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KNIGHTLEY & SON: 3 OF A KIND, part of the Knightley & Son series by Rohan Gavin, follows talented young detective, Darkus, as he tries to decide if he wants to continue in the footsteps of his detective father - or choose the life of an ordinary teenager.
However, when a family friend is kidnapped, Darkus has little choice but to brush up his detective skills and try to find her. Along with his father, Alan Knightley, and Tilly (another promising teenaged detective), they follow the clues to Los Angeles but discover that their enemies are waiting for them...
We asked author Rohan Gavin to tell us more about plotting detective novels, creating convincing villains - and Area 51.
Q: What draws you to writing detective novels?
A: I think I have always liked the idea of looking at the world in a strange way so I loved detective stories that questioned the world and reality and people's motives. That always seems like a fun way to get into a story.
Detective stories have a built-in mystery that needs to be solved but you can also slip in more complex ideas and emotions, so in Knightley & Son I've also created a rather dysfunctional family. I wanted the family to be a modern one, so you have step siblings and a missing father; the detectives are tidy thinkers in a messy situation.
Q: How hard is it to write a detective novel?
A: There are a lot of things about a detective novel that are fixed. You know that there will be a crime with clues, a suspect, and a resolution.
To keep it interesting you can get away with creating quite unusual situations. I remember learning at film school that everyone has something about them that makes them unique, so your characters need to be distinguishable and memorable. In a detective novel, I think you can push that a bit further so several of my characters are quite eccentric.
The plotting of each novel comes to me as I write because when you're writing a detective novel, it's like you're almost on the investigation yourself. As Darkus opens the door, you're wondering what he'll find in the hotel room. At one point he finds a jar of pickles which I'd not planned at all but it was perfect for that situation.
Q: Why did you make your main villains in Knightley & Son a group of business men?
A: The Combination is a small, elite group that tries to influence governments and commerce in its favour. I decided to have a group of villains because these days it's harder to have just one villain. It's just too arch to have one bad person saying 'I want to have all the money in the world and everyone has to wear green', and I didn't want to limit myself to just one villain.
My villains are indistinguishable from a lot of ordinary businessmen; they don't have a scar on the cheek, they are ordinary-looking people. I thought LA was a good place to play with this idea because there you have powerful figures playing games with the rest of us through film.
Q: Darkus gets some, but not many, gadgets to help him during his investigations. Weren't you tempted to give him more?
A: There are gadgets in the book but I don't like to have a gadget for everything; Darkus even uses his library card to help with one escape.
I think you have to limit yourself to a couple of gadgets and they can only be used once. I also like to make sure that, when the gadget is used, the reader has forgotten all about it, so you have to leave a good space between introducing the gadget and using it.
Q: Why does the character Tilly, Darkus's stepsister, get a much bigger role in Knightley & Son: 3 of a Kind?
A: Tilly started in the earlier books as a more secondary character but she came alive and began to contribute more to the story and I wanted to see more of her. So '3 of a Kind', tells the reader that there are now three of them; she is an equal partner in their investigations.
Tilly seems to catch people's imagination. I remember visiting one school, the Isaac Newton Academy in Ilford, where the whole of Year 7 had read Knightley & Son and done some art work around it, which was amazing.
There was one girl who had done this picture of Tilly blocking her ears and there are all these questions around her head that really capture the character and predict some of the themes I work around in the third book - which the students hadn't yet read of course. It felt a little like she had read my mind.
Q: Why did you decide to take your characters to Hollywood in the US during this adventure?
A: I used to live in LA, in Hollywood when I worked as a screen writer so I know the area and I enjoyed the idea of taking these very English characters out of their comfort zone.
Hollywood has always been quite fascinating and glamorous but it also has its seedy parts. In the book, I've tried to describe an LA that you don't see every day, so the characters find themselves in a run-down motel and there's a suspect who falls off the Hollywood sign (although in reality that sign is quite hard to get to). I've also taken gentle fun out of US customs like tipping; Darkus notices that every time someone opens the door you have to pay them!
Q: Given how down-to-earth Darkus is, why do you take the family of detectives to Area 51 in LA?
A: Sherlock's author Arthur Conan Doyle became very interested in unexplained phenomena in his later life, so visiting the Extra-terrestial Highway or Area 51 in the States is a nod to that. I've driven down the route myself which was good fun because it really is full of UFO memorabilia; it's the Holy Grail for UFO spotters.
Area 51 does exist but you can't go near it. I tend to think it's somewhere they experiment with new technologies but it would be funny if they had convinced us it was UFO's as a cover for their new developments.
Like Darkus, I'm a very logical, practical person but I do question things we are told. I don't believe in ghosts but I do sometimes believe in conspiracies. There has been an explosion of conspiracy theories as a result of the internet; you can get thousands of versions of one event so it's much harder now for people to get away with things because there are so many versions of the truth out there.
Q: What was the most challenging part of Knightley & Son: 3 of a Kind to write?
A: I found writing the family situation quite challenging and finding a way to resolve all the different family situations.
I also wanted all the characters to come together at the end so orchestrating that was a challenge. The idea was to get everyone into the same place and resolve the story then. It's called the 'locked room mystery', where you confine all the characters in one place and then have to work out the mystery.
Q: Has being a parent changed how you see the relationship between Darkus and his father?
A: When I wrote the first Knightley & Son book, I didn't have a child but my son is now four and it does change how you see things. I'd never want my own son to get involved in anything dangerous, yet Darkus's father wants his son to develop his detective skills. This exposes Darkus to a lot of dangers; social services certainly wouldn't approve!
So being a father myself has changed how I have written the last two books. In the second book I wanted it to become very difficult between the father and son while the third book, in which Darkus has to choose whether he wants to be a detective or to have a 'normal' childhood, is more of a resolution.
Each of the books can be read on their own but I think it's a richer reading experience to read one after the other.
Q: How do you relax when you're not writing?
A: When I'm not writing, I like to hang out with my son and we play music together; he does drums and I do bass. I'm also teaching him to ride a bike.
Plus I'm always looking out for suspicious characters and crimes to solve, although nothing's happened on my patch yet. I've even bought my son a magnifying glass but I don't think he's quite ready to take on a crime...