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John Harkin

I completed a thirty-year police career in 2009 and formed a business consultancy with a fellow retiree. In between jobs I started to get serious about my writing and completed some courses to hone my skills. I stood down from my company in 2018 to concentrate fully on writing.

 

As a former police commander, hostage negotiator, and firearms officer, I was able to draw upon my own experience for writing my debut novel: The Fear of Falling.

Away from writing, I enjoy reading, music and following Celtic FC.

 
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Set in the gritty underworld of late 80’s Glasgow, Detective Inspector Luc Kidston breaks all the rules and risks everything in pursuit of truth and justice.

Kidston pursues a samurai sword–wielding vigilante who’s also being hunted by a criminal drugs gang. But who is predator and who is prey?

Kidston must also untangle the case of one of his protégés, who’s been arrested for attacking a young woman. She lies in a coma, clinging to life. Investigating both cases will lead Kidston to take some unorthodox steps, including hiring a forensic hypnotist. It will also force him to confront his troubling fear of heights, bring him into conflict with his own colleagues and lead him to fight for his life in a terrifying showdown.

Are you working on something new? 

As I write this, I’m around 30,000 words into a sequel to The Fear of Falling. I’m bringing Kidston and co back for some further adventures. I’ve moved the storyline to 1990 and Glasgow is revelling in its ‘City of Culture’ status. A prominent gay prosecutor is murdered, and he may not be the killer’s only victim. Kidston reinvestigates a cold case and believes he may have uncovered a possible serial killer.

Policing is undergoing dramatic changes with the new-fangled forensics of DNA now a potential tool at the investigator’s disposal. It brings huge advantages for detective work but also presents some challenges.

Tell us about yourself?

 
 
Which six books will you take to the Island?
 
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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

 I’ve returned to this book many times. Since I started writing crime fiction, I’ve often thought that this novel, more than any other, is the one that I’d like to deconstruct and analyse, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. Here, I’d surely distil the art of the master crime writer and be on the road to greatness – but as we all know, it’s not that easy.

 

Mystic River is more than a crime novel, more than a mystery, a thriller, or police procedural. It’s all these things and more. The book is an epic tale; we meet the three main characters in childhood and get to see the intense single event that forges them as adults. Lehane cranks up the plot and tightens the unrelenting tension as our three adult protagonists are engulfed in another life changing event – a murder.

 

I love a strong ensemble cast in a novel and Mystic River uncovers the souls and inner torments of all its lead characters, in a heart-breaking depiction of the delicate line between good and evil. Moral choices are everywhere, and decisions have consequences.

 
 
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The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

 I loved this book as a teenager. I read it again this year and it just plain stopped me in my tracks. Viewed through the twin prisms of age and experience, the story takes on a new dimension. I’m drawn to a great coming of age drama and this is a real favourite. The small-town America setting is parched and grimy. A bleak hopelessness blows through the dusty streets like tumbleweed. Our two young heroes drift monotonously towards adulthood with a sense that nothing much is happening. But everything is happening. Hanging around the pool hall, the drive-in or the picture house seem like innocent enough teenage pursuits, but a strong undercurrent of sexual desire, unrequited love and adolescent anxiety hangs in the air.

 

McMurtry went on to win a Pulitzer for his cowboy epic, Lonesome Dove and dismissed The Last Picture Show, as ‘a flat little novel’. I disagree; for me, it’s an American classic.

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The Long Drop by Denise Mina

 This is the most audacious take on a true crime novel that I can imagine. Mina takes one of the West of Scotland’s most terrifying bogeymen characters and puts a different spin on his murderous ways. Everyone, of a certain age, in my native Glasgow has heard of Peter Manuel; he’s up there with the elusive Bible John. The main difference – Manuel was caught and hanged.

 

Denise Mina does that ‘factional’ thing where she takes the known story of 1950’s Glasgow serial killer, Peter Manuel and writes around and between the lines of what we know. The author weaves a brilliant reimagining of what happened and what might have happened.

 

For me, no one does Glasgow the way Denise Mina does. The city is depicted in all its grim and grimy magnificence. I’ve followed her since 1998’s Garnethill, and any of her crime fiction books could have made this list.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 I imagine that Gatsby would make many lists. That’s not a reason to exclude it. My English teacher imbued the book with so much imagery and symbolism and that’s never left me. It was the first novel that I read twice, and I’ve returned to it many times since. Such a vivid chronicle of the Jazz Age, prohibition, and America’s optimism after the Great War. There are some memorable and some truly monstrous characters, but I think it was the love story that caught my young imagination. Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy reveals his humanity, his hopefulness, and his vulnerabilities.  

 

The final six paragraphs are staggeringly good. Beautiful, broken, and damned. Another epic tale of the dark side of the American dream.

 
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Flesh Wounds by Chris Brookmyre

Hearing Glaswegian voices like Brookmyre and Denise Mina played a huge part in my desire to get writing. I’ve been with this author since the very start, and he’s created some wonderful characters. It’s the two female leads in the Jasmine Sharp trilogy that stand out for me. Glasgow-based Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod is one of the best written police characters I’ve ever read.

 

Very difficult to choose my favourite Brookmyre, but I remember reading the first two books in this series and wanting to read the next one immediately. In Flesh Wounds it all comes together in a thrilling page turner that closes out the Jasmine Sharp trilogy in such a satisfying way.

 
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Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

Probably the most important book on this list and the one I’ve read more than the rest. Like many parents, I owe an enormous debt to the fantastic Mr Dahl and his ability to entertain generations of children. As a young father, reading Dahl was a nightly ritual and this book was a real stand out, as my four-year-old son indulged me in my full repertoire of silly voices. I loved portraying the charming fox or the three greedy farmers. My son would later go on to devour the full Dahl catalogue and there was a peculiar mix of pride and sadness when he announced, one night, that he wanted to read Matilda on his own.

Which disc will you take to the Island?

Good grief! Selecting six books was difficult enough but this is fiendishly tough for a dedicated muso like me. Album choice would be simple; Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ would be a clear winner. Any track would work as a stand-alone song. But for a single disc, I’m going to go with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by The Beatles. For me, it’s the song that changed pop music forever and has some of McCartney’s finest lyrics; “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” Macca crams an incredible amount of narrative into those three poetic verses. A pop song about loneliness, isolation, and graveyards? Throw in a string quartet and you’ve got a stone cold classic. A real gamechanger.

 
What will be your luxury item?
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I have an image of me sitting on a beach, my bare feet burrowing into warm, golden sand and I’m playing a baby grand piano. In between reading my books, I’ll be composing and playing my desert island concerto. Or I’ll be scaring the bejesus out of any living creature within earshot.

 
 
Which fictional character will you meet? 
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I had a strong notion to speak to young Mr Gatsby and warn him off those nasty Buchanans. Tell him, Daisy’s not the girl for him, but he’s featured in my list of six and won't have to listen to me. So, in a similar vein, I’d like to spend some time with a fellow Glaswegian, the wonderful Agnes Bain; mother of Shuggie Bain, the titular hero of Douglas Stuart’s marvellous 2020 Booker Prize winner. Agnes is such a brilliant creation – proud, glamourous, tough, and self-destructive – and the novel belongs to her. I was a little bit in love with Agnes by the end of the book and would be warning her away from feckless Glaswegian men. It’s beautiful, broken, and damned all over again; a bit like Gatsby.

 

Thank You John

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