Publisher: Sharpe Books
Publication Date: 20th April 2021
Page Length: 279 Pages
Genre: Crime Fiction
DI Will Ashcroft, still haunted over a child murder case in London, returns to the north of England.
The murder of a young woman is perplexing local police. Ashcroft agrees to help. He finds that the killer is choosing victims from the emerging rave scene.
WDC Samira Byrne, suffering prejudice both in and outside her department, has been working undercover to infiltrate a gang of drug dealers, but she stumbles on a witness who has been targeted by the killer. Investigating without sanction or backup, Samira soon becomes a target herself.
Working through the incompetence which has kept the case unsolved, Ashcroft uncovers the link between the chain of victims.
Facing internal politics, corruption and self-serving ambition in senior officers, Ashcroft must work alone to find Samira.
But can he get to her while there is still time?
Mary Anne: A huge congratulations on the publication of The Kill Chain (DI Will Ashcroft Crime Thrillers Book 2). Could you tell us a little about your protagonist, DI Will Ashcroft?
John Kennedy: Thank you, Mary. It’s lovely to be here again. Yes, I’ll certainly tell you about my protagonist, though actually, this series has two. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll cheat a little and tell you briefly about both. The story is filtered mainly through Will Ashcroft’s eyes – he’s an experienced Detective Inspector, a little battered by seeing too much of the worst of what humanity can do to itself. He’s had bouts of PTSD as a result of a particularly disturbing case in London, and he takes some leave to come back to his hometown in the north, mainly to see if he can pick up the threads of a relationship with WDC Samira Byrne. But he is soon asked to investigate the murder of a young woman who was involved in the emerging rave scene.
Samira Byrne is the other POV character, and she plays a central role because she’s working undercover to catch some drug-dealers and inadvertently gets close to the killer. But whereas in the first novel in the series, The Trauma Pool, Samira as a black officer was only beginning to guess at the extent of the prejudice at work within the department, here she has been completely undermined by it. Even her sense of self seems to be under threat. But she fights, and never gives up fighting to find her way back to the light, and who she truly is.
Mary Anne: What inspired you to write the DI Will Ashcroft Crime Thriller series?
John Kennedy: I was initially inspired by the place where I grew up, the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. I wanted to try and capture its bleak beauty and the very specific attitudes and the windswept hardness of the people there. Then, the problems of the characters; Will’s PTSD and the prejudice Samira faces, were both areas I wanted to try and do justice to, hopefully in a way that hadn’t been done before.
To some extent the themes inspire the stories and the characters, as I think would be true of most novels. For the Kill Chain though, hedonism and wasted lives are very much at the centre and having frittered around the edges of the whole rave scene of the late 80s and early 90s myself, I thought it would make the perfect backdrop for a thriller.
Mary Anne: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
John Kennedy: That’s an interesting one. My chosen milieu is the 1980s so yes, some historical fact-checking and background are necessary, if only to get the feel right, but there’s not really too much of that to do, for me. Researching PTSD for the first one and racism within the police meant reading several books and googling around quite a bit. Generally though, my research probably takes a few weeks at most.
The real time goes into planning. I’m not a seat of the pants writer; I plan. That doesn’t mean the novel always sticks to the plan, but I still need the planning to be done before I start writing. It works for me, because I’m a firm believer in writer’s block’being a fallacy, something people use to mystify the process of writing, as if it’s somehow divinely inspired. It’s not. It’s work. But if you do some of the work first, by planning, there’s a good chance you can get to the end. You’ll still get stuck occasionally, but you won’t be walking around the countryside for weeks in pantaloons, a quill behind your ear and the back of your hand to your forehead, frightening sheep and shouting ‘Alas! I’m blocked!’
Having said that, I know that some people very successfully just write, without any preparation. But perhaps they’re geniuses. Your Stephen Kings and Ian Rankins are few and far between, and anyway, I have a feeling they do all the same stuff, just subconsciously. Or they’ve absorbed so much narrative that it seeps out their pores. I’m not a genius. So, I plan.
Mary Anne: There are many books in the mystery / crime genre. Can you tell us three things that set your novel apart?
John Kennedy: Hmmm. What sets it apart? Well, it’s probably not the first thriller to make use of the rave culture thing as a backdrop, but I’m not aware of any that have thrown a serial killer into that particular mix as well. So, there’s that. It’s well-written, hopefully. I also wanted to evoke the whole small town, small-time drugs-dealer thing, without falling into caricature – these aren’t evil people, but they are people who’ve maybe forgotten where to draw the line. And finally, I think the killer’s motivation is interesting too, not too predictable, but I can’t really go into that without giving the game away.
Mary Anne: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
John Kennedy: Ah! Lots of things, really. For one, genre is important. That is, whatever you write has to be categorizable. If you can bang two genres together and come up with a new one, wonderful, but to begin with, it’s going to have to fit on a shelf somewhere, real or virtual. So, agents and publishers need to know exactly what they’re selling, or they won’t touch it. The other big one is, get on with it! The only way to be a writer is to write. I see this all the time in younger writers and I was very guilty of it; I wasted a good few years talking about how I wanted to be a writer instead of just writing. It’s about confidence, of course. We need to talk ourselves into action. But I would definitely give myself a slap about that one. Apart from that… I think I’d paraphrase Saul Bellows to myself; readers hunger to connect, whether they’re aware of it or not. If you can put them into a unique perspective and make them believe it, they’ll get to the end of the book. More than that. They’ll be swept along and genuinely won’t be able to put it down. Actually, that one’s not just for my younger self – I try to remember it every day, because it’s an ongoing challenge to try to do that. I hope I’m getting there.
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John Kennedy lectures English at a college in the North of England. He has a Masters’ in Creative Writing. He’s been shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger and the Exeter prize and longlisted for the Bath Novel prize. The Kill Chain is his second novel, following The Trauma Pool released last year.
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