British actor-turned novelist Linda Regan brings the mean streets of South London alive in two different procedural series. First in the series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Paul Banham and his assistant, DI Alison Grainger, Behind You, provides a “brutal murder mystery with touches of British cozy,” according to Booklist, whose reviewer went on to praise Regan’s “offbeat characters and forceful prose.” The second in the series, Passion Killers, also earned praise from Booklist, which noted that its “furious pace and taut suspense provide plenty of compensation for fans of edgy, hard-boiled fare.” Regan’s 2009 installment, Dead Like Her,won commendation from Publishers Weekly as a Marilyn Monroe pastiche whose “Marilyn link among the victims leads to some deft plot turns.”
With Brotherhood of the Blades, Regan began another series set in South London, featuring DI Georgia Johnston and DS Stephanie Green. Of that work, Publishers Weekly noted that Regan “realistically portrays the brutality of life for the South London underclass,” while Kirkus Reviews observed, “Page-turning stuff, this auspicious series debut is for readers who, like Regan, don’t flinch from brutality.” Second in that series, Street Girls, is out this month in England and in June in the U.S. from Severn House’s Crème de la Crime imprint.
Linda, it’s great to have you on Scene of the Crime. Love your Banham and Grainger books and the works featuring Johnston and Green. Let’s start things off with a chin wag about your connection to Banham’s beat in London.
I was born there and have seen its many changes over the years. I still live in the area, but not as near as I was before, but I visit the back roads where my crimes happen, frequently. They are tough, crime-ridden, and dangerous places to be at night, which fits well with the sort of crime novels I write; but then there is also a bit of diverse, fictional imagination mixed into the streets.
What things about South London make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
It is constantly in the news and has high crime figures, including one of the highest murder percentages in Greater London- perfect for the sort of books I write, which are gutsy and strong, and written as it is out there on those dangerous streets full of fire-arm and drug dealing and feuding street gangs, all who would stab or shoot you for the smallest of reasons. All my stories could be true, they aren’t, but they could be. I believe in research.
I wanted to set my police station and characters around where I live, and, because of the high crime rate in that area it makes my stories more real, and therefore more powerful, I hope.
How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?
No, I know the area, and then use fictional licence.
How do Banham, Grainger, and their colleagues interact with their surroundings?
My detectives are local, one of my detectives is black, and there are a lot of black residents in that area. It works well.
Fortunately, I have had good reviews throughout. Most reviewers say I write tough crime with strong characters- which is what I set out to do. I put my strong feel for characters down to the other hat I wear as a professional actress; and I believe if you care about something, as I do, passionately, about the rise in crime, and the reasons for it, in South London, then that passion will live in your story. For me that is the recipe for weaving a good story. I do hope my readers agree.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
Well my stories are set bang up to date, so I haven’t goofed in that- yet! Always a first time, though. I have goofed in many other areas, like holding my bright pink umbrella with red pigs over it, over a policeman who I was shadowing for a day, when I had been told to stay in the background and keep a low profile.
Of the South London novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage or give an example of how the location figures in your novels?
I think the answer to that is the first chapter of my latest book- Street Girls. It opens on a lonely, back street in South London where two very young prostitutes are vying for trade, turning blue with cold as they stand in the gutter waiting for punters; both needing to make enough money to buy drugs and nappies for the next day. As they smoke a joint to keep warm, they lose their concentration and miss seeing something, something that will change their lives forever.
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?
The influences I have are in the criminals I speak to, and the police who help me get my police procedural right. They are the real people who work and inhabit those crime-ridden streets that I write about.
My favourite writers? (this may come as a shock), will always include William Shakespeare (How different is that to my work)! I love his work because he always goes straight to the point. He never has any excess writing or frilling in his scenes, and that keeps the drama bubbling. I also adore Janet Evanovitch, (totally opposite, again), because she writes such strong and bright characters and is so good at humour. I do so strongly believe, that no matter how much the book may be high drama, we all need a little bit of escapism, ie: a laugh now and again- I make my fictional fun within my police characters. It is the escapism that, I believe, all drama needs.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
Actually, in my dog’s bed. She always looks so comfortable as I sit tearing my hair out when I am trying to work through a complicated plot. Also, I always make sure she has a hot water bottle and invariably forget to turn my own electric blanket on in the cold. I think the saying a dog’s life, is not true- well in most cases!
What’s next for your protagonist?
I have no idea. That’s the thing with me. I have no idea, ever, of what will happen in my book, until I sit behind my computer. I am not a planner, which is why I do so many rewrites. I am impressed by the writers who say write a synopsis and stick to it- and they do just that. That’s what they told me when I took my MA, but you know I just can’t work like that. Suddenly, for me, in the middle of the book, something turns itself on its head, and the plot takes off- then I hit a brick wall, (and that’s when I, enviously, watch the dog sleeping contentedly in her bed)!
Thanks so much for the candid remarks, Linda.
For more information on Linda Regan, visit her homepage.