After a late night out in Covent Garden, Alyshia D’Cruz, a beautiful woman in her twenties, gets into the back of a London taxi a little worse for wear and comes round to find herself kidnapped.
Her father, Frank D’Cruz, an Indian billionaire and ex-Bollywood actor, appoints Charles Boxer, a freelance kidnap consultant, to advise him on the best way to negotiate for his daughter’s release.
Boxer is ex-Army (Gulf War 1991), ex Metropolitan Police (homicide) and after 15 years service, has just left GRM, the premier private security company that handles 70% of worldwide kidnaps. Wealthy businessmen in the know like to hire Boxer because recently he’s taken to offering his new clients a very special after sales service.
Boxer immediately sees some problems with Alyshia’s kidnap: the gang made no attempt to contact their captive’s family and when, finally, Alyshia’s mother called her daughter’s phone the gang made no money demand but, oddly, had a proof of life prepared. They’ve also declared no interest in financial gain but enjoy inflicting psychological damage on Alyshia and tormenting her parents.
Boxer’s concern is that the gang has no intention of releasing Alyshia but rather to tease, torture and ultimately kill their charge. Knowing, as he does, that kidnapping, or stealing people as he sees it, is the most financially rewarding of crimes, then with D’Cruz’s millions potentially on offer, the real puzzle for him is: why?
The best thing in the world
Some years ago a friend of mine asked his seven year old son: ‘What’s the best thing in the world?’ He thought long and hard. My friend imagined trucks of ice cream and coke trundling through the small boy’s head until his son gave his reply: ‘Bad guys.’
The Moral Maze
This got me thinking and a whole bunch of questions came to mind:
Are we hard-wired to be fascinated by bad guys?
How come bad guys almost always have friends and support?
Why do bad guys frequently have the love of a good woman?
Where does the bad come from and do you get bad by degrees or are you born bad?
Is there such a thing as a good bad guy or a bad good guy?
Are our moral boundaries set at an early age or can they shift?
In a world where we are rarely asked to make moral judgments can we, through moral ‘muscle’ atrophy, become morally susceptible?
You’ve gotta laugh
People cope with the demands of London life by laughing, at it and themselves.
The difficulty for me was that in a kidnap situation, with the constant possibility of inflicted pain and death, humour was impossible.
I still wanted humour and to show how English men get on with each other, especially men from different backgrounds but with the same criminal intentions.
So I invented Skin and Dan, who are instrumental in the kidnap.
Millwall playing away
Skin is based on a guy I met on Tiwi beach in Kenya in 1987 - a shaven-headed, Millwall-supporting Eastender. He and his mate got caught by a local gang on the path to the main road, where we’d been warned of violent muggings. ‘What did you do?’ we asked, horrified. ‘Well,’ said Skin, ‘as it happened, we’d just heard on the World Service that Millwall had lost that afternoon and we were a bit pissed off so...we beat the crap out of them.’
I gave him a spider’s web tattoo on his neck and cheek. I once came across a skinhead at the lift in Tufnell Park tube station. The spider from his tattoo was crawling up his nose and the web was all over his face. That was one guy you didn’t want standing behind you. We waved him through...practically laid our coats at his feet.
A touch of class
Skin and Dan are from different classes and backgrounds. Skin is an East End thug who makes out he’s dumb but he takes things in, thinks them through. Dan used to be a nurse, educated and well-read. He’s not a Londoner but, having trained at the Royal Free Hospital, he’s lived in town ever since. He’s done prison time for stealing prescription drugs from the hospital pharmacy to sell in clubs.
Dan is not a bad guy but he is attracted by Skin’s charisma. Skin is a bad guy, a killer, to whom no rules apply, which is his attraction. Through their bantering relationship we see the dangers of charisma and its effect on Dan, as he steps over his moral boundaries, never quite grasping how this is happening to him.
A reader of an early draft of the book said he’d laughed along with these two until he looked back, shocked, at all the terrible things they’d done.
The Rise of the East
I wanted to show how the world is changing economically, the West now more dependent on the East. The old rulers of empire coming, cap in hand, to the new industrial lions. Frank D’Cruz has built his own empire through film, steel and cars. He offers a huge investment to the British government to build two electric car plants. This gives him the power to persuade the authorities to comply with his wishes, firstly in appointing Charles Boxer and secondly in limiting police powers in the kidnap. The government is so desperate to announce jobs that they have to go along with him, even when they suspect he has terrorist links, which could have dark implications for the Olympics.
What I love about the London setting is that the story can expand enormously to its global extents and then contract tightly to the minutiae of everyday life.
The nature of London is that it’s a place where people make decisions that transform lives all over the world and then these same people return to their homes and live their ordinary lives of love and pain, joy and tragedy, conviviality and loneliness.
It’s the only big city I’ve known and yet my knowledge of it is by no means profound as, like any city, it changes dramatically over time.
The challenge of my book was not just to bring London to life on the page but to show that the potential for evil resides in us all and we should continue to exercise those moral muscles as much as we possibly can.
Paperback: 416 pages
Orion (17 Jan 2013)