He’s more a hunter than his laid back personality suggests.

Neil’s persistence and aggression see him triumph over serial killers in Book 2 The Perfect Murderer and the fourth tale Sin Killers, where the predators stalk him.

A loner since being widowed, he struggles with depression in the first two books, but is rebuilding his life and is more content about the future by Book 3 An Elegant Murder. His closest friend is CC, the police force’s forensic pathologist. She’s like a considerate but cheeky aunt to him, offering useful insights into the offender and wise counselling about life.

While grieving, I didn’t give him a love life, though he has an online relationship with a witness who finds the victim’s body in the first investigation Who Kills A Nudist? Mish Stewart is an American photographer, who returns home to Wyoming to decide what she wants to do with her life. There’s a mutual attraction between Neil and Mish, but the timing is wrong.

Their relationship alters for the better when she unexpectedly returns in the fifth story The Dead Need Nobody. It won’t all be plain sailing, for she has a complicated criminal history, which comes back to haunt them in Kissing & Killing. I’ll begin writing Book 6 this summer, hopefully typing The End about Christmas time.

The Cornish Detective novels are based in mid-Cornwall, with Neil operating from the police station at Liskerrett, which is the ancient name for Liskeard. I altered various geographical features in a writerly way, but not so much that they can’t be recognised.

Although Brexit is slowly going ahead, Neil Kettle investigates crimes linked to Europe, for crime is international and Cornwall’s rugged coastline is ideal for smugglers of drugs and weapons and human traffickers to sneak their ill-gotten gains in.

It’s been that way for centuries, and there have always been a few dedicated law officers who track down the criminals. Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle leads a crack squad of officers in the Major Investigation Team. Each of them has their own skillset, but ultimately it’s Neil who gets the job done.

A country copper with a strange mind, a weary heart and quick fists—what could possibly go wrong?

Ethics and the Novelist

I’d seeded the presence of a knife murderer in the first three stories, referring to his crimes, with my protagonist worrying that he’s responsible for the deaths he’s investigating. The problem is, that the killer exists in real-life.

I’ve written five crime novels in the last four years, and in the winter of 2019, I am halfway through the sixth story. My stories are set in Cornwall, where I live, and follow the investigations of an erudite, but troubled, detective.

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Botallack Mine

So far, I’ve had Chief Inspector Neil Kettle tackle serial killers, rustlers, human traffickers, drugs and armaments smugglers, poisoners, abusive husbands, racists and escaped lynxes and mountain lions. All typical of dozy old Cornwall….

I thought I knew where I was headed as I started writing the fourth book. I’d seeded the presence of a knife murderer in the first three stories, referring to his crimes, with my protagonist worrying that he’s responsible for the deaths he’s investigating. The problem is, that the killer exists in real-life.

It’s one of the most disturbing cases I know of, as the Dogwalk Slayer has been active for 29 years, killing at least three women. Two other deaths are linked to him, and there have been recent attacks on women and children out walking their dogs. It’s unusual for there to be so long between the murders. If you’re interested, there’s a short article about the crimes, here:

‘Dogwalk slayer’ on the loose: One man behind ‘cold case’ murders, says ex-cop

I’ve decided against writing about these hideous crimes. Fictionalising real murders would be wrong, for there are grieving friends and family still around.

There is, of course, a rich tradition of turning real crimes into stories, as well as chronicling them in non-fiction—think of the whole Jack the Ripper industry, for instance. But these books are published long after the crimes were committed.

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I changed direction with the fourth novel, called Sin Killers, to write of a sanctimonious husband and wife team who are kidnappers, killers and cannibals.

Have any of you censored your writing over ethical considerations?