‘Portsmouth is God’s gift to a working novelist’

INSPIRATION Graham Hurley lived in Portsmouth for 30 years
INSPIRATION Graham Hurley lived in Portsmouth for 30 years
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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He’s a detective inspector with Portsmouth CID, an avid birdwatcher, a widower and father to a deaf-mute son. And he’s about to die.

Portsmouth’s best-loved fictional detective, Joe Faraday, is being killed-off in a new book published on February 2.

Happy Days, the latest book by Faraday’s creator Graham Hurley, brings to an end his series of police procedural crime thrillers which has enjoyed worldwide success. It’s the end of an era.

But, just like famous fictional detectives Morse and Lewis, Graham’s created a spin-off based around one of Faraday’s younger colleagues – DS Jimmy Suttle. And he’s already begun writing the first book in the new series, Western Approaches.

As well as a new protagonist, the new series has a new setting, with Suttle following in his author’s footsteps and moving from Portsmouth to Devon.

Graham, who lived in the city for 30 years before leaving for Exmouth, says: ‘It wouldn’t have happened without Portsmouth.

‘It’s the most distinctive city I’ve ever lived in.

‘Because it’s essentially an island, it’s very crowded and very insular. It’s tribal and passionate.

‘And it’s not a rich place. Many people live cheek by jowl and there are areas of quite serious deprivation.

‘But there are also amazing contrasts. Gunwharf, on the harbour looking outward, is very glitzy and 21st century. But it’s bang next door to Portsea, which is pretty rough. As is Somers Town. But that’s only a mile from Craneswater which is as upmarket as you get in Portsmouth and Southsea.’

He adds: ‘This leads to all sorts of chemistry.

‘Portsmouth is God’s gift to a working novelist and particularly a crime writer. If you subscribe to the theory that society is falling apart, that it’s imploding, then there’s no better city to see that than Portsmouth.’

Graham lived in Old Portsmouth when he created Faraday and continued writing about the city even after he moved to Devon.

He remembers: ‘Back at the end of the last century, in 1999, I’d been writing one-off thrillers, big fat airport books, for more than 10 years.

‘Then Orion offered me a three-book contract to write crime fiction. They’d made a successful corner in the genre with Ian Rankin and his Rebus series.

‘The formula is straight forward: invent a cop, make him distinctive, root him in a real city.

‘Rebus is based in Edinburgh. My mission statement was to do a Rankin on Pompey.

‘The question is “where do you start?”.

‘I had a choice. I could either read everything that’s ever been written in the genre and end up writing bad pastiche crime fiction, or I could get alongside the real guys, listen to them and try to get inside their heads and their hearts.’

Graham continues: ‘In a previous life, I used to make documentaries and the best part was the research, so I fenced-off enough money to live on for a couple of months and I started to shadow the police.

‘I had a very good in to the police in shape of a good friend. Now I have a huge contacts book. People voluntarily step forward and give me a ring or meet me in a pub to tell me the stuff that becomes the jigsaw I create in my mind for a story.’

It wasn’t easy for Graham, as he explains: ‘Detectives are what they say on the tin: suspicious, mistrustful and they don’t open up easily.’

But he gained the trust of Portsmouth police and was invited to join the major crime team on a murder enquiry that went on for more than a year.

From this privileged position, Graham developed his trademark authenticity and realism.

It was this drive to make his work believable that led to his decision that Faraday should die.

Graham explains: ‘Faraday was getting too old. In fact, I made him too old in the first place, because, when I started out, I didn’t think it would go further than three books.

‘It has to be authentic, so the 12 books published over 12 years cover 12 years in real time and Faraday was heading for retirement anyway.

‘I’ve really got to know this guy in my head. It sounds fanciful but it’s true. Faraday has a life of his own. He often dictated the way the story went.

‘No-one was more shocked by the way it ended than I was.

‘But it had to go with the grain of the character and what he would plausibly do.

‘Am I sorry he’s gone? I really am. Could I have changed it? Sadly not.’