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Crime & the City Solution

By David Lewis.

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Anyone described by Irvine Welsh as his favourite British crime writer deserves to be dazzled by the spotlight. With comparisons to the likes of Welsh and William McIlvanney echoing in his ears, Tony Black has become a top-class author in his own right.

He’s just moved on from his successful Gus Dury series – featuring a reluctant but obsessive investigator – to introduce the captivating detective, Rob Brennan. In Truth Lies Bleeding, Brennan must act quickly when the dismembered body of a gymslip mum is found, her newborn baby missing.

This his fifth novel, Black once again brings Edinburgh to life in a way few can. While his take on the historic Scottish capital will earn him few friends with the tourist board, it is an apt portrayal of a city honestly reflected by its ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ status.

3:AM: Easy one to kick us off – tell us about Truth Lies Bleeding.

Tony Black: Truth Lies Bleeding is my first attempt at the police procedural – a format I’ve never been overly taken with, it has to be said, so it was an exercise in stretching myself a bit. It’s a tricky job to get right because there are so many formulaic police dramas that you really have to work it to make anything remotely original. I was a big fan of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw and all the Derek Raymond police novels though, so I thought it was possible and so far the reviewers have been really kind. Doug Johnstone – the Scottish writer – reviewed it and he said I’d stretched the boundaries as far as they could go so that’s validation enough for me.

3:AM: How does its style differ from the Gus Dury series?

TB: Well, for a kick off, the Dury stuff was first-person and really was coming straight from Dury’s trap in full-on Edinburgh vernacular – the new one’s third-person and multiple viewpoints so there’s fewer colloquialisms and so on. I’d say the style is more controlled, if I had to sum it up … Dury could run off at the gob when he wanted but Rob (my new protagonist) is much more centred.

3:AM: And the characters, [Rob] Brennan and Dury – they’re not exactly long-lost twins, are they?

TB: You could say that … Dury was described as a ”reluctant PI and enthusiastic alky” but Brennan is a family man (for now) and has a level head. He’s no goody-goody but he has his priorities. Dury’s priorities began and ended at where the next drink was coming from.

3:M: Do literary comparisons – between your own books and to other authors – tick you off?

TB: Not especially – sometimes I don’t see the connections, but that’s fine, each reader will take their own baggage to a book. I generally get compared to the likes of Irvine Welsh – which is a huge compliment because I’m a massive fan so I can’t really complain at all.

3:AM: Well, here’s one more anyway … reading Truth Lies Bleeding, I caught a huge whiff of a man you mentioned earlier, McIlvanney, insofar as it might be stacked under ‘Crime’, but it’d be equally at home on the ‘Scottish fiction’ shelf. Did his work, particularly Laidlaw, inspire you?

TB: God, I love that. Yes, as I said earlier McIlvanney was a huge influence. Laidlaw has never been surpassed in my mind. I love that book, I love the man too – we met a year or so ago when we made a music video for a Glasgow musician and he was without doubt the most awe-inspiring individual I’ve ever laid eyes on. A true legend.

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3:AM: Is there more mileage in the Brennan character?

TB: Yes, I’m about to start a new one called Murder Mile and Brennan is the protagonist. He won’t run to 20 books, I think three or four is a good number, but the truth is I’ll stay with him as long as he seems relevant to me. Dury fitted a particular time in my life but I outgrew him; I dare say there will come a day when Brennan gets on my nerves too, but not right now.

3:AM: You once said in an interview, “I wouldn’t hold your breath”, when asked if you’d do a cop story … what changed?

TB: Me, I think. As you get older your tastes and influences change; I think as a writer you grow too and begin to see different possibilities. A split-narrative or multi-viewpoint novel with so many layers would have been beyond me when I started writing, but Truth Lies Bleeding was the book I wanted to write at the time I wrote it.

3:AM: When you start writing a book, Tony, how does the process begin? Do you have it mapped out from cover to cover before you begin, or what?

TB: Yes and no. I loosely know where I am going, but it’s a high-wire act. I follow my instincts more than any plan.

3:AM: You were a journalist in a previous life – I take it the discipline and the demands of that makes writing 100,000+ words relatively less daunting than for someone starting out?

TB: You think? Journalism is nothing like writing a novel. I think there’s verylittle you can draw from journalism that can be applied to the novel process, except maybe typing speed.

3:AM: E-books, Kindles, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc, etc … bringing the world together or tearing it apart?

TB: I’d be a nutter to say eBooks weren’t the future given the number of Kindles Amazon has punted since Christmas.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, April 22nd, 2011.