ROBERT EDRIC takes the hot seat and talks to us about The Song Quartet, his mystery novels based in Hull
THE four novels – Cradle Song, Siren Song, Swan Song and Funeral Song – feature private detective Leo Rivers and are set in the decaying former heart of Hull, where disused docks meet the silted river, and where this- it eventually empties into the Humber.
The novels are set in the early 2000s, before Hull began gentrification. The locations are based in the once neglected area that was the bustling and bustling location of Hull’s fruit and vegetable market and warehouses, porters’ pubs, decommissioned ship chandlers and ramshackle boxing clubs and reading rooms.
We asked Robert why he chose to write about a private investigator and not about a police procedure?
A: Private investigators, it seems to me, have much more freedom to involve themselves in both sides of any investigation – the crime itself and the police response. Leo Rivers is approached by clients who are often unhappy with the court results, and where corruption charges are brought against the police themselves. Maintaining his independent status, he is in a better position to move back and forth between the two worlds, frequently uncovering as much criminal behavior and misconduct in the second as in the first.
Q: Which mystery writers have influenced your work?
A: I’m a big fan of the classics: Chandler, Dashiel Hammett and James M. Cain, for whom the private detective was king, and who operated independently of the law; and more recently Arthur Lyons and Robert B Parker. Of current mystery writers, I would consider (along with most other commentators) Don Winslow and James Lee Burke the greatest masters of the art, followed closely by Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and Dennis Lehane.
Q: All Americans.
A truly. And it goes back to the current British obsession with these limited procedures, or with, say, pathologists getting involved in impossible ways, or psychologists, or teams of investigators re-examining historic crimes. In all four books of The Song Quartet, Leo Rivers is thrown directly into the heart of each developing case, and the narratives depend more on unfolding events and direct, immediate conflict than on incredible coincidences and convenient confessions. There is an element of violence in all the books but, with the exception of a few armed police squads, few shootings, and certainly nothing that would be considered out of place in Britain today.
Q: Why Hull?
A: Because it’s a city I know well that is grossly underrepresented in the modern crime world both in fiction and on the small screen. It is often referred to as the ‘forgotten city of the North’ and compared to, say, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds or Sheffield, it is certainly the poor relation. It’s an isolated, poorly connected town, rooted in its fishing past, and long seen as unfairly neglected by the central government. It is a resolutely working-class and socialist place, proudly and stubbornly clinging to its own history and its own understanding of itself. It is a small city, the heart of which has not yet been completely razed and rebuilt according to contemporary attributions.
Q: Are the four novels sequential or standalone?
A: Autonomous. The same investigator, the same environment – Rivers works in a dilapidated office above one of these fruit and vegetable warehouses, surrounded by men working at all hours of the day and night – and with the same few associates. Chief among them are a man and a woman – Sunny (due to her not-so-sunny nature) and Yvonne – who were both once proper journalists, but are now reduced to running an agency selling ” infomercials” to what remains of the local newspaper industry. Just 20 years ago, those business models were collapsing, and that loss and its consequences for the men and women involved are as much a part of Rivers’ investigations as the crimes themselves. The three characters frequently pool their resources and help out when needed. Yvonne in particular provides the strong, reliable core around which Rivers and Sunny revolve in their all too often uncontrollable and violent orbits as investigations unfold both in unpredictable places and in the company of violent, angry men.
Q: The first three novels were first published over ten years ago and have been widely praised by the national press. Why is the fourth only published now?
A: After publishing the first three titles, I wrote the fourth book, Funeral Song, which I put aside temporarily, then I was overwhelmed by the publication of other titles that were waiting in the wings. All three books had been well received and so I went back to my more usual, supposedly “literary” novels (not a distinction I personally chose to make) and time passed. Now, with interest in PS Publishing’s Funeral Song, and in conjunction with their re-release of the previous three books in beautifully matched editions, all four are about to see the light of day for the very first time.