Iain McDowall
welcome biography reviews titles interviews and features news, events, rants Deutsch contacts
THE EVIL THEREOF - INTERVIEW Envy The Dead - interview 1 Envy The Dead - interview 2 Cut Her Dead - interview Killing For England - Q and A MRJ feature




MRJ feature






I’d done my share of foreign travel. I’d done my share

of re-location from major city to major city in pursuit

of career – and other – opportunities. So it was as

much a matter of timing as anything else that I was

living in a relatively small English town when I started

writing the first Inspector Jacobson book. It just felt

natural and obvious to me to include the sights and

sounds of my daily life as the backdrop to the story

I was trying to create (write what you know might

be a writing class cliché but that doesn’t mean that

it’s not good advice for a new writer). And so the

fictional town of Crowby came into being. Medium

sized, not too far from Birmingham, pretty much in

the geographical centre of the nation. Middle England essentially – both geographically and conceptually.


England isn’t a big country of course. Nor is Great

Britain as a whole. You could fit all four of its

constituent parts – England, Scotland, Wales,

Northern Ireland – into Texas nearly three times

over and still have room to spare. Or you could cut

and paste them into California and only overwrite

slightly more than half the state. You can drive the

entire length of England and Scotland in a day if

you really push it. So basing Inspector Jacobson in

Crowby has never felt limiting. If I want to use

another location for a particular aspect of a

particular story I can do so easily enough without

un-suspending anybody’s disbelief. Jacobson’s

cases regularly involve London and Birmingham –

with walk-on roles for Manchester, Bristol, Brighton,

the Lake District. And because they’re set in the

globally connected world of now – post-internet,

post mass air travel – the UK itself is no border.

That first book took its readers to Amsterdam and,

in the subsequent six books, the Crowby universe

has extended itself where necessary to Barcelona,

Zurich, even to Big Sur and Santa Monica.


But Crowby remains the epicentre. An amalgam of

several real Midlands towns re-assembled in my

imagination and making maximum use of the area’s

iconic landscapes: canals, woodlands, abandoned

industrial sites, converted grain stores, cramped

red brick terraces and the contrasting leafy suburbs

of the wealthy. Contrasting lives too – although

modern crime pays scant attention to old-style

socio-economic distinctions, increasingly assimilates

itself across all social layers. The country house /

millionaire’s mansion intersecting with the 'sink'

estate and the middle-class enclave has become a

recurrent theme in the Inspector Jacobson books.

That’s probably also the reason I wanted to write

police-based crime fiction in the first place. A police

officer can realistically go anywhere, access any

level of society, in the course of an investigation.

In Britain, at least, no other occupation comes

pre-loaded with that immediate, inbuilt advantage,

making a fictional police inquiry an ideal instrument

to cut through and explore some of the denser

complexities of life in the twenty-first century.


So Jacobson and his close-knit team – DS Kerr,

Emma Smith, Mick Hume – have stayed put all

these years, dealing with Crowby’s worst cases.

Familicides. Kidnappings. Racist murders. Drug

syndicate killings. All the bad stuff that happens

in modern Britain turns up on their doorstep

exactly as it does for big-city coppers in London or

Belfast or Glasgow. It may do so less frequently –

but it does so often enough to give Jacobson, like

his real-life counterparts, half-a-dozen truly serious

cases to deal with every year: in fact, the most

recent official national crime survey revealed that,

 in 2015, the most murderous place in the UK

wasn’t any of its big cities but the sleepy,

Lincolnshire town of Boston. All of that might have

been in my mind when, for the most recent book,

The Evil Thereof, I finally relented and gave

Jacobson and his team a serial killer to play with.

He’d been on the force thirty years, he was thinking

 about retirement, he’d never encountered one

before – they were odds that, as a realist writer, I

felt I could live with.


Yet a crime novel that anyone would actually want

to read can’t just be concerned with ‘the facts’. Or

at least I don’t think so. Realism is fine and necessary

but it isn’t sufficient. There’s another simultaneous

level on which you’re also creating fables,

contemporary fairy stories. The knight battles with

the dragon, Inspector Jacobson uncovers the truth.

The same resolution, the same symbolic victory over adversity – even though we know that in the ‘real’

real world, evil often triumphs and the truth often

gets missed or hidden. That, for me, in the end,

remains the point of Frank Jacobson. Overweight,

unfit, rude and gloomy he may be. But he’s still a

hero, still an inspiration: whether a small-town one

or otherwise. One commentator called him a Stoic

which I quite liked as a description. Over and over,

a good man does what he can … what else can he




© Iain McDowall, 2017. All rights reserved.


This feature first appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, Volume 32, No. 4 (Small Town Cops II)


return to top



The Evil Thereof

Inspector Jacobson's most disturbing case ever. A case that might also be his last ...

"Riveting ... highly recommended."




Envy The Dead

A miscarriage of justice turns deadly ...

"Dark and extraordinary ... read it and savour every word."




Iain McDowall

"McDowall puts his work at the cutting-edge of the genre."

Read more>>