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The Death List

The Death List

Shortlisted for Barry Award (US) in category of Best British Crime Novel

US paperback edition published September 2008

Author's Introduction

'It's been a long time since I rock and rolled', as a certain song goes (email me if you spot it to win…well, nothing but my respect) - but after three years I'm back with a new book. Why so long? Blame my body. It decided it wasn't going to play ball any longer and got sick. Very sick. But it's been sorted out now and at last I'm in print again.

The Death List was written at speed and revised (several times) at leisure. That's the way to write pacy novels, I've found over the years. What was my game plan? I needed a change from the Greek novels, so I decided to set the book in the only city I'd lived in and not used as a fictional location - meaning the Great Wen itself, London. I also wanted to write a personal book. Having spent a lot of time thinking about life, death and anything else you care to mention when I was ill, I needed a protagonist who reflected my state of mind. Whence Matt Wells, crimewriter with a stalled career and a bad case of the 'I Hate The World Blues'.

In that respect Matt resembled me as I was before I wrote the book. Most
people who go through cancer are bitter, at least at times. My friend the writer
and actor Stella Duffy, who had her own struggles with the disease, says that 'losing your mortality cherry' (great phrase) makes everything seem different. She's right. But people who survive eventually shrug off that bitterness because it's destructive. Matt's problem is that he can't stop obsessing about his lost career - and he hasn't even been ill. The problem is that his bitterness makes him vulnerable, as his persecutor the White Devil well understands.

Another area I wanted to investigate was the relationship crime novelists have with their material. It's often curiously hands-off. The closest most of us come to illegal acts is parking with a wheel on the kerb. I wanted Matt to experience the reality of murder (notice that I put my fictional character through the meat-grinder rather than courting danger myself - typical author…). He is forced to question the morality of his profession - something that I don't think all crime novelists do.

For what it's worth, my opinion is that reading and writing about awful acts are worthwhile activities because they put us in extreme situations and make us wonder how we would cope - not least, how we will cope with death, something we're all going to face sooner or later. Whoah, this is getting a bit heavy…

The fun side of the book, at least from the writer's point of view, was making use of Jacobean revenge tragedies. Plays like Webster's White Devil are seriously over the top - and this stuff was acted in front of people, rather than re-enacted in the reader's mind. A few crimewriters have made references to the genre (for instance, P. D. James's novel The Skull Beneath The Skin), but I'm amazed its similarities to the modern crime novel haven't been explored more. Too late, the rest of you scribblers. I've beaten you to it…

So, a Paul Johnston novel set in contemporary London. No sunny Greek island, no grimy futurist Edinburgh. Havoc in Harley Street, disorder in Dulwich, and something horrible in Hackney to start off with.

Ken Livingstone, eat your heart out. Any complaints (or pats on the back) via the Contacts page. But remember, the White Devil reads all my emails and he knows where you live…

US Hardback ISBN 0778324818 Published by MIRA Books, July 2007
UK Paperback ISBN 0778301591 Published by MIRA Books June 2007
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