Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Post 04: Neal James

Two Little Dicky Birds (ISBN 9781905809936)

On Saturday 5th April 1975, in a fit of rage, Paul Townley took the life of his father, Harold.

The significance of that single event was to affect the rest of his life, as he resolved to make it his mission to rid society of the kind of person that the man had become.

The first killing took place six months later, and over the following fifteen years seventeen more were to follow, as the trail of devastation left by a serial killer covered the length and breadth of England.

Detective Chief Inspector Colin Barnes looked down at the letter which lay on the desk before him. An icy hand gripped his heart as he read once more the details of the eighteen murders.

Murders which had come back to haunt him from his past as he realised that he would, once more, be faced with the serial killer who called himself ......Petey.

This is the back cover summary which is specifically designed to draw the reader into the plot. Whilst its dramatic phraseology is one of the keystones of the book, the story within the 90,000 words and 85 chapters tell so much more.

Colin Barnes’ lowly beginnings in London’s East End, the brutal treatment of both him and his mother at the hands of his father, and their subsequent escape from the terror which was inflicted upon them stands out in stark relief to the remainder of the plot.

Tightly wound within the framework of the story are a range of sub-plots. Barnes’ relationships with the two women passing through his life, his mother’s resurgence in a relationship which fulfills all of her dreams, and the birth of Barnes’ sister, all come together to paint a softer background to the sheer brutality of the main story line.

‘Petey’ is a mass killer some back to haunt Barnes from his past as a Detective Sergeant working for the Metropolitan Police. Barnes and his former boss, DI Harrington, were at the heart of the search for the serial killer from 1975 to his disappearance in 1992.

The story operates in two distinct timescales: 1975 – 1992 where I take the reader through the initial investigation and the eighteen killings, and present day (2002) when Barnes receives a taunting letter from Petey threatening a fresh wave of carnage.

From that point, the plot moves with ever-increasing pace as the search in both timeframes becomes more intense. Freaks of lick – both good (for the killer) and bad (for the police) serve to frustrate the reader and force a turning of pages at an increasing rate. This the book is specifically designed to do.

Close to the end, I shift the entire story across the Atlantic, bringing into the fray a New York cop – Tom Casey – as the perpetrator seeks to outrun New Scotland Yard, assume a new identity and vanish to begin a new killing spree in the USA.

Even then, with the capture of our killer, there is one more throw of the dice before the final unraveling of the plot.

Character Profiles

Colin Barnes

DCI at New Scotland Yard who has worked his way up from uniformed Police Constable under the wing of the legendary DI Robert Harrington. His lowly beginnings in one of the poorer areas of London contrast sharply with his career and personal progression. He marries Caroline Stenson, a woman rescuing him from the despair of losing his first love, Stacey Richards, in a tragic accident. He is a man of fierce determination and is single-minded in his approach to his job.

Robert Harrington:

Barnes’ mentor and leader in the early chase to capture ‘Petey’.  He is one of the old school, and tolerates nothing short of complete devotion to duty. He hands over the reins of the case to Barnes upon retirement.


A pathological killer, hiding in plain sight, who has a merciless dedication to the slaughter of innocent victims simply because he believes that he can get away with it. Seeming to have an ear within the Police, he remains one step ahead of them at all time from 1975 to 1992.

He moves in and out of every plotline as the story unfolds.

Tom Casey:

Street-hardened New York detective who has seen and done it all in his career within the NYPD. Close personal friend of Barnes as a result of an incident in their past, he provides a cultural opposite to the typically ‘English’ persona of the British policeman.