The Autumn Muders, the third in Robert Gott’s Murders series, is released this month, so we asked Robert led to him writing crime fiction.
It was an ambition of mine, nurtured by a childhood filled with books, to write a novel. I don’t think it was a crime novel I wanted to write particularly. However, when I sat down to begin a novel the question of what it might be about needed to be settled. I wasn’t interested in science fiction or fantasy, and I was determined not to go down the route of the autobiographical first novel. What I really wanted to do was write a comedy. Still, I needed a plot.
There was a story I’d grown up with, the gruesome nature of which had always fascinated me. I was born in Maryborough, in Queensland, and spent the early part of my childhood there. Everyone who grows up in Maryborough knows the tragic story of Molly Thompson, who went missing one morning in 1942. She was in her early twenties and the search for her was followed each day in the newspaper. The town was riveted. A week or so later she was found, decomposing in the town’s water tower. This meant of, course, that everyone in the town had been drinking her, brushing their teeth with her, and washing their hair with her. This included my parents. You can see why the story struck a chord. Molly’s death was a sad case of suicide following a deep depression, but people wouldn’t let go of the erroneous belief that she had been murdered.
Here were the bare bones of a story, and 1942 seemed like an interesting time in Australia to set a novel. I was resistant to writing a traditional crime novel. I didn’t want the main character to be a detective. I had a crime, and a period. All I needed was a cast of characters. Because my preference was for comedy I decided to write in the voice of an egomaniacal but incompetent actor, William Power. This meant that I’d have to know no more about crime solving than he did. Making him an actor also allowed me to explore the really interesting world of the entertainment profession during the war. The period was also convenient because it was before DNA. The challenge was to write a whodunit through the eyes of someone too dim to see the clues.
There are currently four novels in the William Power series, and three novels in the much darker Murders series. This series is set in Melbourne in 1943/44 and although it to some extent occupies the same geographical space as the William Power novels, the characters from one could never meet the characters from the other. This series was written in response to a suggestion from publisher Henry Rosenbloom that I try something more serious. (Although the business of comedy is serious, I saw his point.) The Murders series allows me to explore politics, prejudice, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, sectarianism, and misogyny — all themes that have echoes in today’s world. Despite these novels having an historical setting, the bleak nature of human behaviour is timeless.
The fact that I write historical crime fiction is a sort of accident — a happy accident. I’d always favoured reading historical crime fiction over contemporary crime fiction, and the experience of researching and writing historical crime fiction has proved to be deeply satisfying and entertaining.