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Author of the Month

Name: Craig Robertson

First Novel: Random

Most Recent Book: In Place of Death

'...Robertson teases his readers with a sense of electric tension and danger. '

A young man entered the culverted remains of an ancient Glasgow stream, looking for thrills. Deep below the city, it is decaying and claustrophobic and gets more so with every step. As the ceiling lowers to no more than a couple of feet above the ground, the man finds his path blocked by another person. Someone with their throat cut.

As DI Rachel Narey leads the official investigation, photographer Tony Winter follows a lead of his own, through the shadowy world of urbexers, people who pursue a dangerous and illegal hobby, a world that Winter knows more than he lets on. And it soon becomes clear that this murderer has killed before, and has no qualms about doing so again.

Craig Robertson returns to his Narey and Winter series with a compelling and claustrophobic thriller centring on a decaying city and the thrill-seekers with a pride of place.

Urbexing is the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned buildings, ravaged and ruined by the effects of time. Documentation and photography is a large aspect of the hobby which is why Tony Winter would be drawn to it. I had never come across urbexing before so not only was ‘In Place of Death’ highly entertaining, it was educational too. Robertson has clearly researched Glasgow and its history and uses the city like a main character, getting under its skin and giving the story added depth and energy.

DI Narey has achieved promotion and her relationship with Tony is going full strength (though in private). There is a sense of impending doom throughout the novel; a happy protagonist shouldn't be happy for long, but Craig Robertson teases his readers with a sense of electric tension and danger. At one point I was afraid to turn the page in case the worst happened to one of our heroes.

The pace of the novel is steady throughout and never once lets up - the murders, the tension of Narey's job and personal life, Tony's secrets - they're all played out beautifully against each other. The novel ends with the promise of a new beginning. Robertson never rests on his laurels and by the end of this novel you can see he is taking Narey and Winter in a new direction - and it's going to be a thrilling one.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) I had never heard of ‘urbexing’ until I read your latest book. How much research did you have to do in it?
A lot. As in A LOT. I knew nothing about it – it being urban exploration, the hobby of going into abandoned buildings or derelict historical spaces, climbing tall structures or exploring disused tunnels under our cities. I read one article about urbexing and that was enough for me to know it was a perfect vehicle for crime fiction, something that suited my taste for the dark and the unusual and also gave a different and hopefully insightful way of looking at the places we live in.

However, I knew I had to know a lot more to be able to write convincingly on the subject. So before I sat down to begin the book I had to learn everything I could about urbexing and as quickly as possible. I needed to know not just what it was but also who did it, how and where they did it and - probably above all – why they did it. I googled the hell out of it, I went on urbexing forums, I bought every book there was on the subject, I walked to and through the places and, most importantly and usefully, I spoke to those that did it. Nothing could replace the understanding gained from talking to the urbexers, the wonderfully, crazily, chaotically charged souls that explore the dark recesses of the city when everyone else is safely asleep.
2) Are there many abandoned buildings in Glasgow? How did you originally come up with the story?
Glasgow is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, constantly evolving, even if not necessarily for the better. There are buildings in the city that have been derelict for generation and others that get shut down overnight. These are places of huge historical significance and one of the things that I particularly admire about urbexers is that they go in to record these places for posterity, sometimes being the only people that seem to care enough to do this.

Some of these buildings are stunning. They are simply incredible, architecturally and historically, yet are left to rot because there is no obvious or immediate way to make money out of them. Urbexers explore these places because the buildings deserve it but also, more anarchically, because they’re told they’re not allowed to. If you put up a Keep Out sign then these guys are going to be itching to get inside.

I immediately latched on to the elements of rebelliousness, risk and revolution. It is a hobby that happens out of sight, often in the dark of night, and out of both the reach and the protection of the law. It was an arena I had to write in. All I needed was a story...
3) Rachel and Tony are now officially a couple. How do you see their relationship developing?
Their relationship status has always been a huge part of the books and an issue that has constantly evolved. It began with them being together but not openly. She’s a detective in CID, he’s a police photographer. She set the line, as if it was marked by crime scene tape, and he wasn’t allowed to cross it. Her career was too important to her to have anyone know that they were actually a couple. He, on the other hand, didn’t like this arrangement at all but went along with it. She called the shots and that was something I always liked.

All of that defined them and challenged them, setting hurdles that sometimes they jumped and sometimes tripped over. It allowed me to mess with them, basically. Now, that’s all changed a bit and I can challenge them with new problems. I know exactly where they are going in the next book and it is going to change their relationship yet again, hugely this time. Of course I’d love to tell you but I can’t, because if I did – then I’d have to kill you! As they say… watch this space!
4) Your previous novel was a standalone story. Is your next novel a Narey and Winter thriller? What is in store for the regular characters?
Yes, Narey and Winter are back and, as I said above, things are going to change for them big time. I think it’s important to give your characters as hard a time as possible, torture them to excess and make them bleed from every emotional orifice. Just because you can, right? I know what it’s going to be but it’s just too early to say publicly. However, trust me, it’s pretty bad. Like maybe dying, that kind of bad. Or possibly something worse.

I think characters, both the main protagonists and the peripheral cast, ought to be in real peril. If they always survive then the reader won’t buy into the fact they are in danger. So, I’m making it a rule to kill someone I like on a regular basis. (Not to regularly kill the same person. That would be silly. Different people.) Anyway, to answer your question, I’m not telling you.
5) There are many brilliant writers from Scotland; Denise Mina, James Oswald, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, yourself plus Michael J. Malone and Graham Smith who review for Crimesquad and have also had their books published. Why do you think Scottish novelists are so good at crime?
That’s a tough one. We are good at it, no question, but as to why…

My best guess is that we come from a culture of dark minds and black humour that naturally lends itself to crime writing. We live in a tough, confrontational and socially aware society that can be best explored through writing about crime. The important thing is that crime is only a vehicle for what we write, not the end in itself, but it is a perfect fit.

I think Scots writers are inventive, smart, industrious and incredibly modest. It may also be that we are dour, twisted, sadistic and viciously sarcastic. Whatever, it seems to work.
6) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Finish the book. FINISH THE BOOK!

Seriously, finish the book. Don’t give up, don’t think ‘Oh I can’t do this.’ Don’t think ‘This isn’t good enough.’ Finish it and let someone else be the judge of that. Of course, it may turn out not to be good enough but at least you will have had the guts to find out. And the next one will be better for it. And maybe, fingers crossed, that book you had so many doubts about will turn out to be something great. So finish it and find out.
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Yes, I love it. Undoubtedly my favourite genre and why I write what I write.

Three books? Three? How many people do you want me to insult by omission? Okay… um…

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy. Darker than dark dark, stylish and sassy, sultry and sexy and sick.

Laidlaw - William McIlvanney. The beginning (and arguably the end) for Scottish crime fiction. Succinct and insightful as well as acidly, lyrically, accurate.

The Cutting Room - Louise Welsh. Brave and brilliant, this is creepily, wonderfully, engaging and a truly great book.