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A Quick Five With Mark Billingham


1.) DEATH MESSAGE. I want to put an exclamation point after that. It’s so very dramatic. Tell me about this next book and how you came up with this fabulous title. And, yes, despite the lack of a question mark, this is a question.

“Delivering the ‘death message'” is what police officers call it when they have to tell someone that a loved one has died. When I heard that the hairs on my neck stood up and I knew what I wanted to write about. I knew the book would begin with someone receiving a death message in the worst possible circumstances. It’s a Columbo type book, in that the issue is never who the killer is. I bloody LOVE Columbo. Did you know it was based on “Crime And Punishment”? Really. Almost as good as the fact that it had Johnny Cash in it*. DEATH MESSAGE draws a line under a few of the stories that have been evolving through the series. It’s one of the reasons that the next book will be a standalone.

2.) “If at the end of a chapter I look back and think I’m in exactly the same place as when that chapter started, then I know it needn’t be there. Literary fiction can do this, crime fiction can’t.” What else differentiates mystery from other genres and are those reasons why you chose this genre to write?

I write crime fiction because it’s what I love to read. It’s what I’ve ALWAYS loved to read. Without wishing to crack open the literary vs mystery can of worms, I don’t think anyone ever read a mystery novel because some literary critic told them that they should. Not too many people plough through dreary mystery novels because they think there’s something wrong with them if they aren’t enjoying it; because they feel that it must be good for them. What else? Er…There aren’t nearly enough car chases in literary fiction, or people named Bubba. But then again, not that many literary novels have quilting patterns or pasta recipes, so maybe it all evens out.

3.) What made you evolve from the fresh-faced lad of the SLEEPYHEAD author photo to the rock star scruff of the BURIED author photo?

Bloody hell, it’s only been six years! OK, well let’s say that we (A) accept your cavalier usage of the word “scruff” and (B) ignore the fact that I was eventually given a photographer who didn’t believe in touching up photos…I can only put it down to the heavy, dread step of Old Father Time.

And beer.

And fags.

4.) Why is there such a difference between English and Amerispeak, as I refer to it? My spellcheck goes into overdrive with UK email.

You’re right of course. There is a world of difference between the two, as witnessed by the fact that several VERY juvenile Americans (and John Connolly) will have tittered at the use of the word “fags” in my previous answer. I don’t know why there is such a difference, but it does provide bartenders in Madison with a good laugh when Brits ask for Worcestershire Sauce and insist on pronouncing “aluminium” as it should be pronounced, with ALL FIVE SYLLABLES. It’s a fine language we gave you. I don’t know why you went and messed it up.

5.) What do you most regret having spent money on?

Beer and fags. (Shut up, Connolly). And helping that Nigerian millionaire move money out of the country. And Viagra…