Today, I’m pleased to have John Holt here to visit with us. He’s recently released his seventh novel and he’s graciously agreed to an interview. Hello, John, and welcome back to Authors to Watch. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I live in Essex with my wife Margaret, daughter Elizabeth, and our cat Missy who adopted us. For many years I was a Chartered Surveyor in Local Government. In the nineteen seventies I was a Senior Project Manager with the Greater London Council, staying with them until 1986 when the organization was closed down. I then set up a surveying practice on my own account, carrying out condition surveys, and preparing architectural drawings. In 2004 I suffered a heart attack, and business declined. I eventually retired in 2008. I am currently being treated for a cancer, successfully I’m glad to say. I have an appointment with my oncologist and if the results continue to be good then we can stop the treatment.
That’s wonderful news, John. I’m happy to hear your treatments have been successful. When did you begin writing?
I came to writing quite late in life. I suppose, like a lot of people, I had always wanted to write a novel, but I could never think of a decent plot. Then in September 2005 we took a holiday in the Austrian Lake District. We stayed in Grundlsee, the first of three lakes. The second lake, Toplitzsee, is the deepest of the Austrian lakes, and was used by the German Navy during the war to test torpedoes and rockets. As the war came to an end many items were hidden in the lake, including counterfeit dollars, and pounds, weapons, jewellery, and there were rumours of hidden gold bullion. Since the war extensive searches have been carried and much has been discovered, but sadly no hidden gold. This gave me the inspiration for my first novel “The Kammersee Affair” which was first published in December 2006. I have subsequently written five novels featuring my private detective Tom Kendall, and a “what if” novel, “The Thackery Journal”, set during and just after the American Civil War.
I read and reviewed “The Thackery Journal,” and it far exceeded a five-star rating. I need to get caught up on my reading and delve into the Kendall novels. Can you tell us about Tom Kendall?
My second novel, “The Mackenzie Dossier” started life as a straight forward political corruption story. Then somebody got murdered. This was closely followed by a second murder. So who was there to solve the murders? The local police chief, perhaps. The problem was that he was heavily involved in the political corruption. So about a third of the way through the book I needed a private detective and hence came Tom Kendall. Kendall is unlike most literary detectives. He isn’t your tough guy macho man toting a gun. He doesn’t need fisticuffs and Magnum 44’s to fight injustice. He relys on logic, and deduction. Oh, and the help of his business partner, Mollie, not that he would ever admit that, or tell her. There’s a lot of me in Kendall. He has a wicked sense of humour, so do I. He is stubborn, and I guess I am too. Once he gets an idea into his head it would take an earthquake to shift it. He is a little over-weight, although would never admit it either, and he is not the fittest person on the planet.
What is Tom’s greatest challenge in your new book?
Although my latest book, “Kendall”, is the fifth to feature Tom, it is actually a prequel, and details how he started as a private detective and how he and Mollie teamed up. I suppose his greatest challenge in the book is to actually set himself up in business and earns a living. As he deals with this challenge he realizes that you can’t always have what you want, and it’s no bad thing to get help from other people.
How did you get the idea for the book?
As I said there came a time when I needed someone to investigate a murder or two, but, for reasons, could not rely on the police. I have also loved the old film noire movies – Humphrey Bogart, Edward G Robinson, and I had intended my detective to be a bit like Sam Spade. I am to the first to admit that in that regard I failed. I wasn’t able to re-create that style. Instead I think, I hope, that I have created my own original detective.
How has Tom Kendall evolved throughout the series?
Kendall has certainly learned a lot, especially the need to compromise some times, and also to listen to others. Mollie has been a great help to Kendall in many ways. Her interest in alternative medicines, her love of healthy foods, have all had an effect on Kendall. Although he would never admit me he relys heavily on Mollie.
If you could recommend just one of your books to my readers, which book would you choose?
That’s a difficult one, because, obviously I want them to read all of my books. If I have to choose I would leave the detective novels to one side, and say please, please, take a look at “The Thackery Journal”, my American Civil War novel. As to reasons just take a look at the next answer.
As an author, what has been your greatest achievement?
