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Neil White: How I Met My Detectives

I met my detectives when I started to look more at the world right in front of me.

Although I write books I am a criminal lawyer as well, still spending days in the courtroom. When I first started to write I avoided the temptation to write legal thrillers, but this was nothing to do with wanting a break from work. The opposite, in fact, because I found the compulsion to be accurate greater than the desire to be interesting.

Inaccuracies are to be avoided, of course, but that doesn’t mean that a courtroom scene has to incorporate every single reality of an hour in court: life in court can be as mundane as any other job. The routine of ploughing through everyday cases can involve a lot of waiting around. It’s those moments when the courtroom sparks to life that makes it interesting: a witness who says something unexpected; a lawyer who loses his or her temper; a prisoner escaping from the dock. Everyone feels the tension when they witness a defendant struggling with the security staff when his case ends in a prison term or when the public galleries are packed with the grieving relatives of a victim. These are the moments to write about.

So, one of my detectives isn’t a detective at all but a defence lawyer: Joe Parker. In order to create him I looked inside myself and tried to bring out some of my own thoughts and experiences.

Being a criminal lawyer is very much a matter of professional duty over personal conscience, but that doesn’t mean that a criminal lawyer stops being a person when away from the courtroom. I’ve wrestled with my own personal conscience as a lawyer and I wanted to bring some of that out in Joe Parker. Although he dresses up his professional life as being all about the excitement of seeing the rougher edges of life, it’s all for show. There are still those moments when he wonders about the morality of it all; how it can involve helping bad people get away with bad things. It was this inner conflict that interested me.

My other detective is an actual police detective: Sam Parker, Joe’s brother. Slightly older, a little quieter, Sam is more studious and driven by a strong sense of justice.

For Sam, I thought of those police officers I’ve met who sit back and take a cool look at the evidence, rather than those who prefer to kick down the door and ask questions afterwards. I didn’t want Sam to be the ‘cop with issues’. I preferred the idea that he would be the one battling against those types, holding his steady gaze along the chaotic track of police investigations.

What interested me about the characters was their conflict. Each brother is working against the other: one in the police and one in the defence. But, despite all of that, there’s still a brotherly bond: the family tie that binds them closer than any part of their jobs.

What lies behind both characters, however, is tragedy. Their sister Ellie was murdered fifteen years ago, attacked as she walked down a quiet woodland path on her way home from school. It was this tragedy that drove both brothers into their careers – each for a very different reason.

Next to Die, the first in a new series featuring Joe and Sam Parker, is available now.

Click here to find out more and to read the first chapter.