Today’s author in the spotlight is Pete Adams whose Kind Hearts and Martinets trilogy (which confusingly comes in 8 books!) is focused on Detective Jack ‘Jane’ Austin. I don’t normally read detective fiction series so it was a nice change to dip into something different for this interview…
Pete, I was struck by the originality and quirkiness of your main character, Jack, who wears a tutu in the opening chapter. Can you tell us where you got the inspiration for him from?
The inspiration and drive is in the novels not the characters, although I do believe the books are equally character and narrative driven. For Jack, who knows, although I do have a very large London family, all of whom are wonderfully funny.
The essence of Jack is in the title of the trilogy in eight books, Kind Hearts and Martinets; a classic good against evil, but written as reason against the immovable object. There are people in this life who are inherently good (Kind Hearts), even if their persona and perceived image is of a clumsy, chicken, oaf, but often it takes an individual of this type to see beyond their natural cowardy custard nature, to take on the most immense of enemies; The Establishment – and that is Jack, nicknamed Jane, Austin.
There are seven books that lead up to the ‘showdown’ in book eight. Each book can be read as an individual novel, each having various despicable crimes that need solving, yet there is always an underlying thread; conspiracy, maybe…? And this is what interests Jane Austin. The crimes, well, he has people to sort that for him and they do, having to bail out Austin along the way, many times, but when and if he gets there, what then; change could be just another Establishment; Irony? Oh well.
These books are dedicated to all Kind Hearts who recognise that sometimes their fate is to take on the world for others.
They say that there is always something of the author in the characters they create so what personality traits would you say you share with Jack?
The ‘central’ character, DCI Jack Jane Austin is a tour de force, a juvenile, elderly, ugly, overweight, severely disfigured, cockney barrow boy spiv, and he cannot help but be centre stage as he barrels through life on a wing and a prayer, but to say he is the main protagonist would be to misinterpret the narrative. The question really should be, how can you write a crime thriller where the apparent central character is a detective who has never solved a crime in his life?
The answer would be that he has surrounded himself with very strong women, oh, and a gay priest, and an autistic lad who lives in a cemetery, and anyone else who can do the solving for him while he sleeps in his deckachairo singing “Just one Cornetto”.
So, yes, on many counts Jane Austin is like me, except I am not ugly of course, I have two eyes, I’m not friends with a gay priest and I am too scared to go into a cemetery; so, that would leave surrounded by strong women, and that would most certainly be the case. It is fair to say that when I get a review or comments back from readers who can perceive this underlying character theme, I am always pleased.
This is on the whole a very light hearted novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is relatively unusual for the detective fiction genre – what was your motivation to write a series that is so different to what we usually see in this corner of crime writing?
It was not my intention to write something different. However, the story is serious, and if there was a likeness in Jane and me, it would be an overwhelming desire to see social justice, social fairness…okay, and add cowardy custard. So instead of manning the barricades, I write from underneath my stairs at home.
What drives me?
Here I always quote, ad infinitum, forever and ever amen (maybe I do know a gay priest), Peter Ustinov; “Comedy is a funny way of being serious”, and I believe this is also one of the most powerful ways to convey a message, albeit may be subliminal, and some say, so subliminal they missed it; never mind, it’s a good story and a laugh along the way.
This is the third in your Kind Hearts & Martinets trilogy – can you tell us what we can expect from the rest of the books in the series.
There are eight books in the trilogy (all written), and book three, A Barrow Boy’s Cadenza, is the first published by a mainstream publisher. Urbane are now going to bring out books one and two, just before they publish book four on the 1st November 2016.
- Book 1, Cause and Effect is in two parts – Cause gets the story going whilst introducing the characters; a very young girl who witnessed the murder of her mother is rescued from a drug and paedophile den, a police detective is brutally murdered and there is the hint of gang warfare (this link returns in book 2). Part two Effect begins to introduce the hint of a malign force generating dystopia and this preoccupies Jane Austin, well that and his love for Det Superintendent Amanda Bruce. I love a love story, but will Amanda reciprocate, after all Austin has got to be the most ugly and irritating person you will ever meet?
- Book 2, Irony in the Soul, Jane Austin starts to realise that his battle plan, his life even, is ironically as malign as the force itself; ‘For the greater good?’ and who determines this? But in the meantime there is religious unrest on the streets, an Imam crucified, a Priest stoned to death, and that is just the start…
- Book 3, A Barrow Boy’s Cadenza – is in effect the aftermath of books 1 and 2 and it leads to the perpetrator of the mayhem, least this is what everyone thinks, except Austin knows that this would be too simple, and has he sorted the military?
- Book 4, Ghost and Ragman Roll is a rollicking adventure and introduces some additional characters that get taken on in later books as more of the mystery is unveiled – this book will be published 1st November, launched in Glasgow with a signing tour through the UK.
- Book 5 – Merde and Mandarins – a head on collision with the Establishment; the five books are wrapped up; the end? Not likely, but a moment to pause and reflect; enter book 6.
- Book 6 – The Duchess of Friesian Tun – I stepped out of the novel framework and wrote this as a ‘stage-set’ narrative where the story of Kind Hearts and Martinets is dissected by a set of off-the-wall characters, loosely based on The Canterbury Tales but where the Pilgrims go nowhere; the play is contained principally to one set, with aside vignettes – I am really pleased with this.
- Book 7, Rhubarb in the Mammon, and the story is re-launched with massive energy, seemingly as a new narrative, but as the story slides inexorably into book 8, the themes of all the books meld and the components of the conspiracy are revealed.
- Book 8, Umble Pie, New scenarios, new characters whom I love to bits, and old favourites who return for the barnstorming finale to Kind Hearts and Martinets, it even left me breathless as the story travels from serious (but makes you laugh) to an edgy though epic, and surreal conclusion. Umble Pie is my hardest task so far – I set myself the challenge of weaving a ‘real’ transference of narrative to a ‘surreal’ pictorial story; this is the helical DNA of Kind Hearts and Martinets and is loosely based on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Why surreal? It is because, in my view, sometimes to grasp the reality you need to make your characters and eventually the narrative just a little bit larger than life; the reader feels safe but can relate to what is being said; the moral to the story? Good beats evil, but at what cost and what fills the void?
My intention is that when the reader finishes book 8 they will be able to reflect that although some of the stories in books 1 to 7 appeared a little ‘farfetched’, it actually all makes sense – and this will be the case I make to the judge before committing me to the loony bin.
You can get copies of the first three books in the series here and keep up to date with Pete’s writing on his Facebook book page.
If you are interested in Pete visiting your town on his book signing tour in November this year, then you can message him on his book page – I know he is also arranging, on this tour, to do some workshops, some with other local authors in a panel format; quite different and should prove interesting and a good opportunity.