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BOOKS: Neil Lancaster on the journey from investigating serious crime to plotting his own best-selling thrillers

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Neil Lancaster (56) served 25 years in the Met where he investigated serious crimes from murder to fraud and drug trafficking before turning to writing his own thrilling plot twists.

Now, the former policeman has set up home on the Black Isle with his wife and son where he concentrates on creating crime thrillers. “Once I has left the Met, I found myself with lots of time on my hands and not much else to do other than walk my dog,” he recalls. “It was at this point that, almost out of nowhere, I decided to see if I could write a book. I had given it no more thought than that, but was reading loads, and just fancied giving it a shot. One day I opened my laptop, with a vague idea, and began writing.”

Debut novel

His first novel Gong Dark was published a year later, with two more novels quickly following suit. Then the seeds for the first book in his DS Max Craigie crime series were sown, “I came up with the idea for Dead Man’s Grave after the elderly father of a friend told me about a spooky grave he found in a remote graveyard in Caithness. It sparked an idea, and before I knew it, I had written Dead Man’s Grave.”

Two disappearances mean that DS Craigie is on the trail of a killer once more in The Blood Tide, where the action takes a sinister turn into his own past and spells danger for those closest to him.

The Blood Tide is the second novel in the DS Max Craigie series.

According to Neil, this story also has its roots in true life crime, “I read about the UK government’s concerns that drug smuggling using small craft into the tidal sea-lochs of the west coast was seen as a real threat,” he explains. “It just struck me as a really interesting concept to explore.

“I visualised a lone fisherman in a small craft in the dead of the night navigating a remote sea-loch. I could feel his fear as he came ashore with a big bag of contraband, and what would happen if the wrong people were waiting for him. It just felt so dark and atmospheric, that I knew I had the beginnings of a good story.”

Authentic and compelling

Neil’s experience working on serious crime brings his stories a gritty authenticity that is hard to achieve through research alone. “The professional experience helps a great deal,” he agrees, “as it means I can be authentic without having to do much research, but really it’s all about the story. Being a cop gave me the ability to express myself in writing, but I think the ability to construct a story is more of an instinct, I think. My only motivation is to tell a gripping page-turner, and story trumps all.”

Alongside the character of DS Craigie, the Scottish landscape has a huge part to play in Neil’s writing, “The duality of the Scottish scenery, and weather just lends itself to atmospheric stories,” he says. “The fact that it can be a stunningly beautiful one second, only to be followed by heavy rain, haar, driving winds or (even worse) clouds of midges. I think that it just adds layers of tension.”

Looking ahead there seems to be no stopping the adventures of Max Craigie: “The third Max Craigie book, The Night Watch is written, and edited and will be coming out in September. I’m really excited about it. It’s a slightly new direction for Max and the team, but it’s full of twists and turns, nasty bad-guys and hopefully readers are going to love it.”

New book deal

“I’ve also just signed a new deal for three more Max Craigie novels, so there’s lots more to come, which is great. I’m loving writing this series, particularly now I have established a nice cast of characters that form the team. So you’ll be hearing much more from Max, Janie, Ross, Norma and Barney for a good while yet.”

The Blood Tide, by Neil Lancaster is available now, £8.99.