Sandra’s quick take: Last Year’s Man follows Tommy Bennett as he finds himself in increasingly hot water and has to leave the city until things cool down. The drama follows him. Maybe it’s a case of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, or maybe it’s just the fact that a shark has to keep swimming to survive, but Bennett has a knack for getting mixed up in situation after situation. He’s likeable, in spite of his criminal activities, and makes you want to root for him and see him come through everything. There were some nice surprises in this book. Brazill is a master at weaving in the subtle details that provide a big pay off in the end. I just read a procedural that had me certain of who the killer was before the 10% mark. I didn’t see some of the pertinent details related to the outcome of Brazill’s story coming. I love an author who can engage me and surprise me and give me a complicated protagonist to root for. If you do too, you’ll find Last Year’s Man to be a highly engaging read.
SR: Let’s start with the opening line: Why Pepsi instead of Coke?
PB: Well, I rarely drink either – they’re bairns’ drinks, of course – but Pepsi Twist has its moments. It’s sweeter, I think. I still associate Pepsi with their Fonzie-esque Lipsmackingrocknroller adverts of the ‘70s. Though we used to drink Panda Cola as kids. And Top Deck shandy.
SR: What is it about Tommy Bennett that you think readers connect with most?
PB: Tommy’s like a saggy old guard dog that’s lost its bite. He just looking for a quiet life, which most men and women of an uncertain age are. And like Boner out of U2, he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.
SR: How did Tommy Bennett come into existence? What was the genesis for this character?
PB: Well, you can’t beat a bit of confluence. The music journalist and biographer Mick Middles once suggested that he and I collaborate on a crime novel set in Manchester- using the music venue The Band On The Wall as the focal point. That plan melted away unfortunately but it set me to writing a version of a pub in my home town where the customers were trapped in a time warp. Also, I always liked Takeshi Kitano’s film Sonatine where a violent gangster finds a moment of peace and tranquillity only to end up back in a world of violence. And there’s the western archetype of the old gunslinger trying to retire. So, Last Year’s Man is a probably ‘a north-eastern’.
SR: Do you believe in ghosts?
PB: Not like Casper but as memories or an embodiment of guilt, for sure
SR: What radio stations does Tommy listen to?
PB: In London, he listens to Soho Radio. Punk, ska, funk, and jazz, and more. In Seatown, he probably listens to Seatown Gold FM.
SR: How do Tommy’s musical tastes compare to yours?
PB: Pretty close. We’re both old farts, after all.
SR: What is it about the novella format and length that appeals to you as a writer?
PB: That’s all I can do, to be honest! I started off writing flash fiction for 6 Sentences, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist Of Noir etc and moved on to novellas which seem short n sharp enough for me. When I’ve tried to write something longer it seems full of padding and non-scenes where nothing happens. So I slice off the gristle.
SR: You’ve also written a lot of short stories. What do you like about writing short fiction?
PB: See above.
SR: When we finally get to see Tommy’s mother there’s a sense of understanding, why he is the way that he is. Were you trying to make a point about how parental relationships can shape people?
PB: Maybe Larkin was right when he wrote ‘They fuck you up your mum and dad/ They don’t mean to but they do.’ Also, I really wanted to show that Tommy wasn’t the hardest kid in the sandpit.
SR: There’s a lot of stuff that happens in Last Year’s Man that isn’t exactly put to bed, so to speak. Are we going to see Tommy’s story continue?
PB: Oh yes, I’m working on one now. I’m not going to let Tommy put his feet up. No peace for the wicked, eh?
SR: You were born in England but have relocated to Poland. It seems to me that when you’re in a place sometimes you’re too close to it to really see it clearly. How do you think that moving away has changed your perspective of the UK and UK politics and culture?
PB: For sure. I suspect that the England I write about has less and less connection with Blighty now. During my first 6 or 7 years living in Poland I didn’t even have a TV or the internet and rarely saw English newspapers so I was happily discombobulated. Also, people change. And I’ve changed since I lived in England. But since I’m not a journalist it’s not so important.
SR: What challenges do you face writing about crime set in the UK?
PB: I try not to use guns too much. Gun crime has increased in the UK, of course, but it’s still an American thing. It still is something to be used sparingly.
SR: What is it about Tommy Bennett that you think would make the reader connect with him or root for him and want to see him make it through all his problems?
PB: I think it’s clear his heart is in the right place despite all the bad things he’s done. He’s on the road to redemption though he does have a tendency to get side-tracked.
SR: Tommy gets into another jam and has plenty of cash and his (fake) passport in hand. Where’s he heading to?
PB: He’s hoping to hang around Seatown but he may well be dragged away …
SR: What new projects are you working on?
PB: The Tommy Bennet book I previously mentioned. The working title is The Iceman Always Rings Twice. It’s a title suggest by Daniel Moses Luft on Facebook when he saw that I’d written a short story called The Postman Cometh.
Plus: The Days Of Danny Spencer – a retired copper helps out an old friend and it all goes pear shaped – and I’m turning my short story Gumshoe Blues into a novella.
SR: When you reach eternity you have to choose one of your characters from any of your works to spend forever with. Which one are you picking and why?
PB: Oh, Luke Case from A Case Of Noir for sure … there’ll never be a dull moment.
SR: And if you have to pick a character from another writer’s work to spend eternity with who will you pick and why?
PB: Mr Wolf from Pulp Fiction. Whatever scrapes Luke Case and I get into he could sort it out.
Bio: Paul D. Brazill‘s books include Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, A Case Of Noir, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.
Soundtrack for Last Year’s Man
The book contains references to a lot of good music, including the artists and/or songs listed here:
Last Year’s Man by Laughing Lenny.
Songs For Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale
Murderer by Barrington Levy.
Roxy Music – for your pleasure/In Every Dream Home a Heartache
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
AC/DC Highway to Hell
The Banshees Happy House
Lee Perry Super Ape
The Upsetters The Return of Django
Black Sabbath War Pigs
Frank Sinatra Watertown, Fly Me To The Moon
The Saints I’m Stranded
Lou Reed – Satellite of Love
Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
The Times They Are A Changin’ The Beatles