I've had to field quite a lot of questions recently about when the next Heck novel will be coming out, will there be any more in the series, and is it conceivable that HUNTED, the most recent Heck adventure to date, will be the final outing for the lone-wolf detective with the know-it-all attitude and the dogged determination to pursue his prey to the very ends of the Earth?
Well, the short answer is ... no, it is nowhere near the end of the line for Heck. But it will be another year at least before there are any further Heck novels. And the explanation for that is relatively simple and hopefully non-too alarming.
I was writing Heck at a rate of two novels a year, and while it was fun it wasn't leaving me much time for anything else. On top of that, for quite a while I'd been wanting to pen something different.
One of the problems with writing the same characters all the time is that, despite your best efforts, you sometimes feel there's a danger it can get stale, a little samey. I don't think for one minute that this has happened with Heck, but I didn't want there to be even a danger that it might. So I had a conflab with the powers-that-be in Harper UK's incredible new home on the South Bank of the Thames, and we decided to give the Heck series a brief rest.
And when I say that, I mean it - a BRIEF rest, that's all. If it'll help soothe any nerves, the next Heck novel, THE BURNING MAN, is written and awaiting a few edits, and it can already be preordered. In the meantime, I decided I was going to have a crack at something else for Avon Books. Another thriller, obviously - as I rarely stray beyond the boundaries of dark fiction - but centred around a different set of characters and circumstances.
But in the new novel, I fancied toning things down a little - going back to Division in fact, where more down-to-Earth kinds of coppers also walk a tightrope in the world of crime, but with less hi-tech backup and at the same time having also to deal with the grimy fall-out of it: the drunkenness and drug-addiction; the ruined lives; the desolate, vomit-covered streets; the brutalised, terrorised citizens.
I also wanted to revisit a character who first appeared, believe it or not, in a television drama I wrote back in 1993 called NO FURY (aka DIRTY WORK). Though that script was optioned several times, and a fairly well-known British TV actress expressed strong interest in it, it was never actually filmed and in due course all the rights reverted to me. The character in question was a certain LUCY CLAYBURN, a young but feisty uniformed constable in the Greater Manchester Police, who is very self-conscious that her family come from the wrong side of the tracks but determined all the same to make a big splash in this most difficult and macho of professions.
At the time of NO FURY, Lucy is already an effective copper with a good working-knowledge of her beat and the various villains and vulnerables who live on it, but what she really wants to do is join CID and start chasing the higher league criminals, the detritus of whose activities make life for everyone else so difficult. Don't be worried about encountering any spoilers here, by the way. NO FURY is long dead; monstrously dated, with big chunks of its original story subsequently cannibalised for other projects. The only survivor from it now is Lucy herself, and in the new novel in which she stars, she goes on to follow a very different path from the one I originally envisaged.
The novel is to be called STRANGERS, and I've just completed - as in this very morning - the first draft of it. All being well, I can announce that it will be published in summer this year. Again, there'll be no spoilers here, but I don't think anyone will mind if I give this much away ...
At the start of STRANGERS, Lucy is ten years in the job. She's an excellent uniformed copper, having spent all her service working the mean streets of Crowley, a run-down, largely unemployed Manchester borough sandwiched between Salford and Bolton. But she is still young and still has ambitions to join CID, the opportunity for which finally comes when a series of extremely horrific murders commences in the district, and the call goes out for young policewomen who don't mind getting their hands dirty to accept various, risky undercover assignments.
From this point on, those who enjoy the Heck novels will probably know what to expect.
I'm an ex-copper and newspaper reporter, so I try not to pull punches when dealing with this kind of subject-matter. STRANGERS comes to us from a very dark and dingy place, where the gutters run with filth, there is always blood in the bus station toilets and syringes litter the back alleyways. I make no apologies for any of that, nor for presenting violent crime the way it is: brutish weaponry, savage beatings, horrible injuries, and a plethora of gleefully twisted, depraved and downright certifiable villains, the sort who get no pleasure in life unless they are hurting others.
Another inheritance from Heck is the action. Sorry if there are folk out there who prefer the armchair approach to criminal investigation, but that isn't me - nor is it Heck, nor Lucy Clayburn.
Lucy isn't Wonderwoman, but she's kicked more than a few doors down in her time and chased plenty of bad guys hell-for-leather across the city in her police car. That was how I always conceived her, and that's exactly how it is in this new book. Of course, it's going to be a slightly differerent experience from Heck in that Lucy is a woman, and if she wants to come out on top when there are hoodlums to be collared, she's going to have to use at least as much guile as brawn.
Anyway, I've said enough.
Hopefully I've now put everyone in the picture about where we stand with Heck. Watch out for THE BURNING MAN in 2017, but also for STRANGERS featuring Lucy Clayburn, the action/cop heroine who'll be introducing herself to you this year, and who, if everything goes well - and this is really up to you guys, I suppose - could well be embarking on what may be a whole new series of high-octane investigations.
(The top image and the bottom two come to us courtesy of Pixabay. The armed cop is by John Crosby).