Bad People: Craig Wallwork
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
People love crime novels based on true events, and the residents of Stormer Hill are no exception until Alex Palmer decides to use the disappearances of their village’s children as the basis for his next book. Building a rapport with the residents is difficult enough, and Palmer’s police background incites even more hostility from the local force. Detective Tom Nolan is already frustrated by the lack of progress on the case – three missing kids, no bodies, no evidence, no witnesses – so when he’s tasked with chaperoning Palmer through the crime scenes, his willingness to cooperate with the author is in short supply. But there’s at least one person keen to meet Palmer. Someone who knows exactly where the children are and thinks the author is the perfect person to bear witness to a masterpiece in the making.
Bad People is a thrilling read, filled with unique twists and gruesome violence. As the story progresses, popping between the primary characters points of view, there’s a real sense that no one is a hundred percent innocent. All of them have skeletons in their closets and peeking in on those vulnerable moments made me feel voyeuristic as a reader, which is no easy feat and is really a testament to the strength of Craig Wallwork’s writing chops.
Throughout the novel we catch characters in their most intimate thoughts, things they would never dare utter to anyone else, such as Palmer’s guilt over the death of his police partner, and Nolan’s inappropriate attraction to the mother of one of the missing children. These details are more than just throwaway background pieces of information. They’re at the heart of the characters, driving their motivations, and in turn drawing the reader even closer to each of them as we understand why they act upon some clues while dismissing others.
As strong as the characters are, the plot is equally well executed. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, trying to fit all the links together and figure out who the mastermind was behind the missing children. Early on I had my suspicions of who the criminal was, which were later confirmed, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story one bit. I’m not sure if the author intended to reveal the perpetrator when I found it or if I was just particularly bright that day – I suspect the former, as I’m usually dreadfully slow in solving mysteries – and in the end it didn’t matter. Shifting my focus from a whodunit to a “whydunit” didn’t hamper my engagement in the story. And wow, the climax where the criminal motivations are revealed was a gut-punch I wasn’t expecting!
I have no doubt that fans of crime fiction will thoroughly enjoy Bad People, but there’s a lot in this book for horror fans too. From a scene where someone’s face is removed with a cordless sander to bloody piglet carcasses left behind as clues, to a room of salt-cured cadavers, the author cleverly uses gore to enhance the intensity of the story.
While this is the first time I’ve read anything by Craig Wallwork it certainly won’t be the last! I’m highly anticipating the follow up to Bad People, called Labyrinth of the Dolls which continues the story of Detective Tom Nolan and should be available later this summer.
The Kendall Reviews Post Review Interview
J.A. Sullivan & Craig Wallwork
JAS: Throughout Bad People you manage to walk the thin line between crime fiction and the horror genre. Was it difficult to meld these two genres together?
CW: Horror has always been my go-to genre. I favour reading horror. I love watching horror too (I’m currently binging on horror movies from the 1970s to the 1980s at the moment). Whereas crime is something that’s never pulled me in. That was until I read Thomas Harris. Harris taught me you could blur the line between thriller and horror, and once that gate was open, I was smitten. I think the only crime novel I’d read prior to Harris was a Karen Slaughter book, so I had little to no frame of reference to the pace, prose style and potential tropes. But I work in that world, and every day I would hear real detectives talk about cases they’d been involved in, or things they’d seen. They say write what you know, and here I was, in the buckle of the detective department, and I’d never once considered writing a police procedure novel! So I changed that. I came up with the idea of a missing child story, and leant on knowledge I had gleaned over the years, and what I didn’t know, I asked the detectives. I experienced a lot of strange looks to begin with, and I can’t recall how many times I had to temper my questions with, “No, honestly, I’m researching a book I’m writing!” Not many people have that opportunity, so I’m privileged in that respect. The end result was Bad People.
JAS: Even though I’ve barely spent time in the UK, you depicted the setting of Stormer Hill with such detail that I felt as though I’ve been there. Is it a real location or based on places you’ve been?
CW: Location was very important. I’m no Tolkien, so I had to base it on things I see daily. For this reason, Stormer Hill is loosely based on the village where I live in West Yorkshire. When one of the characters, Gram Slade, is on the bus, all the things he sees are actual places in the village. We’re also surrounded by moorland, which kind of acts like a third character in the novel. Historically, the moors are laden with their own horrors and sadness due to serial killers like Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, so transposing the creepiness and its barren landscape came easy. The name of Stormer Hill comes from a small tea room near Blackstone Edge, which again, isn’t too far from where I live. Free promotion!
JAS: Without giving too much away, the painting “The Last Judgement” by Hieronymus Bosch is an important image in the novel. Were you always fascinated by this artwork or did you happen upon it while researching imagery for the book?
