Winchelsea author Guy Fraser-Sampson’s ‘Death in Profile’

Guy Fraser-Sampson

Guy Fraser-Sampson - Credit: Archant

Guy Fraser-Sampson has embarked on a new series marrying contemporary crime fiction with the Golden Age. In Death in Profile he conjures a world in which deduction drives the plot as much as DNA, as Jenny Mark-Bell discovers

There is nothing new under the sun, it says in Ecclesiastes, and nowhere is that more true than in crime fiction. The novelty lies in the characters, plot mechanics and atmosphere.

Writer Guy Fraser-Sampson, who lives in Winchelsea, has some experience of breathing new life into old favourites. A lifelong devotee of local author EF Benson, he penned a sequel trilogy to the Mapp and Lucia novels, culminating in 2014.

With his new series, The Hampstead Murders, Guy indulges his passion for Golden Age crime writers, including Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. But it is the fourth of the original Queens of Crime, Dorothy L Sayers, to whom this love letter in novel form is addressed.

Death in Profile opens as a police procedural, with DCI Tom Allen – a tenacious Inspector Bucket type – leading the investigation into a series of sex killings. The case has dragged on for longer than it should and Allen is replaced by a fast-tracked Met colleague. The new governor gets rather more than he bargained for when help arrives from an unlikely source – the famous fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

Guy’s love for crime fiction goes back to childhood. “I grew up in a house without television so I was a voracious reader from a very early age.

“Just I had always dreamed of writing more Mapp and Lucia I had always dreamed of writing more Lord Peter Wimsey, but you can’t because the estate has already authorised somebody to do so [Jill Paton Walsh]. Part of this was me being a bit of a weaselly ex-lawyer and thinking, how can I write this without infringing copyright? The obvious answer was someone who thinks he’s Lord Peter Wimsey but isn’t really. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between perception and reality, and the way in which cognitive biases and emotions condition the way we look at things.”

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Guy, a private equity expert who also teaches at Cass Business School, is a remarkably prolific writer and says he only really writes one draft. This is the first in a series – he intends to publish a book every six months and has already planned the first four in outline. The next will have an Agatha Christie theme.

It will be interesting to see how he continues the complex plot gymnastics linking contemporary crime fiction with the Golden Age.

Guy’s own favourite fictional detective is Inspector Alleyn. “I think that’s why I’ve always liked Marsh most of the Golden Age writers. I think Allingham is a better writer, but I find Campion [her detective] very difficult to believe in and I find Christie’s various detectives very two-dimensional and stereotyped. The only one I really believed in as a person was Alleyn – apart from Wimsey, of course – but again, he’s a bit over the top. How credible is it that one person would be so good at so many different things?”

Last time Sussex Life interviewed Guy he was living in London and writing books set in East Sussex: this time it is the other way round. The Hampstead setting is, he says “almost wish fulfilment, because I have always wanted to live in Hampstead but knew that I couldn’t afford it. At least in my own little fictional world I get to live there.”

In Death in Profile (which may be a literary in-joke referencing Lord Peter’s middle name, Death), one of the characters takes refuge from a psychological crisis in the comforting persona of the great detective. And as readers we are doing much the same: in an ever more gruesome genre, this is remarkable for its lack of blood, guts and smut. For Guy it was a conscious rebellion: “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with modern crime fiction, but what I do find difficult is it’s all so much the same. You could probably level the same accusation at the Golden Age writers, they all wrote in a particular way, but there is this obsession with noir and gritty realism. Each book you pick up seems to be more graphic, because you have to keep shocking people, and most of the characters are just deeply unlikeable.”

This hugely prolific writer has many remaining ambitions, among them a series of historical novels – “a Game of Thrones type thing that’s at a very early stage” and a book set during World War II. He says: “I have often thought about writing the great literary novel but to be honest I don’t think that’s my sort of writing: I like entertaining people.” And in his latest novel, his truly innovative conceit should do just that.

Death in Profile, £7.99, is published by Urbane Publications

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