An interview with Martin Edwards…
Martin Edwards is a British crime novelist, famous for his Harry Devlin series which take place in Liverpool. Like the character Harry Devlin, Edwards is a solicitor when not writing his mysteries, but you’d be wrong in thinking Edwards is embedded into his character, “in the first book, his estranged wife Liz is murdered; I wasn’t even married at that time, so I can’t be accused of wish-fulfilment!” It was after a nine-year gap when Edwards revisited Devlin back in 2008 with Waterloo Sunset. Edwards “watched Liverpool regain its pride and sense of purpose after long years of decline and it was fascinating to see.” Whether Edwards will revisit the character, readers will just have to find out…
Congratulations on winning the Diamond Dagger award! Obviously, this places you into a select group of authors – how do you feel about that?
Truly excited! From childhood, my sole ambition was to become a published detective novelist, but even in my wildest dreams I never imagined that one day I’d take a place among many of my heroes, ranging from such previous winners as John Le Carre and Eric Ambler to P D James and Ruth Rendell.
You chose to set the Harry Devlin novels in and around the Liverpool area. What led you to choose this particular city as the location for the series?
Like Harry, I’ve worked as a solicitor in Liverpool, and although unlike him I wasn’t born in the city, I fell in love with the place and thought it would be a wonderfully atmospheric and original setting for a series of detective novels. The city is rich in history but what makes it really special is the character of the people – their wit and loyalty are virtues that I admire greatly and I have made many enduring friendships with proud Liverpudlians that I treasure. I’ve also been delighted with the hugely positive way they’ve reacted to my portrayal of the city, even though I haven’t flinched from exploring some of its darker corners.
After a nine-year gap, you revisited Harry Devlin back in 2008 with Waterloo Sunset. What do you think had changed most about both the character and Liverpool itself in that period?
I watched Liverpool regain its pride and sense of purpose after long years of decline and it was fascinating to see. The over-arching scenario of the series concerns the renaissance of one of the world’s great cities after a dark period. Improvements continued during the period I was working on other books, and the city’s Capital of Culture Year seemed like an ideal opportunity to revisit Harry’s world and see how much had changed – and how he reacted to those changes.
…And do you think the changes to Liverpool and the world in general since 2008 have been as significant?
Yes, I do. Nothing stands still and if, as I hope, I return to writing about Harry Devlin in future, I’ll be looking to try to capture that continuing sense of change.
Being a solicitor writing about a solicitor, how much of you is present in the character of Harry?
Much less than you might think! From the start, I was very keen to differentiate his life from mine as much as possible. So in the first book, his estranged wife Liz is murdered; I wasn’t even married at that time, so I can’t be accused of wish-fulfilment! Professionally, his field is crime and divorce, two subjects that I’ve never dealt with in my own career (I’ve specialised in employment law and some commercial work), and our respective firms have always been very different. He is a native Scouser, whereas I come from Cheshire – not far away in terms of miles, but rural and a lot quieter. However, I wanted Harry to have a strong sense of humour, and he shares my love of football, detective fiction, and old crime movies. What’s more, I like him a lot.
I’m sure that in every interview you’re asked if you’d consider one more outing for Devlin; are fans going to have to live with the fact that the series is complete, or would you consider revisiting it?
I’m genuinely thrilled that people still love the character and the stories. The books mean a lot to me, and it’s very rewarding to hear that other people enjoy them. I loved writing them, and I do think there is further mileage in the character, because (though I say it myself) he has depth and untapped potential. So if the opportunity arises, I’d like to write more about Harry.
If someone has enjoyed the Harry Devlin series but not read your other works, what would you recommend for quenching their thirst for more? The Lake District Mysteries perhaps?
The Lake District Mysteries are also great fun to write. The rural settings fire my imagination just as much as the streets of Liverpool, and the dynamics of the relationship between DCI Hannah Scarlett and the historian Daniel Kind interest me. As with the Harry Devlin books, I try to give each novel in the series a distinctive flavour rather than just coming up with the same-old, same-old.
My novels set in the 1930s, Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall, are very different, but they are books I’m immensely proud of. They are attempts to reimagine Golden Age mystery fiction with psychological depth but no shortage of twisty plotting.
What exciting projects are you currently working on – if you’re allowed to talk about them?!
I recently finished the third in my 1930s series, Blackstone Fell, and I’m currently planning the next, Sepulchre Street. Meanwhile, my history of crime fiction, The Life of Crime, will be published in April 2022 and that too is a book I’m very excited about.
Has the pandemic affected the balance of your work as both a solicitor and writer?
As a solicitor, I’ve been a part-time consultant for several years, mainly working from home, so the changes have not been great. My main focus these days is on my crime writing and although I’ve very much missed the festivals and library and bookshop events (and the glitzy ceremony and dinner usually associated with winning the Diamond Dagger!), I have at least been able to do plenty of writing. I’ve had more time than ever before to write and I’ve found this has worked really well for me. I’ve been lucky; some writers have found the pandemic has rather inhibited their work, but I’ve not only been productive, I’ve really enjoyed the writing. It was much tougher when I was writing the Harry Devlins each night after a long day in the office and a lengthy commute!
For the full interview, check out our Q&A in our upcoming BREAKING Issue 2 newsletter!