CW: I studied art at college so I knew of his work, but never considered he’d be such a keystone in the book. In truth, Bosch arrived accidentally while researching cults. I ended up wandering down a rabbit hole one day on the Internet and ended up stumbling on this weird heretical sect called the Brethren of the Free Spirit. Though there’s no confirmation of this, it was said Bosch was a member. Their manifesto was very skewed and went along the lines of, God is incarnate in everything, so that means everything is God. Therefore, everything is good, which means there can be no such thing as sin. If there’s no sin, you could pretty much do what you want without consequence or guilt. This became the foundations to the horrific crimes committed in the novel. If anyone hasn’t seen Bosch’s paintings, they’re really dark, twisted, surreal and biblical renderings filled with debauchery, sin and human failings, the very things that sew the pages of Bad People together.
JAS: What can you tell us about your next Tom Nolan book, Labyrinth of the Dolls?
CW: It picks up a year on from the murders at Stormer Hill. Tom Nolan, the detective from Bad People, has just joined the Murder Investigation Team. His first job involves a serial killer who, after killing their victims, dresses them to look like human dolls. This was partly inspired by true events. There was a Russian man who killed several women, dressed them as dolls, and kept them in his bedroom where he lived with his mum and dad. I think he used to sew clocks under their skin so it sounded like a heartbeat. Though Labyrinth of the Dolls will feature a new serial killer, I will say that the events of Stormer Hill still resonate in Labyrinth of the Dolls. And to all those who read Bad People, there are answers waiting to questions you may have.
JAS: Did you always know that you would write more than one novel featuring Detective Tom Nolan? Or was there a specific point in writing Bad People that you knew his story wasn’t over?
CW: I never saw myself as a crime writer. It’s not my world. So I promised myself that I’d try it, and then once it was done, assess it to see if I could squeeze another one out. However, as the story progressed, I started to like Tom Nolan. For me, the Jack Reachers of this world are good looking and strong. Women want to be carried in their arms. Men want to be like them. They were not the people I saw daily at work. Nolan is insecure, overweight, flawed and desperate for love. He is human. So during the writing, I knew there was more to be explored with his character. I think people will like him. They root for him because some of his insecurities are universal. So, I definitely wanted to give him more pages, but I’d reached a point in Bad People where the plot took over and I had to wrap it up, so to speak. That’s why I decided to label it Tom Nolan Book 1. That gave me the freedom to bleed the plot over into the second, and of course, allow me the opportunity to really flesh out Nolan’s character. Readers will get to know him more in the second book. They may even find him endearing.
JAS: As an author of both short stories and novels, do you find one form easier to write than the other?
CW: I prefer shorts. Novels are needy, demanding creatures. They suck the life out of you at times. I guess in part my dislike for novels comes from knowing there are things out there that need my attention. During lockdown, we decorated the house. Normally, this might take a week, but as soon as I committed to it, I painted the living room and dining room in the shortest amount of time possible without compromising on detail. I plunge too deep into things, I think. I become completely focussed on the task at hand. This is why I prefer short stories because you can rattle them off very quickly. I love, absolutely love writing a short story, and then not remember writing it. In the frenzy of creation, time holds no consequence. It’s just you and the words. But when you know you’re writing, when you feel that drag of time, it takes the fun out of it. Novels, by their nature, mean that more time is needed to make the world you’ve created believable, and sometimes that drag is more apparent. That said, I don’t really recall the amount of time I spent writing Labyrinth, or Bad People. They were very quick writes in comparison to other novels I’ve done. So maybe there’s a compromise to be had here, or that I’ve found a genre that I enjoy.
JAS: What are you working on now?
CW: I’m currently editing the manuscript to Labyrinth of the Dolls. I learnt a lot from Bad People, and I listened to reviewers, so this time around I wanted the prose tighter, the pace quicker. I want people to hit the boards running and not draw a breath until they turn that final page. It’s also important it goes through a rigorous proofreading stage. While it’s in that phase, I’ll probably write some other short stories for a collection I’m putting together, and I may release a book I wrote some years ago called Heart of Glass about a man who has a hereditary heart condition that means he’ll die before he reaches thirty years old. To cope, he meets this strange woman and they both go on a killing spree so he can witness death firsthand. It’s a twisted love story similar to Natural Born Killers. Other than that, I may paint another room in the house.
JAS: I’d sincerely like to thank Craig Wallwork for taking the time to speak with me.
THREE MISSING CHILDREN. Over the past three years, the quiet Yorkshire village of Stormer Hill has lost three of its children. No bodies were ever discovered. No evidence found. No witnesses.
THE WRITER. Struggling to find inspiration for his new novel, celebrated crime author, and ex-police officer, Alex Palmer, believes the story of the missing children could end his writer’s block, but is he prepared for the story that’s about to develop?
THE DETECTIVE. Tom Nolan, a seasoned detective and loner involved in finding each missing child. Nolan is tasked with chaperoning Palmer and walking through each case. But as both men revisit the past, and dig deeper, neither are prepared for the chilling discovery to why the children were taken.
THE BRETHREN. A secret cult. Two men, and a series of brutal and unimaginable murders spanning over seven years with one intention; to show the world that death can be justified if it’s for a greater good.
Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels, Bad People, Labyrinth of the Dolls, and The Sound of Loneliness, as well as the short story collections, Quintessence of Dust, and Gory Hole. His stories have been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, many of which feature in various anthologies and magazines both in the U.K. and U.S. He currently lives in England.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan