Phil Lecomber was born in 1965 in Slade Green, on the outskirts of South East London—just a few hundred yards from the muddy swirl of the Thames.
Most of his working life has been spent in and around the capital in a variety of occupations. He has worked as a musician in the city’s clubs, pubs and dives; as a steel-fixer helping to build the towering edifices of the square mile (and also working on some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as Tower Bridge); as a designer of stained-glass windows; and—for the last quarter of a century—as the director of a small company in Mayfair specializing in the electronic security of some of the world’s finest works of art.
All of which, of course, has provided wonderful material for a novelist’s inspiration.
Always an avid reader, a chance encounter as a teenager with a Gerald Kersh short story led to a fascination with the ‘Morbid Age’— the years between the wars. The world that Phil has created for the George Harley Mysteries is the result of the consumption and distillation of myriad contemporary novels, films, historical accounts, biographies and slang dictionaries of the 1930s—with a nod here and there to some of the real-life colourful characters that he’s had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with over the years.
So, the scene is now set … enter George Harley, stage left …
Phil lives in the beautiful West Country city of Bath with his wife, Susie. They have two sons, Jack and Ned.
Special interview with Crime Fiction Lovers!
Where to Buy: AmazonBook Depository
1. At any given time do you work on only one story at a time and maybe plot out the next one or are there many ideas racing around your head?
“Mask of the Verdoy” is the first in a series of period crime thrillers set in 1930s. All the books in the series will feature the main protagonist, George Harley, and many of the supporting characters will make reappearances. Whilst writing each book I tend to sow the seeds for a future story. For example, Harley’s arch enemy, Osbert Morkens (the serial killer responsible for the horrific murder of Harley’s fiancée) is only referred to and doesn’t actually appear in the first book—partly to build the back story, but also as a teaser for the second book “The Grimaldi Vaults” in which he’ll play a larger role. The second story is already fully plotted – I just need to find the time amongst all the marketing for the current book to actually get the first draft completed! I’ve also already planned the skeleton plots for at least another three main storylines for Harley’s future outings.
2. Is there a genre you haven't written in but would like to? Or wish you could write in?
2. Is there a genre you haven't written in but would like to? Or wish you could write in?
That’s an interesting question. For the foreseeable future I think I’ll stick with this ‘period crime thriller, mystery’ genre. The previous (unpublished) short stories and books that I’ve written were less of a genre style, more along the lines of general literature. Although I think they had their merits, I don’t think I’d yet found ‘my voice’ so to speak. I went away and thought long and hard about what kind of a book would fire my imagination. For many years now I’ve had a fascination with the 1930s and with the history of London; so I began to read around the subject and then started developing the main character, George Harley. Part of this development was learning how George might talk – which led to some in-depth research on the street slang of the 1930s. After a while I found that I could ‘hear’ him, so to speak—I knew just how he’d respond in certain situations. After that it was a case of plotting the first storyline.
This particular genre gives me great freedom to be both playful with the plotline and to introduce some serious themes into the books: I’ve chosen a kind of retro style of storytelling (akin to those old 1930s adventure movies) which allows for a great dynamic in the pace of the plot; but the setting of the 1930s also allows me to explore some serious subject matter, such as the rise of extremist politics, police corruption, manipulation of the press and changes to the British class system.
3. Do you add an element of romantic suspense in your stories?
Yes, there is a little in there. In the first book George is still grieving for his fiancée, Cynthia; when he meets the beautiful and philanthropic aristocrat, Euphemia Daubeney (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Cynthia) he can’t help falling a little for her. And it soon becomes obvious that the feeling is reciprocated. Given Harley’s views on the British nobility this forces the private detective to do a good bit of soul-searching.
4. Say you have unlimited funds: What kind of writing office/cottage would you create for yourself?
Well, I now live in the beautiful city of Bath (a world heritage site) and have created my writing den at very top of a Georgian townhouse, so I’m not sure that I’d change the view from my window (a mixture of rolling Somerset hills mixed with stunning Georgian architecture) – but perhaps I’d make the window a little larger. And it’s the only room without central heating in the house – so it’s a little cold in the winter!
As far as an ideal writing environment, well maybe it would be interesting to have the interior decorated in the style of a fin-de-siècle decadent novel, a pad worthy of Des Esseintes or Dorian Gray. You know—all red leather reading chairs, wall-to-wall bookshelves and cabinets of curiosities full of shrunken heads, monkeys paws and occult paraphernalia. I’m not sure my wife would approve though.
But you know, if you’re focussed enough, you can write in almost any kind of surroundings; I wrote the majority of “Mask of the Verdoy” crammed into a commuter train on my daily four hour round-trip commute to London.