That would have to be “The Thackery Journal”. This was a total departure from my normal Private Detective novels, and way outside my comfort zone. So much so that some people have asked why did I write it? That’s a good question, and like much in life the answer isn’t straight forward. I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A Civil War is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divided the Country and split communities: a war that put brother against brother, and father against son. A war where in reality there were no winners and the effects would be felt long after the war ended. But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. I started to write “Thackery” four or five years ago. I had finished my first novel “The Kammersee Affair” in December 2006, and the first of the Tom Kendall stories, “The Mackenzie Dossier” had been published (as “The Mackenzie File” in August 2008). I began outlining my next novel, “The Marinski Affair”.
Somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. During my research into “The Kammersee Affair” (a story of hidden gold bullion) I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had, apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of “Thackery”, and largely unchanged from when it was first written.
Like I said before, I’ve read and reviewed The Thackery Journal. Absolutely wonderful book. I highly recommend it. What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on another Kendall novel, set in Ireland. Very early days, and nothing like outlined. I am also working on a n adventure story based on a true 1931 story of a submarine that was intended to reach the North Pole under the ice. It never got there and was later found at the bottom of a Norwegian fjord. Once again early days. I have two or three beginning chapters, and the end. Now all I need is about 200 pages in the middle.
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
There are a lot of rules out there, telling you how to write correctly. Don’t do this, don’t do that. The only rule I follow is basically forget about all of those rules. Oh don’t try to please people, it will never work. Some people will love what you do, others will hate it. So I just write to please one person, me. If I like it then that’s fine, if others like it that’s a bonus. Enjoy what you write, otherwise what’s the point. As soon as it becomes a chore then forget it
That is excellent advice. John, thank you again for joining us today. I wish you the best of luck with your new book. For those readers who would like to take a sneak peek at “Kendall,” please read on for an excerpt.
Tom Kendall had been with the 32nd Precinct, New York Police Department for just under ten years. But now he wanted a change. Now he wanted to start his own Private Detective Agency. He had grand ideas. He wasn’t interested in just any old case. Oh no, he would handle only the big time cases, the expensive ones. He would be able to take his pick, the ones that he wanted, where the stakes were high and so were the rewards. He knew exactly the kind of case that he wanted. Anything else would not do, and it would just be turned down flat. Although a standalone novel this is the fifth Tom Kendall novel.
Mikes Bar is located at 633 Collingwood, not far from Hatfield, close to the town square. It was fast becoming something of a habit for Kendall, home from home almost. The only difference was that Mike’s place was better furnished than his home. And as a bonus he wasn’t worried if it actually got a little dirty and needed cleaning. Furthermore he wouldn’t be worried if any repairs or decorating were required. All he really needed was somewhere warm and dry, and a bed to lie on, then his wants would be completely taken care of. And as an added bonus there would be no rent to pay. He wondered if maybe he could get Mike to consider providing something for him. He made a note to discuss it at an opportune moment.
Kendall found himself at Mike’s place at least three or four times a week. He wasn’t entirely sure how that had come about. It wasn’t that he was an alcoholic or anything like that. Oh sure, he enjoyed a drink now and again, and again, and again. But he could stop any time he wanted. His favorite was a scotch and water, although he could live without it – the water that is.
He had first started going to Mike’s just to pass the time. There was no work coming in and nothing to do, so whiling away a few hours in pleasant surroundings, and in convivial company, was quite enjoyable, and it kept him off of the streets. Then he soon realized that Mike’s wasn’t just somewhere to meet and get a drink. It was a good place for other reasons, acquiring information for example. Mike was a veritable encyclopedia. He knew practically everything that was going on locally. He knew who was doing what, and who they were doing it to. And he usually knew why they were doing it. If he didn’t know it, either it hadn’t happened yet, or it didn’t matter anyway.
It was early in the day, and the bar was virtually empty. It was dark inside, and it took a little while for Kendall’s eyesight to adjust after the bright sunlight. He glanced around. There were two men talking animatedly at the bar. Two other men were seated over in the far corner. There appeared to be no one else in the place. It was still early though. Another hour or so the lunch time clients would start to arrive, and then it would start to get busy.
Mike was at the bar. A newspaper opened at the sports pages lay on the counter in front of him. He looked up as Kendall approached. “It’s a little early isn’t it Kendall,” he said as he glanced at the clock on the wall. Eleven twenty. “Even for you that is.”
“Don’t start, Mike,” Kendall replied. “I’m just having a bad day, that’s all.”
“You know my wife is beginning to complain,” said Mike. “She says that I see more of you than I do her.”
