Manchester-based writer Chris Simms is the author of six novels in the D.I. Jon Spicer series, procedurals which follow the investigations of the mercurial Spicer. Simms’s most recent installment in the series, Cut Adrift, earned him a place on the short list for the 2010 CWA Dagger Award and elicited rave reviews from the critics. The Guardian called it “well-researched, pacey and engaging,” while the Irish Independent dubbed it “an absolutely ace British police procedural.”
Earlier books in the series also earned critical praise. The Daily Telegraph felt that the series debut, Killing the Beasts, “keeps you guessing,” and Shots Magazine found his second installment, Shifting Skin (a nominee for Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year in 2008), “dark and genuinely frightening.” Savage Moon, third in the series, is “an atmospheric, psychologically astute and emotionally literate study of the nature of predator and prey, with an unexpected ending,” according to the Guardian. His fourth in the series, Hell’s Fire, was the first to also be published in the United States (though earlier titles are available in the original British imprint). The Edge, book five in the series, is “a must-read for all those who enjoy top-quality crime fiction,” as Shots Magazine noted.
I moved to Manchester – where my novels are set – almost fifteen years ago. This was primarily because my wife’s family is from here – and there are plenty of advertising agencies where I could find work as a freelance copywriter.
What things about Manchester make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
As the world’s first industrial city – Cottonopolis as it was once known – Manchester is a fascinating place. The remnants of the industry on which the city was built are all still around; abandoned cotton mills, derelict warehouses, cramped terrace housing, the canals and aqueducts.
How does DI Jon Spicer interact with his surroundings? Is he a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect Spicer?
DI Jon Spicer is a born-and-bred Mancunian – but his family originally hailed from the west coast of Ireland. His great granddad, Padraig, was a navvy who helped dig the immense Manchester Ship Canal. Back in the late 1800s, he got his family out of the city’s notorious slums through the money he made bare-knuckle fighting. The city still has a dark and violent side and so does DI Spicer. Maybe that’s why he so thrives in it.
Has there been any local reaction to your works? What do local (ie those who actually live in your novels’ setting) think, for example.
I speak at many library events throughout the region – generally, people are delighted to see the places they know depicted in a novel. I research thoroughly to try and ensure my descriptions of the city – past and present – are accurate.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
Manchester is overlooked by the bleak and brooding Saddleworth Moor. In Savage Moon, DI Spicer is investigating a series of deaths out on the moor which, at first, appear to be the work of a black panther. (Britain, it seems, has a population of alien big cats caused by illegal releases into the wild.) A lady once stood up at a library talk to gleefully point out that I had mentioned a gorse bush growing on the moor’s western slope. This was impossible, she explained, because gorse only grows on the eastern slopes. It was so pernickety, I didn’t know what to say!
Of the Spicer novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place?
I had fun writing Shifting Skin where DI Spicer is hunting a murderer who obviously has been trained as a plastic surgeon. In the novel, I drew comparisons to the victims – killed in their quest to transform how they look – and the wider city which, as a result of the recently-ended property boom, was undergoing a facelift of its own.
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
I love Graham Greene for his evocation of place – as I do Cormac McCarthy (I’ve been following him for years, honest!). Another lesser-known writer is Jim Kelly who sets his crime novels in the fens of East Anglia.
What’s next for Spicer?
I have an idea for a plot that will take DI Spicer, literally, down into the roots of the city. Manchester has a mass of mysterious, uncharted tunnels, running beneath it.
Thanks again, Chris, for taking the time to talk with us at Scene of the Crime.
For more information on Chris Simms, visit his homepage.