Spinning out a new skinner

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AS a spin doctor for the Tories at the height of their Eighties reign, Quintin Jardine may have been forgiven for having told his fair share of tall tales.

It was the Poll Tax era, Scots were smarting over the dismantling of their coal industry and braced for the shutdown of British Steel at Ravenscraig, watching with bitterness as the Iron Lady’s policies created a London Yuppie culture while unemployment and discontent north of the Border soared.

There’s a wicked chuckle in Jardine’s voice as the publicity man turned bestselling crime author reflects on a period most Scots might prefer to forget. “The Eighties were a great time,” he grins broadly. “We had a war, we won the European Elections, we won general elections, we crushed Scargill. And we had a damn good laugh doing it.”

Incongruous as that sounds coming from a son born within Labour’s heartland – Jardine now lives in Gullane but he hails from Lanarkshire – he maintains supporting the Tories when everyone around him was hoisting the red flag was, for him anyway, the logical thing to do.

“British Steel was going down the tubes anyway,” he shrugs. “That wasn’t Thatcher’s fault but she was blamed for it. Having experienced ten years of Tony Blair we now have something to measure Thatcher by,” he concludes. “Talk about ‘never mind the quality, feel the width!’”

Bucking the popular trend appears to have become Jardine’s niche. His fictional cop Bob Skinner is no down-at-heel ordinary copper, he’s a deputy chief constable with cases of middle-class skulduggery, fiddling businessmen and crooked lawyers to deal with.

Where other crime writers may prefer to pick over drug-fuelled crime on sink estates and bloody bust ups among gangland crime lords, Jardine’s books have an upwardly mobile touch.

The clever formula has served him well. Father of two Jardine, 62, is now preparing for a busy UK tour publicising his 18th Skinner novel, Aftershock, due to hit the bookshelves on May 1.

It is, he explains, a natural follow-on from his 17th Skinner, Death’s Door, spinning events from its pages into a new series of murders across the Lothians for his no-nonsense, straight-talking deputy chief constable to crack.

“Aftershock picks up from where Death’s Door ended,” he confirms. “At the end of Death’s Door, the crimes appear to have been solved, but Aftershock picks up from that right at the start.

“There’s a body found, the ‘MO’ is disturbingly similar to the way the victims in Death’s Door were killed, and the police quickly realise they have seen this before. But is it a serial killer or is it a copycat?”

Of course, to find out you have to read the book. For there are no plans – right now, at least – to transport Skinner and his fictional Lothian and Borders coppers and criminals from the printed page to the small screen.

“There might be a move away from cop series on television at the moment,” reflects Jardine, before hinting that he is preparing for at least one meeting with a television companies executives soon. “That said I’m not that bothered about TV. A couple of years back I had talks, I was sent a screenplay, I looked at it and thought it was awful.

“They’d got a highly rated screenwriter for it, yet I didn’t recognise half of the characters. Somehow Skinner had acquired a brother-in-law who was a lawyer who I’d never heard of!

“There were secondary characters that I didn’t have a clue about and the most damning of all was that there was hardly anything in the storyline that I actually recognised.”

He laughs out loud, bemused and astonished at the notion that the characters and twisting plots he’d slaved over for so long could be so drastically reinvented.

“I know it’s happened with other author’s work – the Rebus series with Ken Stott wasn’t half mutilated,” he continues. “For a start, they made Rebus a Hibby! Ian Rankin’s work is scrupulous in not adhering him to any football club.”

Born the son of two teachers in Motherwell in June 1945, Jardine went on to Glasgow University to study law only to drop out in favour of a career in journalism working for a local paper. He moved to East Lothian in the early Seventies, switching jobs to become a government information officer and later political spin doctor for the Conservatives and later the SNP. Writing novels for a living didn’t enter his head until his late first wife, Irene, responded to his declaration that he could have written a better book than the one he had just read, by suggesting that he should.

The result was his first stab at crime writing, Skinner’s Rules, published in 1994. Three years later his wife lost a desperate fight against cancer: today a wedding ring dangles on a chain around his neck.

He remarried five years later, to Eileen, yet his late wife’s impact on his life remains – the touching foreword on his last Skinner novel was in her memory: “Her special light wasn’t extinguished. It will shine on until the last person who ever knew her is gone, and beyond, I hope, through these words, on whatever library shelves they may come eventually to gather dust.”

• Quintin Jardine will launch Aftershock at Waterstone’s George Street on Friday, May 2. He will be signing copies of the book at WH Smith at The Gyle from noon on Saturday, May 3 and from 2pm at Simon Kesley’s bookshop, Market Street, Haddington.

For more information on Quintin Jardine’s work to go www.quintinjardine.com

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