Kendall smiled and shook his head. “Don’t give me that Mike. I know, and you know, that’s she’s glad to see the back of you. Besides, she’s just jealous that’s all.”
“Jealous,” Mike repeated smiling.
“Yeah jealous,” said Kendall, as he hoisted himself on to a bar stool.
“Jealous of what?” asked Mike.
“Why you of course you big dope.”
“Jealous in what way?” asked Mike.
“She would like to see more of me,” replied Kendall.
“She’s got more sense than that,” Mike protested
“I’m not so sure,” said Kendall. “After all she married you didn’t she?”
“The best thing she ever did,” responded Mike. “Now enough of this, what can I get you, the usual?”
Kendall looked at him for a few moments. “Make it a double.”
“That’s what I said isn’t it, the usual?” replied Mike.
Mike poured the drink, and placed in front of Kendall. “So what’s new?”
“Well I’ve got the office sorted,” said Kendall. “And this came this morning.” He reached into his inside pocket and withdrew a small leather wallet. He placed it on to the counter, and opened it. Inside was a shining gold badge. “Badge number 1051, that says that I am now fully qualified as a licensed private detective,” declared Kendall.
“I’m impressed,” said Mike. “Who’s the guy in the picture?”
Kendall looked at the photograph inside the wallet. “Oh that’s my dad, Sergeant Brian Kendall, New York Police Department. He died a few years ago. I still miss him. You know there’s always so much you want to say when it’s all too late.”
Mike picked up the wallet. “Know what you mean. Good looking guy, hard to believe he’s your dad you look nothing like him,” he said as he handed the wallet back to Kendall.
Kendall ignored the comment, and replaced the wallet in his inside pocket,
“So you’re all set then,” Mike continued. “So what’s next?”
“I’m now looking for a secretary,” Kendall replied.
“You what,” said Mike. “You’re looking for a secretary?”
|Private Detective’s Badge|
“That’s right, that’s what I said, a secretary. So what’s so strange about that?”
Mike shook his head, and smiled. “Kendall do you really think you’ll find anyone to put up with you? I mean I do because I have to. I can’t very well throw you out now can I? Besides you pay me to stay here.”
Kendall looked hurt. “I’m your best customer,” he protested. “Without me you’d be forced to close down, and you know it. No one else would be seen dead in here.”
“Come on now Kendall,” Mike continued, ignoring the jibe. “I mean who in their right mind would want to work with you?”
“Oh I don’t know, I’m not that bad,” Kendall replied. “I’ll find someone, even if it kills me.” He finished his drink and pushed the empty glass toward Mike. “Do something useful will you?” he said. “Fill that up, same again.”
Mike did as requested, and placed the glass on the counter. “So how have you done so far?” he asked.
“Oh pretty good I’d say,” replied Kendall, lying through his teeth.
“So have you taken anyone on then?” asked Mike.
“Oh early days yet,” said Kendall. “I’ve seen some great candidates though. There were two this morning, both excellent, and both want the job. You know it will be a hard decision to make. One of them will be very disappointed I can tell you.”
Mike smiled. “Who would want you?”
“My mother loves me,” Kendall replied.
Mike shook his head. “You never had a mother,” he said and laughed. “Five will get you ten you won’t find anyone.”
“I’ll get someone don’t you worry about that, said Kendall. He took a drink. “So what’s new,” he continued, as he pointed to the newspaper.
Mike smiled and shook his head. “You mean apart from the game?”
Kendall nodded. It hadn’t been a game. It had been a massacre. “There should be a government health warning issued with games like that,” he said. “Watching can be detrimental to your health.” He took a drink. “Yes,” he continued. “Apart from the game.”
“Same old, same old, I’m afraid,” said Mike.
“Phone hacking,” said Kendall.
“Phone hacking, and phone hacking, and more phone hacking,” Mike replied. “What else?”
For several weeks phone hacking had been a major topic in every newspaper. Every day there were more revelations, more celebrities complaining that there had been an invasion of their privacy. And every day there had been the expected denials.
“I understand that they are also talking about hacking into emails now,” said Kendall.
“Any chance of some service?” a voice called out. It was a young man who had recently come in, and was now seated at the end of the bar.
Mike gave a cursory glance. “Be right with you.” He then turned back to face Kendall. “Emails,” he said sounding puzzled. “How on earth do they do that?”
“Don’t ask me,” replied Kendall. “I’ve only just found out how to send them.” He took a drink.