I’m delighted to welcome my guest today, Robert Crouch, a fellow Eastbournian.
Robert has the unusual distinction of drawing on his past experience as an environmental health officer to inform his crime fiction. This opens some fascinating doors and methods for a potential murder.
Over to Robert to tell us all about it.
In my experience, most people have only a vague idea what environmental health officers (EHOs) do. We’re perhaps best known for inspecting restaurant kitchens to check food hygiene standards. That’s how I spent most of my career, but I also carried out inspections and accident investigations to help employers improve health and safety in the workplace.
That’s where I started to wonder whether a murder could be disguised as a work accident.
As far as I knew, no one had used this premise in a crime novel – not with an environmental health officer as a detective.
Having investigated many workplace accidents, including several that proved fatal, I knew EHOs had the skills and knowledge to investigate a murder. Like the police, I’ve carried out complex investigations, cautioned and interviewed suspects and prosecuted offenders, but without the barrier of a uniform.
I also wanted to pay homage to the traditional whodunit and murder mysteries of authors like Agatha Christie, but offer something fresh and different to entertain readers. That was my aim when I wrote No Accident. It features Kent Fisher, an environmental health officer with more baggage than an airport carousel. The son of a Cabinet Minister, whose family has been rooted in the South Downs for centuries, Kent has too much freedom, which antagonises his boss.
Kent Fisher didn’t come fully formed though. In the early days, he had an unsuitable wife, an unhealthy lifestyle of fast food, alcohol and cigarettes, and a gung-ho disregard for authority and procedure. More cliché cop than EHO, he survived a series of rewrites over the years, but always failed to leap off the page, as one literary agent put it.
I began to wonder if I would ever bring Kent to life, then the answer came from an unexpected source.
When I was promoted to manage my team, I was plunged into an unfamiliar world of policies, strategies, reports and meetings where people spoke a strange dialect of acronyms and corporate mumbo jumbo. Determined not to become a corporate clone, I started a somewhat irreverent blog to record the more humorous moments and retain my sanity. Due to my position, I couldn’t use my own name on the blog, so I handed the task to Kent Fisher and created a cast of dysfunctional characters, working for a mythical local authority.
As it became more popular, Fisher’s Fables developed a life and momentum of its own, soon morphing into a sitcom. Though each episode was self-contained, they were underpinned with running themes and character stories that developed and unfolded over time. Serious environmental health issues like E. coli food poisoning ran alongside the effects of government spending cuts, all presented in a humorous way to entertain followers of the blog.
In November 2016, I published Fisher’s Fables as an eBook – both as a companion to the murder mysteries and a prequel. Without the blog, Kent and his team would never have come alive and leapt off the page. I wouldn’t have discovered my author voice and I’m not sure I would have found a publisher for No Accident.
My environmental health experiences run through the second novel, No Bodies. Fresh from his success in No Accident, Kent Fisher pursues a mobile caterer linked to two women who went missing around the same time a year earlier. An E coli case, which puts a young child in hospital with kidney failure, hampers his investigation, putting him at the centre of a social media storm generated by anxious parents.
No Bodies, which will be published in 2017, also gives a greater role to Kent’s West Highland White Terrier, Columbo, named in honour of my favourite detective. Based on my own Westie, Harvey, Columbo is as determined, brave and pig-headed as his owner.
Columbo also features in No Remorse, which I’ve just started writing. It should have an even more complex plot than its predecessors, thanks to a secret code and a luxury care home that takes advantage of its wealthy residents. Over the years, I’ve inspected many care and nursing homes for food hygiene and health and safety at work, but No Remorse gives me a chance to focus on the abuse and mistreatment the elderly can suffer in the wrong hands.
I hope my environmental health experiences will give readers an entertaining glimpse into a different, but fascinating world that offers a fresh take on the traditional murder mystery we all know and love.
You can find out more about the novels, characters and South Downs settings at Robert’s website, http://robertcrouch.co.uk, which also has links to his Facebook, Twitter and Amazon pages.
If you sign up to his monthly newsletter, you’ll receive a free copy of his Case Files which deal with the more humorous side of environmental health.