Black Isle writer Mike Walters journeys into past times and places for his latest thriller
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
IT’S reassuring if you are a fan of Mike Walters’ five different crime series to hear that he has been sitting at his home in the Black Isle working on his next book.
One of those crime series is actually set in the Black Isle following Detective Inspector Alec McKay.
Another set of detectives are found working in the north-west of England with the slightly psychic Detective Chief Inspector Kenny Murrain, whose roots are in the Black Isle.
But for his latest book – Bad Terms – Mike returns to the Peak District scenes of his childhood and earlier in his career as a consultant in the criminal justice sector.
It’s the third outing for Detective Inspector Annie Delamere and the team she works in.
And for this case, Mike has not only been revisiting a place from his past, but a time that will bring memories flooding back to those old enough to remember the scorching summer of 1976.
“It was an interesting book to write, really. I always quite enjoy books that have their roots well in the past, and letting things gradually emerge into the present to affect the present,” said Mike, who writes as Alex Walters.
In the book, the first pages of the prologue take the reader back to a sinister incident that unfolds on a hot summer’s day, before cutting back to the present for the first chapter and a murder which is as shocking as it is unexpected in a girls’ boarding school.
Mike describes the school as a shadowy, intimidating environment where Annie Delamere’s life partner, local Labour MP Sheena Pearson, has gone to talk to sixth-formers, when a shattering scream stops everyone in their tracks.
“I’m not really a great plotter in advance,” Mike admitted. “I tend to have quite a loose idea when I start writing and I tend to start with scenes – and the one in my head was walking through the village in 1976.
“Then, having spent my childhood in the area, I know there are a couple of independent schools scattered around, giving me the germ of that opening scene.
“I had a school in mind, though that changed a lot.
’But I usually start with two or three scenes that kick things off and then I see how they fit together – with this one, the scene from 1976 to the murder in the present.”
The presence of an MP in the books may also have contributed to the series having more of a political feel than his others, Mike revealed.
“The first book in the series was about far right conspiracies and the second book, the economy, and this one ends up being partly about education and corruption. But that wasn’t something I consciously set out to do!”
In Mike's latest book, with a fast-paced twisting plot, there are a couple of small things that are left slightly mysterious, you realise as you close the last page.
Mike said: "I do like to give enough explanation, but I prefer to leave some things quite ambiguous. Not explicit and to have a questionmark.
"In a real police investigation there will always be things that are never fully resolved, as it were, where there are no witnesses and no other information available.
"That will always happen to an extent.
"It’s difficult to keep the balance right, because you don’t want people to be dissatisfied with the story.
"But sometimes to leave a couple of questionmarks gives it another dimension, I think.
"You are allowing the readers to make their own judgments and to imagine how things might have happened."
The experience of living through lockdown has made its way into one of the two books Mike completed during that time too.
“The latest Black Isle book I did – For Their Sins – was set at Christmas 2020, so with the lockdown, I thought ‘I can’t have it not happening’. I had written the book in autumn 2020 so it was set slightly in the future – I wanted to have a Christmas setting.
"Then right at the last minute everything changed. Lockdown came back – so I then had to go back and rewrite it – though that made it more powerful, I think.”
In real life, the Covid restrictions have been affecting things for Mike and his wife's Solus Or Writing Retreat courses.
"It’s been a tricky time in a lot of ways because we have been running writing retreats up here, but we haven’t been doing that since the beginning of 2020, so it has been two years of not doing that. So it has been a bit frustrating," Mike admitted.
"We sort of closed it in the beginning when lockdown came February 2020 and at that stage we thought we would be opening in the autumn, at least.
"The problem was that even when lockdown lifted over that summer, there was still enough constraints on household mixing that we couldn’t really operate it as we would like to because when people come here they are bonding with other people and have a hospitable time in the evenings and that sort of thing.
"But hopefully we will reopen in spring, so obviously that has been difficult.
"I still do some consultancy work – my day-job – and I was still doing some of that as well.
"But it’s amazing how people have become used to the idea of working remotely.
"I was doing some work for the prison service for which I would normally be travelling up and down to London a few times, while I was doing it. But we just did the whole thing remotely. That’s kept me going a bit. That, and writing.
"I did a Kenny Murrain book last year, and I’ve got another Black Isle book coming out in June, so I have been basically sitting here tapping away!"
Though book events have been few, Mike hopes to guest at the book festival, Crime & Thrillers Weekend, in Cromarty from May 6-8.
Back in the present, Mike is working on a new standalone novel.
It will be a crime book that is something a bit different for him, as he will reveal, in the not too distant future!
Bad Terms (Canelo Crime, £8.99) is out on Thursday (February 24).
Mike is set to guest at the Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend (May 6-8) which returns after being postponed for the last couple of years.
For more info on Canelo Crime and the first two DI Annie Delamere books in the series: canelocrime.com