Three years ago today Death of a Devil was published.
It was the third of my Danny Bird mysteries, and one of the hardest things I’d written up to that date.
When Fahrenheit signed my first novel Death of a Diva they’d asked for – and been assured by me that I had in mind – a series. The truth was I had death of a Diva done and ready to go, Death of a Nobody half finished, and a notebook full of character sketches and story ideas.
So ‘Devil’ was the first book in the deal that I had to write from scratch.
And I was really worried about whether I could work the necessary alchemy to make a new book under the pressure of the expectations of a readership that hadn’t existed during the first two.
I went away to South Africa in late 2016 to write it, figuring I had a month, a hotel room in a city I didn’t know (and would thus not be distracted by) and a pile of ideas.
I failed to account for a couple of things: My mother died in 2015. I hadn’t had to create a new story since. In June 2016 the UK voted to abandon it’s place in the European Union after a campaign riddled with lies corruption and downright criminality and I was dumbfounded at how easily and seemingly eagerly so many people had rushed to vote Leave despite so many people (myself included) warning that they were being lied to.
And then, as I was sitting down to write the book, a racist misogynistic corrupt proto-fascist – moved, suddenly, from a joke who couldn’t possibly win the Presidency of the USA to a potential victor.
We all know what happened.
But what also happened was that, on the last night of my trip, I looked at the book I had written, and I knew I was in trouble.
The Danny books were comedic in style. They were crime stories. They had elements of Cozy.
I’d written a book that was dark. Stygian dark. Way too dark for a Danny. It was a book more about my own state of mind than about the characters I’d invented, and who already had a building following.
I knew, as I arrived at the airport for a twelve hour flight home, that I could not transform my pain and confusion and anger into something that made a Danny novel. I had too much darkness for that.
Then, as I sat in the lounge, my publisher sent me a DM. It said “Hope the trip was fruitful. You should probably click on this…” and a link to a website run by Eric Idle.
Eric ‘Monty Python’ Idle, who my mate Joe and I used to quote verbatim as we listned to the records of, or watched illegal VHS copies of, his movies “Holy Grail” or “Life of Brian.”
Eric Idle, who’d co-written one of my favourite Broadway Musicals in years <one my mother had posed outside of>
I’d loved Spamalot because it had clearly been written by people who had a love of the medium, aligned with a knowledge of how it worked, could work and could connect with an audience and wielded by creator who had a willingness to viciously – but lovingly – tease the fuck out of something the way only siblings can torture each other.
And Eric Idle – in the sort of throwaway comment that might have meant nothing to him but meant everything to me – said he was reading “Death of a Diva,” and finding it “Quite Fun.”
I’ve talked before about how easy it is for the voices in your head to tell you how worthless, fake, irrelevant and self-delusional your work is. I’ve been open about how often I feel dark and alone and afraid that what I’m doing is worthless, fake, irrelevant and self-delusional, and about how you should never base your worth on other people’s views, no matter how important or unimportant those people are.
But here’s the thing: Devil was born from a moment when I felt it was impossible to transform my fury into the sort of art I wanted to make.
That moment was poured into a crucible and then a splash of encouragement from someone who had made comedy from some of the most infuriating things ever was added, and a twelve hour flight gave me the time to distill the anger down; to admit I couldn’t write about all I was angry about and not make it some sort of Primal Scream.
And by the time we came in to land and I put Will Young’s “Joy” – a song about recognising how unspeakable things are but also about how accepting how much joy remained in one’s life – on blast and cried my eyes out all the way to touchdown, I had a story that spoke to what had been troubling me for so long: The manipulation abuse and abandonment of helpless people (in this book personified by a host of women connected to a gang of notorious gangsters) and how they are changed – some for better, some for worse – by their experiences.
Not a subject for jokes.
And yet I think the book is one of the funniest things I’ve written. Because the humour in these books comes from resistance and resilience, and the people in this book – no matter where they’ve come from, ended up, or done to move from one to the other – are characters I adored writing, and had lives and outlooks I was honoured to reflect in the book and beyond.
In Death of a Devil Something horrible is discovered in the cellar, someone horrible comes to threaten one of the gang, and Danny and Lady Caroline are faced with some of their biggest challenges yet.
With local crime-lord Chopper Falzone keeping a watchful eye on his investment, Danny and Lady Caz must unmask a murderer, find some stolen diamonds and thwart a blackmailer – just another day at The Marq.
As the plot races breathlessly towards its conclusion, everyone realises that secrets, no matter how well hidden, can’t stay buried forever.
Reviewers have commented that ‘’Devil’ is a page-turner, but more because of the skilful cadence of the writing than simply the action’ commented that ‘It’s brilliantly clever and gracefully advances to a denouemont as intellectually and emotionally satisfying as any I have ever read.’ And (in one of my favourite reviews considering where the book came from) a reader in the US noted ‘In these time, it is just what I needed.’
Death of a Devil is three today, and the anniversary – in a time of such loss and darkness and uncertainty – has made me more certain than ever that what the world needed – and needs – is a book that looks the darkness full in the face and says “FUCK YOU.” Then puts on a hat, goes to a villain’s funeral and behaves wonderfully inappropriately*.
To buy the book, click on the title here: DEATH OF A DEVIL
(*this will make sense only if you’ve read Death of a Devil. So you should almost definitely buy Death of a Devil.)