Catriona King writes ‘ordinary crimes’ in a remarkable series of books
Belfast author Catriona King’s DCI Craig novels from Crooked Cat Publishing, A Limited Justice and the December launched The Grass Tattoo (read an extract here), combine tightly-plotted crime, a diverse cast of characters and a ‘tall, dark and handsome detective’ in DCI Marc Craig, the series’ eponymous main character. ‘Well,’ King chuckles, ‘you have to have someone to fancy don’t you?’
Set in modern-day Belfast (very modern, each book is released on the date the story starts) the series deals with what King calls ‘ordinary crime’. So, murder, black-mail, extortion – anything as long as it is nothing to do with the Troubles.
‘I wanted a story that could happen in Belfast or in Paris,’ King explains, adding with a grin. ‘Once you’ve changed the place-names and dialects, that is.’
In The Grass Tattoo, for example, the opening pages detail finding the dead body of a local politician’s wife (A fictional party) covered in writing. However, the local politics angle turns out to be a red herring – ‘It’s not what you think it will be,’ King says – and the criminal organisation involved isn’t a local one, but a Russian gang of tattooed criminals called the Vory V Zakone.
That isn’t to say the novel isn’t distinctly Belfast. The crime might be ‘ordinary’ anywhere, but the setting and characters are unmistakably local. Craig takes a date to a romantic dinner at Deane’s or goes to Love & Death Inc and his team’s fictitious headquarters is set on the real Pilot Street, where King’s grandfather owned a business. Even the MAC, where King launched The Grass Tattoo in December 2012, makes an appearance.
The only time King isn’t punctilious about using real, physical Belfast locations is when she’s killing someone.
‘I was at a reading and someone pointed out one of the streets I used wasn’t real,’ she remembers. ‘I said, “I was
killing someone, you wouldn’t want me to leave a dead body on your street would you?”. I know I wouldn’t, so I don’t. Unless it is a public building, that’s different.’
As an author King is also eager to be inclusive of people who don’t belong to the expected, at odds Protestant and Catholic communities.
‘There are a lot of people in Northern Ireland that aren’t solely Northern Irish. There are Polish and Chinese and other communities.’ King points out. ‘My hero is representative of that. His father is from Belfast, his mother is a first generation immigrant from Rome and he went to an integrated school. Neither side can claim him.’
Craig’s first appearance in print is in A Limited Justice, which is also King’s first foray into novel-writing as an adult. Although she always enjoyed writing, and wrote non-fiction for GP magazine Pulse, being a doctor and a Police Forensic Medical Examiner took up a lot of her time. It was only after she came back to Belfast full-time that she started to think about writing again.
‘It was actually three years ago,’ King recalls. ‘My mother was sick and I had taken time off to take care of her. Whenever I wasn’t with her, I worked on A Limited Justice.’
With Craig’s experience working with the police as a Forensic Medical Examiner, and her long-time love of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, the crime genre was an obvious stop for her. However, it might have seemed obvious for her to focus, a la Silent Witness and CSI , on the medical or forensic side of things. Instead, it was the detectives who interested her.
Although, once she tots up the skull-crushings, snipers and carotid occlusions, there is quite a bit of forensic detail included (‘And I made sure that it was all accurate,’ King says).
‘I didn’t want to bog the books down in detail,’ she explains. ‘Sometimes that can turn into showing off what you know, not telling a story.’
The next instalment in the story, and the third book in the series, is due out in March. That means that King has published three books, and written two, in under a year.
‘I love writing,’ she says. ‘If I didn’t have to make a living, I’d do it all the time.’
Fans of the series can also rest assured that King has no plans to make DCI Craig hang up his warrant card just yet. She plans to continue the series for at least another two or three books, and who knows – if they take off she might get her dream casting for her ‘tall, dark and handsome’ detective.
‘Aidan Turner from Being Human and the The Hobbit,’ she grins. ‘He’s still a bit young, but I think he can carry it off.’
Find out more about the series at Crooked Cat Publishing