I’d like to begin by wishing everybody a belated Happy New Year. I hope you all had a good Christmas with lots of lovely crime novels in your Christmas stockings.
I can’t believe time passes so quickly these days. I finish a novel and before I know it, it’s out there on the shelves of bookshops and libraries. I received my author copies of THE MECHANICAL DEVIL about ten days ago – and very fine they look too.
It’s hard now to believe that the entire book began with a newspaper article about the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC loaning a sixteenth century robot to the Science Museum in London for an exhibition (alongside a photograph of a small wooden figure with the most sinister face I’ve ever seen). This began a process of research that was to end with the creation of Wesley Peterson’s twenty second investigation.
The ancient robot whose photograph caught my attention was just fifteen inches high, made of wood and iron and dressed in the robes of a friar. It had been made by a Spanish clockmaker on the orders of King Philip II of Spain (of Armada fame) to provide instant prayer at the turn of a key and, once wound up, the ‘little friar’ as it was known walked forward moving its lips in prayer and raising and lowering its arms as its eyes followed the movement. Its purpose was to ‘pray’ for Philip’s son, Don Carlos (the subject of Verdi’s famous opera), who had suffered a life threatening fall. Incidentally, Carlos did recover on that occasion but the ‘little miracle worker’s’ effect didn’t last; the prince was later imprisoned by his father and died in solitary confinement.
My first impression was that its painted wooden face, with its hooked nose and articulated mouth reminiscent of one of those creepy ventriloquist’s dummies, looked very creepy. Although it was designed to provide comfort to the sick Don Carlos, I felt there was something distinctly evil about it and the image of its face stuck in my mind as I started to write THE MECHANICAL DEVIL.
The story begins when a small lead coffin is found by workmen digging up the road near a medieval church on Dartmoor; a coffin that turns out to contain a small robot (not unlike King Philip’s). But what is it doing buried there in an isolated Dartmoor village? And could this strange find have a connection to a manor house destroyed by fire during the reign of King Henry VIII; a house that once stood in the very field where two strangers have just been found dead, possibly the victims of a professional killer? With the disappearance of an MP’s teenage daughter and a series of disturbing events at Wesley’s home, the police have to deal with a case that’s both sensitive and baffling. And as the investigation continues things turn very dark and the lives of those close to Wesley are put in danger.
I do hope you enjoy THE MECHANICAL DEVIL – and that you don’t have nightmares about fifteen inch high robots taking over the world!
And I’d like to finish by thanking everyone who’s borrowed my books from libraries this year. It’s so good to know that my work’s been enjoyed so much. THANK YOU.