My next book A Murder To Die For is a novel. It's a comic farce about a murder mystery that takes place during a murder mystery festival. And, rather surprisingly, it's a murder mystery novel inside a murder mystery novel.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of my father dying unexpectedly, and tragically young at the age of just 51, and with one of his great ambitions unrealised.
Like me, Dad was a career cop (I was a policeman in London for 30 years). He specialised in homicide. And, like me, he was passionate about writing. Under his pen-name of Myghal Colgan (his birthname was Michael), he had many articles and features published, mostly in Cornish and country interest magazines and newspapers. But, deep down, he wanted to tell stories. And, being a proud Cornishman, he wanted to tell stories about Cornish people set in Cornish locations.
In the mid-late 1980s he began work on a novel. In order to ensure that the historical details were correct, he spent over a year on pre-internet research; visiting libraries and reading endless books.Set in 1931 and titled The Chief Constable Regrets, his story involved the systematic murder of surviving members of a platoon from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry who had fought together in WWI. I can remember long telephone conversations with him as he told me about some fact he'd uncovered and how he planned to incorporate it into the book. I can also remember his frustration over never seeming to find the time to write it. He was an exceptional detective and much in demand, often spending weeks away from home on some investigation or other. My family lived in West Cornwall but the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary covers a huge area and an investigation in Plymouth or Exeter would take him 90-150 miles away from his typewriter. No laptops back then, of course. He looked forward to his imminent retirement when he'd have the time to devote to his novel.
But then on 13th May 1991, cruelly just a few months after he'd retired, Dad suffered a massive and fatal heart attack.
It took a little while to sort out his affairs and part of that involved me going through a box of floppy discs that he'd used to store work done on his old Amstrad word processor. I converted his documents to a format which means that I still have them safely backed up and preserved for posterity to this day. But there was no trace of a novel among the discs or on his processor’s 256k onboard memory. What he’d written, if indeed he'd written anything, seemed to have been tragically lost.
But then, while sorting through some box files of material that Dad had accumulated while researching our family tree, my brother Si found some pages of notes relating to the novel and 24 printed pages of text comprising the first four chapters of the book. His notes seem to suggest that maybe this is how far he got. We'll never be entirely sure but I'd like to think that everything he wrote has been saved.
In the quarter century since he died people have suggested to me that I finish The Chief Constable Regrets. I would genuinely love to. But, sadly, I have no idea how. There few clues as to how he intended the plot to run and, while he left notes regarding the characters, I cannot be sure who commits the murders (although I have a shrewd idea).
However, Dad's novel - or some of it at least - will, finally, soon see the light of day.
A Murder To Die For takes place at a festival celebrating the life and works of crime fiction writer Agnes Crabbe and I'm using extracts from Dad's book in the novel to represent her prose. So whenever one of my characters reads any of her work, what they'll actually be reading is some of The Chief Constable Regrets.
It means that some of Dad's unfinished first novel will get to be published.
I think that he'd have liked that.