As further evidence of my slow decline into middle age, my wife and I have recently been listening to a lot of podcasts from the archive of Desert Island Discs. We sit on the sofa in front of the fire, staring into space, and it feels almost as it might have done for our grandparents tuning into the wireless. Last week we heard Sue Lawley talking to PD James, a fascinating interview in which the writer’s strength and zest for life positively reverberated from the iPhone’s tiny speakers. One particular thing she spoke about struck a chord, namely the paradox that tales of violence and murder can give a strange comfort to readers in difficult periods of their lives.
Suddenly I was sent back in time. My wife and I were sitting on the same sofa, though in very different circumstances. We’d just had our first child, Jack, a wonderful event, but one for which we were both utterly ill-prepared. After various complications and returns to hospital, we were finally left alone with our infant son. It soon became clear that neither of us had the first idea how to care for a bawling, angry sleep-refusenik. We found ourselves circling our one-bedroom basement flat in a baffled, zombie state, wondering what on earth had happened to our lives and if they would ever return to normal. Day and night blended into one during those early weeks (we have since named it ‘the baby hole’), but in the brief moments when our son did sleep, we dug around in the bottom drawer of the TV cabinet and got stuck into crime box sets.
First came Morse, then Foyle, then Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and Smiley’s People. Often we would nod off before the end of an episode, and the disc would return to the main menu, the music seeping into our ears on an endless loop, running rings around our fuddled brains. Hearing just a single bar of the theme tunes today can send me back to that strange, unreal time with Pavlovian efficiency.
But what comfort those stories gave. Amid the murder and mayhem, Detective Chief Inspector Morse, DCS Foyle and George Smiley remained beacons of decency. Flawed, cantankerous, but always on the side of the angels. PD James spoke of the structure of crime stories and the defeat of evil as the principal sources of comfort, but for me – in the depths of the baby hole – it went further. The detectives became idealized father figures: they would always know what was best and how to put things right. Somewhere out there existed a real grown up, an individual you could rely on.
In the end, my wife and I just about worked out how to handle a newborn, and life became a little easier – at least until Molly turned up fourteen months after her brother. The box sets returned to the drawer and we started to read books again and watch normal TV. But I still feel a debt of gratitude to those shows, and in my own fictional crime hero – Gibraltarian lawyer Spike Sanguinetti – I’ve tried to create a character whose own sense of compassion and justice might give a little comfort – as well as entertainment – to readers.
© Thomas Mogford, March 2015
Thomas Mogford has worked as a journalist for ‘Time Out’ and as a translator for the European Parliament and UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set around the Mediterranean. “Shadow of the Rock” introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client. It was shortlisted for the 2013 New Blood Dagger Award for best new crime writer. The sequel, “Sign of the Cross”, was shortlisted for the 2014 CrimeFest eDunnit Award. The third novel in the series, “Hollow Mountain” – described by ‘The Sunday Times’ as ‘a classic detective story’ – was one of the ‘Guardian”s ‘Summer Books’ of 2014. The fourth ‘Spike Sanguinetti’ book, “Sleeping Dogs”, was published by Bloomsbury in April 2015. Thomas Mogford lives with his family in London.
Find out more on Thomas Mogford’s CRA Profile.