5. If you could turn your novel into a TV show, which novel or series would you do? Where would it be set? Network TV (ABC, NBC, CBS), Cable (AMC, BBC, Lifetime) or Premium Cable (HBO, Showtime, Starz)?
Early into the first draft of “Mask of the Verdoy” I was pulled away from writing the book to explore the possibility of adapting the story as an internet-streamed motion-capture animated series (I know, it sounds crazy, but it was a serious project for a while). Because of budget constraints this never got off of the ground, but I could still see the story working well in a TV series format.
Now, as it has a period setting (and being a Brit), I think it would be interesting to see what our BBC could do with it – they’re well-known for their exquisite renditions of period dramas. But, of course, it would also be great to see it realized as one of those big-budget HBO series (I was a huge fan of The Sopranos). But if we’re just playing around here with ‘what ifs’ why not Hollywood? …
6. Finally, tell us about your latest release!
As I’ve already mentioned, “Mask of the Verdoy” is a period crime thriller, set in 1930s London. In part an homage to Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock, and to the writings of Gerald Kersh, Patrick Hamilton and the other chroniclers of London lowlife in the 1930s, it also tips its hat to the heyday of the British crime novel—but unlike the quaint sleepy villages and sprawling country estates of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, George Harley operates in the spielers, clip-joints and all-night cafés that pimple the seedy underbelly of a city struggling under the austerity of the Great Depression.
Hopefully the interwar period setting of the series should have an obvious resonance with the present day reader - with the Western world struggling in the grip of a global economic crisis, haunted by past military conflicts and turning to extreme politics as doom-mongers foretell the decline of civilization and the death of capitalism. Sounds familiar, right?
It’s early days, but we’ve already had some very encouraging appraisals. Here are a couple of quotes from recent reviews:
“The smoky and smoggy atmosphere of 1930s London is captured beautifully … The dramatic finale is magnificently melodramatic, and ends the book – an excellent debut – in fine style. 5 STARS!” - (CRIME FICTION LOVER)
“MASK OF THE VERDOY is an enthralling tale of murder and manipulation that’ll place you in 1930’s London. 4 STARS!” – (CRIME THRILLER HOUND)
There’s a lot of Harley’s back-story and further detail about the series on the website: www.georgeharley.com, and to whet your appetite here’s a brief plot outline:
London 1932. A spate of terrorist bombings threatens the devastated residents, who begin to turn to desperate measures to make ends meet. This sense of desperation is reflected in the radical politics of the era; ominously the British Brotherhood of Fascists (BBF), led by Sir Pelham Saint Clair, is gaining popularity, and the Blackshirts’ attitude of prejudice and intolerance to immigrants is spreading fast.
George Harley, a kind-hearted, cockney private detective with a strong but liberal sense of morality, is walking through Piccadilly late one night when he comes across a young rent-boy being roughed up in an alleyway. He scares off the attackers and brings the boy back to his house to recuperate. However, a few days later the house is targeted by a mysterious masked assailant and things take on a dark twist.
Before long Harley finds himself working as a special consultant to the CID (something he swore he’d never do again following the Osbert Morkens case) and is partnered up with Albert Pearson – a young Detective Constable recently seconded to the Metropolitan Police from the West Country, and therefore as yet untainted by the rash of corruption currently infecting Scotland Yard.
At first the streetwise cockney finds Pearson a little too green for city life and he has great fun ribbing this ‘farmer’s boy’ as he tries to get to grips with the perplexing attitudes and customs of the capital – especially its language. On many occasions Harley has to act as interpreter, with all the Yiddish, Polari and rhyming slang leaving the young DC feeling like he’s wandered into a foreign country. But he slowly gains Harley’s respect and they start to make some headway in the case.
The investigation leads the new partners through a shadowy world populated with a cast of colourful and sometimes dangerous characters: in their search for clues they visit spielers run by Jewish mobsters, all-night Soho cafés frequented by jaded streetwalkers and their pimps, East End slums that have become the clandestine hideouts of political extremists, and the decadent and lavish freak parties of the young aristocracy (where Harley can indulge his love of the new Jazz music).
Meanwhile—with the help of jingoistic articles in the Daily Oracle newspaper—the political juggernaut of the BBF trundles on, with Sir Pelham Saint Clair gaining evermore public support for his vision of a fascist Britain. Harley witnesses at firsthand the charismatic effect the Blackshirt leader has on his followers at a BBF rally at the Albert Hall—an event that quickly descends into a pitched battle between the police and the anti-fascist factions demonstrating outside.
Surviving terrorist bombings, the machinations of the corrupt DI Quigg, and the stonewalling of the British nobility, Harley and Pearson follow the clues through the capital’s nefarious underworld eventually uncovering a plot that threatens to undermine the very security of the British nation.
Phil will be awarding a $40 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour!