Jack Harvey novels


In 1990 my wife and I took a fairly momentous decision. We would give up our jobs in London and move to rural France. Miranda's reasoning went thus: we could buy a house with a plot of land, become self-sufficient, and this would mean I could write full-time. Certainly, it was hard to imagine existing as a full-time writer in London. My meagre earnings from the Inspector Rebus novels wouldn't cover the mortgage, let alone buy us the occasional tin of food. So we found a place in the least sought-after corner of the Dordogne, bought it, and upped sticks. I was suddenly in deepest France, not a word of the language to my name. Miranda started sorting out the garden and soon our fridge overflowed with lettuce, peas and cabbage. We were, however, finding it hard to resist the charms of the many inexpensive restaurants around us, and the house was proving costly to renovate. (We certainly needed help in this department, if my own efforts were anything to go by. I managed to lay a tongue-and-groove floor without realising I should be nailing the planks as I went. The result would have compared well with any world-class trampoline.)

I had time on my hands. The Rebus books were still at this time relatively short and uncomplicated affairs, and took about three months to write. Meantime I was filing away lots of ideas for non-Rebus projects. My agent came up with a plan: a pseudonymous series of mainstream thrillers. Publishers, I was told, don't like to put out more than one book a year by one particular author (though something tells me J.K. Rowling wouldn't have too many problems). The hunt for a suitable name commenced. Miranda had just given birth to our first son, Jack. Her own surname was Harvey. I mulled over 'Jack Harvey' and liked it. Maybe fans of Jack Higgins would be tricked into buying my titles instead of his. I'd already been informed of the psychology of author surnames: you want one in the middle of the alphabet, because most of the time this will ensure you a spot in the middle of the shelves of a bookshop, where the book can be more easily spotted by the casual eye. Jack Harvey seemed to fit the bill.

The first Jack Harvey novel (I'd actually signed a contract for three) was to be called Witch Hunt. Actually, the original title was Witch but everyone said it would be mistaken for a horror novel. I'd already faced similar criticism with my Rebus novel Wolfman (latterly renamed Tooth & Nail) and didn't argue when Witch Hunt was suggested. I've always had a keen interest in the comic books and loved the 'Elektra: Assassin' series. I liked the notion of a female assassin, and wanted to know if I could write a book with a female heroine (or anti-heroine). I suppose Witch Hunt was an experiment; in fact all the Jack Harvey novels were: they were ways of playing with ideas and structural problems outside the scope of my detective series.

After Witch Hunt came Bleeding Hearts. Here, I wanted to play tricks with the reader's mind. I would use first-person narration for the apparent 'baddie' - another professional assassin, but this time with a potentially fatal flaw (haemophilia) - and third-person for the apparent 'good guy', a slimy private detective hired to locate and destroy the hitman. I was hoping readers would come to empathise with the baddie, and be on his side against the private eye. I think it worked. It wasn't until afterwards that a friend (hiya, Sandie) remarked that my private eye, in his habits, lifestyle and personal hygiene, bore a strong resemblance to John Self in Martin Amis's Money. Amis's book was one of my favourite novels, and I think my friend was right. I was either paying homage, or else was trying to write that seductive narrative voice of John Self's out of my system.

For a long time, I didn't have an idea for book three. I wanted some sense of 'closure'. The books weren't selling, and it was unlikely that any publisher would wish to prolong Jack Harvey's life. This was going to be my last book. I had plenty of ideas for plots, but none of them seemed quite right. And then two things happened. One was that I became interested in what I saw as a large-scale conspiracy concerning BSE and the prion proteins responsible for CJD. People who had been trying to uncover or promote the truth had been subject to assaults, threats, and so on. Papers had been ransacked, phones tapped, and at least one person had met an untimely and suspicious end. The other thing was, I went back to my novel Knots and Crosses and started imagining a parallel life for its villain. I started playing with his life, taking John Rebus out of the equation. I decided he'd been to the Falklands, had played an active part in that campaign. I decided he now ran a survival training course in Scotland, too, and involved a cat and mouse game between hero and nemesis. Perfect.

The Jack Harvey books had come to an end of their natural life. A few people had bought them and enjoyed them. They told me as much at readings and signings, and then asked when there would be more. But I was finding by this time that the Rebus books were growing in length and complexity. They were taking seven, eight, nine months to write. They were becoming more popular. They were pushing Jack Harvey aside. I had to concentrate on John Rebus. My days as a 'two-book-a-year' author were numbered.

And the Rebus fans among you may even spot the occasional in-joke.

The books

Blood Hunt by Ian Rankin        Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin        Witch Hunt by Ian Rankin

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