Several incidents in my life inspired Sin Killers. Back in 1988, I lived in the town of Andover in Hampshire. I worked as a milkman, starting work at 5.00 a.m. delivering 450 pints to customers. It was ‘job and finish’ meaning I quit work as soon as I’d made the deliveries and unloaded my electric milk float of empty bottles at the depot. Like many of my colleagues, I ran the round, usually finishing in six hours. I’ve never been fitter!
After running five miles and lifting hundreds of pounds of milk bottles, I was wound up and unable to relax enough to go to sleep for eight hours during the day. To wind down, I went window shopping, calling in at charity shops to buy books and sometimes having a beer and a snack at a pub.
People watching is a trait of writers, and occasionally I’d see a man in his fifties who kept himself to himself, but who appeared to be monitoring conversations around him. He was more observant than me, even stopping in the street to watch passersby, making notes in an exercise book, checking the time on his watch. He rarely spoke to anyone. I thought he was just an eccentric loner, maybe a care in the community patient with mental health issues until I noticed he had an attractive Asian partner—who was as sharp-eyed as him.
One day, after he’d left the pub, I asked the landlord who he was. I was amazed to learn that he was an ex-secret agent, a spook for MI5, I was told…as was his wife, who came from Vietnam. He couldn’t have been less like James Bond, as he was of forgettable appearance, balding, medium-height and wearing typical country clothing of tweed jacket, flat cap and twill trousers. The landlord described him as “creepy.”
It made me wonder what a secret agent does when he or she retires? How do they deprogramme themselves? What if they hadn’t retired, but been dismissed for some transgression? They might have a chip on their shoulders and could be dangerous through their training. The chap I saw spying on others wasn’t 007, but what if he had hacking skills or knew how to kill with sophisticated poisons?
Twenty years later, he and his wife provided me with inspiration for Noah and Nina Shrike.
The post office raider suffering with PTSD was an amalgam of various ex-services personnel I’ve known—men and women who were still fighting wars in their head—with inadequate mental health support. Veterans are at high risk of becoming addicted, of being made homeless and of turning to crime to survive; their suicide rates are disproportionately high.
People who are trained to kill aren’t retrained in how to live peacefully.