David R Ewens

The Frank Sterling quartet – the inside story…

15th February 2017

I’ve sometimes been asked about various aspects of the Frank Sterling quartet, how the books came about, what they involve, the characters and the challenges. Here’s the low-down.
I’ve always liked detective thrillers and the opportunity came up to have a go at writing them myself. I like pace and quirkiness, so I am keen to write in that vein.
My main character is Frank Sterling and he has not long set himself up as a private investigator in a small market town in Kent, Sandley, after a career in the Kent police. He left the force because he found it more and more difficult to take orders, and his hot-headedness and struggle to work in a team frequently got him into trouble. As his Police Federation rep, Jim Selsey, often used to say, he spent more time on Frank bloody Sterling than all his other cases.
Sterling grew up locally, the only son of his lone parent father, a left-leaning customs officer whose politics had little noticeable effect on his son. The fact that Sterling’s mother abandoned him as a baby has always made it hard for him to form relationships with or trust women. Unsurprisingly, he is divorced and often single, though not entirely neglected.
He has a core of friends, notably the town’s librarian, Angela Wilson, a young woman with a colourful London back story, and the Stranges, Mike and Becky, a couple of ex-spooks who run his local pub and occasionally help him out, usually on the wrong side of the law.
All the characters have got more complex as the books have developed. In some cases, characters in a weird way took over the writing. Interestingly too, some characters came to life whilst others fell by the wayside. You can’t always tell which way it’s going to go.
Sterling’s cases involve femmes fatales, politics, secrets buried deep in the past but which surface unexpectedly, and twists and turns right up to the end. Ostensibly, The Flanders Case, his first recorded adventure, stems from the First World War, and takes him to the battlefields of Belgium and then back to Kent. Under the Radar, his second outing, is a chase novel with a feisty, challenging, disabled heroine whom Sterling rescues in East Anglia and brings home to Kent, solving her grandmother’s murder and the motive for it along the way. Rotten focuses on a corrupt college of further education, and as things fall apart murder and mayhem erupt. Fifth Column sees Sterling once again stubbornly pursuing the truth while being pursued by a criminal gang, and deals with terrorist attack and extraordinary rendition.
It’s been interesting and entertaining to build up Sterling and his accompanying cast of characters, concentrating on their quirks, foibles and back stories, and building up their lives. It’s been important to me to make the books accessible and readable. There is violence and there are murders, yes, but the characters are human, do ordinary things and feel ordinary emotions, including fear.
Plotting is complex and difficult, and causes some sleepless nights as ideas have to be written down in the early hours and never seem so good in the morning. Doing justice to and incorporating themes in each book – right wing politics in one, disabled issues in another, terrorism in another – is challenging. But the thrill and sense of achievement when a book comes out is hard to beat…