Tony Parsons on Detective Max Wolfe

'A good man who wants to be better': Parsons tells us about wanting to create a crime fiction hero worthy of the genre he loves

max wolf

A serial hero

I have loved crime fiction my whole life and I know that the very best of it honours the form while adding something fresh, an unexpected twist. That's what I tried to do with The Murder Bag every step of the way. With the murderer. With his crimes. With the weapon. With the location. With The Black Museum. And most of all, with my detective – a single parent, an amateur boxer, a coffee-addicted insomniac who is a good man but who wants to be better.

Detective Max Wolfe feels very real to me, and I think that's why the book has been supported by some of the greatest thriller and crime writers in the world. If you will forgive me for a solo on my own trumpet for a second, the great Lee Child said of The Murder Bag: 'Spectacular! Tense but human, fast but authentic – maybe this is what Tony Parsons should have been doing all along.'

I wanted to create a serial hero, one of those mythic characters like Sherlock Holmes, or Sam Spade, or Philip Marlowe, or Harry Hole. So to get the nod from Lee Child is great, because nobody has created a more brilliant serial hero in recent years than Lee Child has with his Jack Reacher.

A sense of place

My first job in journalism was at New Musical Express; but my first piece of journalism that didn't involve hanging out with rock stars was soon after I left the NME, when I was embedded with the Vice Squad at 27 Savile Row, West End Central.

The roots of The Murder Bag start there.

When I was creating the world of Max Wolfe, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was give my crime novel an evocative sense of place – like Los Angeles in the novels of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, or Edinburgh in the Rebus novels by Ian Rankin, or Brighton in the Roy Grace novels of Peter James – and my home city is London. 27 Savile Row felt like an original location and it had a nice ring to it, like Sherlock Holmes at home strumming the violin in Baker Street.

The London of The Murder Bag is contemporary London but the past weighs heavily because London is full of ghosts. So it is also the London of Jack the Ripper, the Krays and The Black Museum – which is Room 101 at New Scotland Yard, closed to the public, where the relics of 150 years of terrible crimes are kept to remind policemen that they risk their lives every time they go to work. The Black Museum is important to The Murder Bag and crucial to my detective: The Black Museum is where Max Wolfe goes to seek wisdom and guidance from a man who is to become his greatest ally. But I don't want to spoil the book...

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