Mark Billingham’s latest stand-alone novel Rush of Blood weaves the tale of a missing girl on holiday with murder, intrigue and suspense. The best-selling author of the Thorne detective series talks to Alice Johnson about where he stands on the crime genre.
Why did you decide to write a stand-alone novel now?
This had been a story that had been rattling around in my head for a couple of years. I'd written three Thorne books on the trot and I'm a firm believer in stepping away from a series every so often, that being the best way to ensure that it's fresh. It's much easier for me to write about a 50-year-old bloke - because I am a 50-year-old bloke - and I know Tom Thorne very well and just wanted to step out of my comfort zone, which is quite exciting, scary but exiting, partly as it was based on something that happened to some friends of mine.
A couple I know met another couple on holiday and made that fatal mistake of keeping in touch. They went round to this other couple's house and they'd copied the art on the walls and rugs and cushions and the woman was wearing the same kind of dress as his wife. It all got a bit sinister and they had to sever all contact with this couple.
The dinner party scenes in Rush of Blood were very realistic. How did you research them?
Dinner parties are kind of like animals gathering around a watering hole, a lot of jostling at dinner parties [with] blokes trying to assert themselves as alpha males and women trying to do the same thing and people being swanky about the house they live in. I deliberately structured it around this set of three dinner parties, so it's kind of like a three-act play in some ways. I really enjoyed those sections.
What do you think of the notion that selling cheap e-books makes reading more accessible?
I don't think so. I think if you buy an e-book that's 20 pence (Dh1), it makes you want to find another e-book that's 20 pence. My concern is that we're just devaluing the book as a thing, as an object, as a cultural object. And when you're talking about something that has taken a writer a year, or two years, of their lives, the idea that people are expecting to get that for less than half the price of a cup of tea seems to me ridiculous. I think it's actually devaluing the writing of fiction and non-fiction.
What do you think of the notion that female authors write more violence and gore into crime novels?
I just think they write about it differently. I think women tend to write about how violence feels, whereas men tend to write about what violence looks like. I think it's very easy to disgust the reader with violence on the page, that's incredibly easy, but it's far harder to make a reader care about a character. I think readers' imaginations are far more powerful than anything you can put on a page and therefore can conjure up graphic images for themselves, which I think you just have to nudge them towards.
Do you think crime novels have become more psychological?
I think there's as much violence in a way, as a scene with two women having a cup of coffee in a Ruth Rendell novel - in terms of emotional violence and the violence you can inflict with language - as there is in the most graphic kind of serial killer/slasher novel you can think of.
At the Hay festival recently, an author hinted that Scandinavian crime fiction has saturated the market. Do you agree?
Yes, I think it has and there are a couple of reasons for that. There is some very good Scandinavian crime writing, and there's some very average Scandinavian crime writing. I think one of the reasons it's been so attractive has been the landscape it's set in, which is actually very strange to most readers in western Europe - the landscape of Scandinavia is still very alien to us and it's a very interesting place to set crime fiction. And blood looks very good against snow.
Rush of Blood was released on August 2 by Little, Brown.