The taut sixth police procedural to feature Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, Buried (HarperCollins), establishes British author Mark Billingham, who’s been a stand-up comic and television writer, as one of the best new hard-boiled voices.
How did you make the transition from stand-up comedy and writing for TV to writing crime fiction?
I’d been working as a stand-up and writing TV for about 10 years, but all the time I was devouring crime fiction. I began to write about crime fiction and I suppose that writing my own crime novel was the missing piece of the jigsaw.
Are there similarities in your writing process even with such different styles?
The bottom line is that both are about entertaining an audience. Crime fiction is full of punch-lines, they are just very dark. A novel has to hook an audience quickly and that is certainly true about working as a stand-up.
Are your writing influences primarily British or American?
I started off on Sherlock Holmes, but once I discovered Chandler and Hammett, that was it. I love U.S. mystery fiction. I think that, at its best, it has an economy and a power that is enviable. The best U.S. writers do not over-write. They serve the narrative. It’s fat-free fiction.
What differences do you see between British and American police procedurals?
Obviously, you have guns. British cops have whistles. The best they can do is shout “Stop! Or… er… I’ll shout ‘stop’ again.” I’ve tried to write books that while being obviously British in terms of tone and setting, have an American sense of pace. I think U.S. writers never forget the importance of pace.
Do you ever find yourself wanting to give DI Thorne a break and write a stand-alone book?
That’s exactly what I am doing, and again I’m learning from the best. The likes of Michael Connelly keep their series fresh by taking a break, by writing wonderful stand-alone novels and then coming back to their series with a new lease of life.
What’s next for DI Thorne?
Death Message will be published in the U.K. at the end of August and Thorne will return (as they used to say at the end of Bond movies) in 2009. After that, maybe I’ll retire him to the countryside, where he and his cat can solve grisly murders in a quiet, picturesque village, while running an antique shop and annoying the locals by playing Johnny Cash too loud. Or maybe not.