I’m joined today by Allan Martin, author of The Peat Dead. I have just finished reading the book so I’m adding a few brief thoughts before we get on to finding out more about Allan.
The Peat Dead is a crime novel set on the Hebridean island of Islay, which is pronounced as if there is no ‘y’ there in case you don’t know. It follows Inspector Angus Blue as he tries to discover what happened to five bodies discovered in a peat bog. As he and his team start to investigate, it becomes clear that, although the deaths of these people may have happened many years ago, there are those who would still like what happened to them and why to remain a mystery. And Inspector Blue and his team may be putting themselves in danger as they investigate.
I thought this was a very well-written novel with plenty to intrigue and hold the attention. I have visited Islay and think the author has done a fabulous job of conveying the spirit of the island – and yes I do use that word deliberately! Islay is famous for its many whisky distilleries and you can experience a virtual tasting tour of them all in this book. There was a real sense of tension throughout the book as I wondered not only if Inspector Blue would solve the case but also if he and his team would be safe. The scenes told in flashback add to the mystery and give voice to the dead. There was also a really interesting and unsettling subplot about the political landscape of a Britain which I could well imagine becoming reality post-Brexit. The Peat Dead is a really atmospheric police procedural novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m pleased to know that there is a second novel coming which will be set on the neighbouring island of Jura – another whisky island and somewhere else I’ve visited.
And now to find out more about the author. Thanks for visiting the blog today Allan. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
After a career teaching in schools and higher education, I took early retirement. This was a moment of liberation. Now I could focus on what really interested me. First it was history. Then I got the idea of writing a novel.
What inspired you to start writing?
We go to Islay regularly. On one trip, we investigated the still-extant concrete floors of World-War-Two buildings, the walls long since demolished, near Islay’s airport. I’d always read a lot of crime fiction, and a possibility clicked in my head.
Tell me about your journey to publication
I wrote the first draft of The Peat Dead in 2013-14. My First Reader (i.e. my wife Vivien) was very complimentary. She speaks her mind, and knows what she’s talking about, so that was very encouraging. Then, through the Xpo North Emergents programme, it was read by a published author. He gave me a lot of good advice, the most drastic being to take 40,000 words out. Characters I loved, and lovingly-crafted scenes, which didn’t advance the plot, were cast out into the darkness. That was hard, but the book was better for it. In 2016 I pitched The Peat Dead (version 4 by now) at the Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect event, and came second. Then it was a long period of disappointment as publishers and agents politely turned it down or just didn’t reply! Finally, the moment every writer waits for: the woman from ThunderPoint says Yes! The publishers suggested more improvements, so it’s version 9 that finally got into print.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Peat-cutters on Islay find a human hand. Inspector Angus Blue comes from Oban to investigate. With the help of forensic archaeologist Alison Hendrickx, five corpses are revealed under the peat. They’ve been executed. Evidence points to a connection with a wartime RAF base. Painstaking research by Blue’s team bring the peat dead back to life. But revealing their story is dangerous, and somebody wants to close down the investigation and suppress a long-buried secret.
In a nutshell: the search for justice confronts the political agenda of the state.
And the genre: Brexit noir!
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I think that was the easiest bit. It just jumped out at me, right at the beginning. The only danger is that people might think it’s about zombies.
How did you celebrate publication day?
Being rushed into hospital with severe pneumonia! But thanks to Vivien and our great Scottish NHS I’m on the mend. A successful launch event and a good review in The Herald have helped too.
[Not the best way to celebrate! Glad to hear you are on the mend now.]
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I’ve written a follow up to The Peat Dead, set on Jura. A politician is shot and Inspector Blue’s investigation turns up all sorts of stuff that doesn’t please somebody high up. This time the inspector gets off the island more, visiting England, Ireland, and Germany in the course of the investigation. A third Inspector Blue novel is in the planning stage.
I’m also currently working on a novel set in Estonia in 1933. Estonia was then a small independent country trying to steer a precarious course between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. A senior policeman falls from the edge of Tallinn’s Upper Town, and is impaled on a flagpole below. DCI Hallmets investigates, as do two journalists who have their own take on things. And there’s plenty of murky stuff going on. We visit Estonia regularly, so the research for that was enjoyable. It was weird to stay at the same hotel as DCI Hallmets would have done all those years ago. Baltic retro noir!
I’ve translated a 1937 closed room mystery from Estonian, and am working on translating the second crime story by the same author, Elmar Valmre. It’s a long process!
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months?
A book I keep coming back to is Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios, first published in 1939. Two things I like about it in particular: a) the hero, like most of Ambler’s heroes, is an ordinary guy who gets drawn into a quest for somebody very nasty; and b) the way in which the criminal career of Dimitrios is bound up with the history of Europe between the wars.
What are you reading just now?
I’ve just read Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, first published in 1861-2. I’m interested in the history of crime fiction, and this is a gripping and readable sort-of detective story, though, as of its time, rather prolix. But its also an interesting commentary what was seen as the appropriate way to deal with a female villain – lock her in the madhouse and throw away the key!
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
The Collected Works of Raymond Chandler.
[Hmmm, can’t find that as one edition but I’ll let you off!]
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
Permit me to be selfish. The Peat Dead! I think lots of writers go through this very satisfying fantasy exercise. Inspector Blue would be David Tennant, Douglas Henshall, or maybe Martin Compston. Dr Alison Hendrickx would be Rosamund Pike, Inspector Moira Nicolson Olivia Coleman. And Blue’s boss would be Brian Cox or Bill Paterson. I think it would make an excellent six-part TV series. One can but dream!
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I’m on Twitter at @AllanMartinAuth. My website is http://www.allanmartin.scot.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
That’s a hard one. Perhaps Philip Marlowe, or Ross Macdonald’s private eye Lew Archer. Men of intelligence and education who’re not afraid to stand up for their vision of justice, and aren’t intimidated by power or money. Though they do get beaten up regularly, which I don’t think I’d fancy.
The Peat Dead is published by Thunderpoint and available now in paperback. You should be able to buy or order a copy from your usual book retailer or you can order a copy online here: The Peat Dead
From the back of the book
On the Scottish Hebridean Island of Islay, five corpses are dug up by a peat-cutter. All of them have been shot in the back of the head, execution style.
Sent across from the mainland to investigate, Inspector Angus Blue and his team slowly piece together the little evidence they have, and discover the men were killed on a wartime base, over 70 years ago.
But there are still secrets worth protecting, and even killing for. Who can Inspector Blue trust?