I never set out be be a crime novelist. Even after I’d written two full drafts of my first novel, A Line of Blood, I didn’t realise that I was.
I wanted to tell the story of a London couple who had fallen into parenthood as they had into marriage: by happy accident. At the centre of the book would be Alex Mercer’s relationship with his son Max and with his American wife Millicent, and his growing fear that his luck has run out and that he is about to lose everything.
A Line of Blood was going to be a book about love, and about what families pass on to their children. And it was going to be about what happens to that love when it comes under unbearable pressure from outside forces: in my book that pressure comes from the discovery of a corpse in the house next door.
Alex becomes an unwilling detective, investigating the life he never exactly chose but cannot bear to lose. What does a happy marriage look like? Certainly nothing like his parents’s, but perhaps it looks like his marriage to Millicent? Before the discovery of the corpse, at least…
Slowly Alex begins to question his happy life: most especially he questions his relationship with the woman whose bed he shares: how well does he really know Millicent? and how well did she know the man in the house next door?
But the corpse triggers far more than that. Alex and Max find the dead neighbour together, and Alex cannot prevent his son from witnessing the violence of the poor man’s death. What could be more terrifying — or more disturbing — for a young boy? Especially when there appears to be a sexual element to the man’s death…
Max is eleven. He’s about to enter puberty. It’s Alex’s job to guide him gently into the adult world and help him prepare for its passions and its uncertainties. He thought he was doing a good job, but the corpse throws all of that into question too.
Alex knows he has to talk to his son, but has no idea what to say. What does Max know about suicide? What could an eleven-year-old boy possibly know about despair? Isn’t this the stuff of full-blown trauma, of sexual dysfunction in his teenage years, and nervous breakdown in early adulthood? And how can you be a good-enough parent when your own world is crumbling around you?
These are the problems I wanted my characters to face in A Line of Blood. I can see now that the book always had to be a crime novel; that it became a crime novel at the exact moment I decided I needed a corpse.
And we haven’t even got to the police investigation yet…
Blog by Ben McPherson
Most recent/ upcoming book: A Line of Blood (26th March)