- 31 Oct 18
Paul Charles’ A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom – the latest installment in the Brendan McCusker series – is both a love letter to Belfast and a gripping thriller.
The old adage says when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. This seems to be the motto celebrated author and legendary manager Paul Charles lives by. Though he has a number of successful novels under his belt, Charles started out by managing the band The Blues By Five when he was just 15, printing the local telephone box number on his business cards.
“In those days, there were people who made music and people who helped people make music,” he reflects. “In order to be able to continue to hang out with my friends who had formed The Blues By Five, I became the manager.”
It was during this time Charles’ love of writing developed.
“I was writing stuff to send out to newspapers,” he explains. “I would also ring up local journalists and ask them if they could do a write-up of my band. But then I started to enjoy it and have great fun doing it. I began to write the great Irish novel and, time after time, it ended up the biggest pile of rubbish I had ever read, and I’d throw it all out. I realised that the key for me was having a secret to keep the reader involved. In my case, that was who did it, how they did it, and why.”
Undoubtedly, this process of revelation is a key ingredient of Charles’ latest crime novel A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom, which sees retired detective Brendan McCusker return for a second outing.
“When I write, I don’t know who the murderer is,” Charles notes. “I start off on this great adventure, the same as the reader. A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom begins by focusing on a married couple – one of whom is Louis Bloom, a lecturer in Queen’s University. He’s at home with his wife, about to watch The Fall on TV, and decides he’s going to throw his daily rubbish in the dustbin. So he says goodbye to his wife and is never seen alive again. Then my detective, Brendan McCusker, and his partner Lily O’Carroll investigate a day in his life – which turns out to be the last day of his life – to find out what happened.”
Charles has a wealth of experience in the crime genre, from his past Kennedy and Starett novels, and the McCusker series delivers the same blend of mystery and engaging protagonists. However, the author’s focus is not on the grislier aspects of thriller-dom, but rather on exploration of character.
“I’m always trying to get some kind of understanding of how a person comes to a position where they’re prepared to take another life. But if you’re not careful, you can celebrate the murderer more than the victim, particularly in today’s society. I always focus on the big gap that’s left by someone ceasing to be, because that’s what’s pulling the writer, the reader and the detective into the story.”
The book is set in Belfast and is in part a love letter to the city’s sights, sounds and history, which are interlaced with the main plot. “I was there for book promotions a few years ago,” reflects Charles. “I started to walk around the city again, which I hadn’t done for years. There are just so many wonderful buildings, streets and alley ways, and for me that’s always another character in the book. I thought, okay, I want to write about Belfast, I just need a reason to bring McCusker there, so I can combine them both. That’s how the McCusker series started.”
Charles’ ability to deftly weave in these real-life details helps bring the story fully to life.
“The PSNI station in the book is the Customs House and the real thing is sinking,” he says. “It might only be an eighth of an inch every year, but they have monitors in all the walls. So in the book, one of the DIs that no one really likes is always sent down to monitor the sinkage. You put those bits of the story in by showing something about the characters – you don’t have to invent anything.”
The characters also have an authenticity that Charles has fine-tuned throughout his writing career.
“You can’t just give them a name, you need to give them a personality,” he says. “They need a different kind of humour, and you have to let them react to people in a different way – the way people in real life would act with each other.”
McCusker, for example, has a trademark line of questioning that asks, “What were your dreams, who did you love?” to get to the heart of a case. As it turns out, this is also an important avenue for Charles when exploring his protagonists.
“I’m very passionate about that,” he says. “Even to be able to admit what their dreams are, it says a lot about a person. There’s a lyric by Gordon Lightfoot, which says, ‘John loves Mary, does anyone love me?’ It’s just one line, but I thought that was the saddest story I have ever read in my life. It says everything. What were your dreams and who did you love is a big window you can open into a character. If you can discover that, you can learn a lot.”
A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom is out now, published by Dufour Editions.