‘”What’s your book about?”
It’s hard to believe that such a simple question can evoke such fear and trepidation. But it did.‘
– Robert Crouch
Robert Crouch is the author of The Kent Fisher murder mystery series with No Love Lost (Book 6) publishing on 17th September 2020.
Robert was my guest on 29th May 2019 with a post entitled ‘Something fresh but familiar’ which you can read HERE
I am delighted to welcome Robert back today with a wonderful and humorous piece about his experiences explaining to people what his books are about. I do hope you enjoy.
“What’s your book about?”
by Robert Crouch
It’s hard to believe that such a simple question can evoke such fear and trepidation. But it did.
The first time I was asked this question at a talk, I opened my mouth to answer without any forethought.
“My book’s about this bloke who solves murders. Complex murders like Agatha Christie.”
I’m reminded by a librarian in the audience that Agatha Christie didn’t commit or solve murders, complex or otherwise. She wrote books about people solving murders. Is that what I meant?
“Yes,” I said. “I write traditional murder mysteries with lots of suspects and red herrings, like Agatha Christie, only set in today’s world.”
I settled back, ready for the next question from my enthusiastic audience. The original person raised a hand once more. “But what’s your book about?”
“It’s a murder mystery.”
“That’s the type of story, the genre,” the librarian said. “You haven’t explained what the book’s about.”
I glanced around my audience, looking for people who want to move on and ask me where I get my inspiration or who my favourite authors are. The librarian continued.
“To Kill a Mockingbird was about one man’s fight against racial oppression and injustice.”
Now I know I’m in for a hiding. I can’t compete with a novel as hallowed as To Kill a Mockingbird. Not that I’m trying to compete, but whatever I say will pale against such an epic story. I read it when I was sixteen. It made me cry. It made me angry. It made me want to make the world better.
Lofty aspirations my novel can never fulfil. But it took me back to the time I created my central character, Kent Fisher. If he was going to solve murders, I had three choices. He could be a police officer, a private investigator or neither. Knowing only a little about police procedures and even less about being a PI, I plumped for the third alternative.
“My book’s about an environmental health officer who solves murders,” I said.
That seemed to satisfy them. Most people have little idea what environmental health officers, or EHOs as we prefer to call ourselves, do. We’re known mainly for inspecting the hygiene standards in restaurants, cafés, pubs – anywhere that prepares or sells food or meals.
A woman looks up from her phone. “We called in an EHO about our noisy neighbour. I could have murdered him. He kept telling us to fill in diary sheets when it was noisy. It’s always noisy, I said. The walls are paper thin.”
“If you murdered your noisy neighbour, would the environmental health investigate?” a man with executive glasses asks. “Is that what you’re saying?”
A discussion breaks out about noisy people who do their DIY at eleven o’clock, people who don’t clear up after their dogs, and people with tattoos. It appears I could have plots for several murder mysteries, judging by the strength of feeling in the room.
At least everyone seems to know what my book’s about. As calm returns, I decide to expand on this. “In my book, the EHO investigates a fatal work accident.”
“I thought you said it was a murder.”
“A murder disguised as a work accident,” I say with a knowing nod. “That’s why an EHO investigates, not the police.”
It takes a few moments for the audience to digest this. Noisy neighbour woman looks up again. “How did the EHO know the accident was a murder?”
“He didn’t. Not to start with. He thought it was a work accident, which is part of his job. If he suspected it was murder, he would have called in the police.”
“You said he solved murders. Now you’re saying he called in the police.”
“He didn’t work out it was murder for some time,” I say, wishing I’d written a book about noisy neighbours.
“But he didn’t call the police, did he? That’s what you’re saying.”
“He didn’t have enough evidence to show it was murder.”
“Then how did he know it was murder?”
“Because it couldn’t be an accident. And,” I say, cutting off noisy neighbour woman, “it wasn’t suicide either. That leaves murder.”
Noisy neighbour woman isn’t going to be fobbed off. “So if it’s obviously murder, why didn’t he call in the police?”
“You’ll need to read the book to find out why. I don’t want to spoil the plot.”
“But if he investigates the murder, wouldn’t he be in danger?” a woman with purple hair asks. “It’s not like he has a stab vest or a van filled with police officers to help him.”
“That’s what makes it more exciting,” I say.
“Are you suggesting your EHO thinks he’s better than the police?” she asks.
Noisy neighbour woman looks up once more. “The officer the police sent round when I was assaulted looked like he’d just left school. He seemed so unsure of what he was doing he couldn’t have caught a cold.”
A few nods show some dissatisfaction with our local force. I don’t like it when the police are knocked or unfairly criticised. I need to make sure my audience know this.
“Of course my character doesn’t think he’s better than the police. He knows the police will demand a high standard of evidence to substantiate his claims. All he has are a few discrepancies, details that don’t add up, the kind of clues Lieutenant Columbo used to latch onto. You remember him from the TV, I imagine.”
“If he hasn’t got much evidence, how can he be sure it was murder rather than an accident?”
“The clue’s in the title,” someone calls out from the back. “It’s called No Accident for a reason.”
“Why isn’t it called, It’s Really Murder?”
“Complex murder. That’s what you said, isn’t it?”
I nod and give Noisy Neighbour woman a smile. “It’s a classic whodunit.”
“Not a murder mystery then?”
I sold one copy of my book. As people departed, the main discussion concerned people with tattoos, who bred pit bull terriers that barked all the time, especially when their owners were playing loud music all night.
Back home, I spent time defining what my book was about. It took me a while to condense a complex, 85,000 word novel into one sentence, but I was determined never to be caught out again.
Kent Fisher investigates a work accident and uncovers a murder, unaware he must sacrifice everything he holds dear to solve it.
It’s not perfect, but it tells people what the book’s about. I couldn’t wait to try it out on the next audience. Unfortunately, they wanted to hear more humorous environmental health stories like the one about Dr Windbreaker’s Fart Powder.
[ No Accident ~ Book Description ]
A former gangster is dead. It looks like an accident. Only Kent Fisher suspects murder.
When the police decide Syd Collins’ death is a work accident, they hand over the investigation to environmental health officer, Kent Fisher, a man with more baggage than an airport carousel.
He defies a restraining order to enter Tombstone Adventure Park and confronts the owner, Miles Birchill, who has his own reasons for blocking the investigation. Thwarted at every turn, Kent’s forced to bend the rules and is soon suspended from duty.
He battles on, unearthing secrets and corruption that could destroy those he loves. With his personal and professional worlds on a collision course, he knows life will never be the same again.
Purchase Link ~ AmazonUK
[ Bio ]
In a crowded crime fiction market, it’s difficult to offer readers something original and fresh.
Inspired by his love of cosy murder mysteries, featuring characters like Miss Marple, Kinsey Millhone and Inspector Morse, Robert Crouch drew on his extensive experience as an environmental health officer to create a different kind of detective.
Only Kent Fisher’s not a detective – he’s an environmental health officer who uncovers a murder only he can solve.
This fresh approach to the murder mystery adds a contemporary and often irreverent twist to the traditional whodunit, offering readers something familiar but different.
Website – https://robertcrouch.co.uk
Twitter – @robertcrouchuk