‘But I persisted, and together we managed to find a believable way to hide a body in a whisky cask. . .’
By T F Muir
Published by Constable & Robinson
The book as . . . memory. What is your first memory of books and reading?
At the age of 6, a children’s book about a family of robin redbreasts nesting in a barn. Don’t ask me the title, or who wrote it, because I haven’t a clue. But I loved looking at the pictures of the robins feeding their young, and I somehow managed to read my way through it.
The book as . . . your work. Tell us about your latest book Dead Still. Is there something in particular you’re setting out to explore?
I hadn’t intended to explore anything in my latest novel, but wanted to write a complex murder mystery, and in doing so ended up learning a bit about the whisky distillery business. Dead Still begins with a body being found in a 25-year old whisky cask during a bottling run. My wife and I had a number of enjoyable trips to our ‘local’ distillery, Glengoyne, to enquire about the practicalities of hiding a body in a cask. At first the distillery staff eyed me with suspicion, and told me emphatically that it couldn’t be done. But I persisted, and together we managed to find a believable way to hide a body in a whisky cask, which required the skills of a cooper, which in turn led me to introducing a new character in the back-story, and further complicating and enhancing the plot. All in all, I’m delighted with the end product, with my publishing editor telling me – much to my relief – that it is one of my best novels so far.
The book as . . . object. What is your favourite beautiful book?
I love browsing through books of photographs, not books about photography, but books that contain photographs taken by professional photographers. A photographer friend has this massive coffee table book entitled Before They Pass Away by the English photographer, Jimmy Nelson. The photographs are stunning, and I could spend hours just easing my way through the pages and revelling in the beauty of Nelson’s work.
The book as . . . inspiration. What is your favourite book that has informed how you see yourself?
The book that inspires me as a novelist is Rose by Martin Cruz Smith. Set in Wigan, in Victorian England, of all places, it tells the story of a disgraced mining engineer, desperate to return to Africa, being persuaded against his will to investigate the disappearance of a curate in the mining town of Wigan, and in so doing, earning his ticket on the next ship back to Africa. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it, but every time I do I am humbled by the power of Cruz Smith’s writing, and his enviable ability to create evocative and atmospheric settings.
The book as . . . a relationship. What is your favourite book that bonded you to someone else?
I came across the timeless bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by John Gray, around about the time I rekindled a relationship with the woman I should have married the first time round. Turned out we were both struggling with the demise of our first marriages, and I’m delighted to say that we’re now happily married to each other.
The book as . . . entertainment. What is your favourite rattling good read?
Oh, this is a difficult one, as I have a number of books that I just love, and which I reread from time to time. Picking one from the pile, I would offer The Fear Index by Robert Harris, another author I admire. The protagonist is a mathematics genius who heads up an investment management firm that administers a hedge fund, but with the decisions to buy or sell stocks for the fund being made by the protagonist’s purpose-designed software, also programmed to learn. This is a gripping thriller in which Harris mixes fact with fiction to create a truly terrifying scenario of Artificial Intelligence taking over control of a company, and culminating in a life or death struggle between the computer system and its creator.
The book as . . . a destination. What is your favourite book set in a place unknown to you?
Again, this is a blast from the past when, at the age of 12, one of my Christmas presents was a semi-pictorial, semi-travelogue, book of countries around the world. To this day, I still have in my mind’s eye an image of a young man, naked except for a loin cloth, swimming deep in the bluest of seas, surrounded by fish of every colour imaginable. The place was in the Far East, which to me at the time was as far away from Scotland as the moon was to Earth. That book fired my imagination and left me with a keen desire to see more of the world than the rain-sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells.
The book as . . . the future. What are you looking forward to reading next?
I have a number of books on my ‘to be read soon’ list, one of them being Martin Cruz Smith’s latest The Siberian Dilemma, which is number 9 on his Arkady Renko series. Coincidentally, Dead Still is number 9 in my DCI Andy Gilchrist series. Another book I’d love to read, if the author will ever get around to finishing it, is The Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes. I read his I am Pilgrim and was blown away by the story-telling and the protagonist’s characterisation, not to mention the most terrifying of plots, which seemed to me to be history just waiting to happen. Closer to home, and perhaps a nice way to end this article for Books from Scotland, is a novel by another Scottish novelist, Peter May. I love his writing, and his latest novel A Silent Death is on my must-read list.
Dead Still by T F Muir is published by Constable & Robinson, priced £19.99
‘With each length, I loosen off. Shoulders, hips, wrists, ankles, neck. Heart pumps. Lungs swell.’