THE STALKING HORSE (non-series)
Macmillan, London /St Martin's Press, NY (1987)
My fourth novel, published Macmillan,
Press, NY 1987.
Sixteen years ago Bill Holt was
jailed for life for the murder of two people: Alison,
a lifelong friend whom once
people had assumed he’d marry, and a private detective.
He knew he was innocent, but jury, judge and all his friends
declared him guilty.
Now he’s out on parole, and his first journey is
back to the scene of the crime, the town where he’d
worked and lived, and where he had shares in Greystone,
his grandfather’s firm.
He found that fashion had changed,
the currency had changed, even the railway station was
different. The people were
altered too, by age and by affluence and not by incarceration.
But they were still there: Alison’s husband, Bryant,
Jeff and Thelma Spencer, his cousin Cassie Stone, smooth
Charles Cartwright and Holt’s ex-wife Wendy.
One of them was a killer and also
a manipulator – one
of them had framed him, and he’d spent sixteen years
behind bars while the murderer grew fat and sleek on the
profits of his company.
Bill Holt was a dangerous man.
Why is it called The Stalking Horse?
Because I had run out of ingenuity. Every title I suggested
was turned down, and none of the titles suggested by
my editor appealed to me. Eventually I was searching
Roget’s Thesaurus, and came across ‘stalking
horse’. The dictionary told me that a stalking
horse was one used by a hunter to hide behind while stalking
his quarry, and it seemed to me that the murderer could
be said to have ‘hidden behind’ Bill Holt – so
I suggested the title. They kept the same title in the
US – and another book came out that same week with
the same title!
What made you write it?
At that time, I had occasion to go to Market Harborough
in Leicestershire quite often, and on the way there and
back would pass Gartree maximum-security prison. All
you can see of it from the road is the ring of powerful
lights, and it never failed to make me shiver. Someone
had not long before staged a rooftop protest there – someone
that many, many people believed was innocent of the murder
for which he had been imprisoned. The appalling thought
of being incarcerated for years in a place like that
for something you hadn’t done was what prompted
Didn’t some reviewers call
the idea old-hat?
Yes, of course they did, because it is. But I was as
interested in how Bill Holt would cope with the outside
I was in the vengeance aspect, or the investigation.
He came out to a Thatcherite Britain of millionaire whizz-kids
and beggars in the streets, fast-food joints, murderous
football hooliganism, a soaring crime rate, rioting strikers – that
wasn’t how it was when he went in. While I don’t
have him addressing any of these things directly – he
had more pressing matters on his mind – he is permanently
bewildered and adrift in a world he doesn’t recognise,
and spends as much time in the past as he does in the
present, because he’s more comfortable there.
Do you read reviews of your books?
Yes, I do. I think it’s important to know what people
think of what I’ve written, assuming they’ve
actually read the book, which isn’t always the case
with reviewers. If I think the criticism is justified,
I’ll bear it in mind. And good reviews encourage
me. But the two that I liked best for The Stalking Horse
weren’t good, and were both from the US. One reviewer
said that it had strong overtones of Agatha Christie, while
another said that like all Raymond Chandler imitators,
I debased his language. While I own up to being a life-long
Christie fan, I have never read a word of Chandler, so
I plead not guilty to the second charge. But I maintain
that I am the only writer ever to have been accused of
copying both Christie and Chandler in the same novel!