My crime/mystery fiction is written under the name DH Smith. Under this name I have written the Jack of All Trades series, its main character Jack Bell. You will find a list of books in the series here, including those already written and upcoming releases.
In 2013, I decided I would write a series of crime novels. I did not want to write a police procedural or have a private eye as the main character. So I needed someone who worked in a variety of places where murders would happen. During my research I noted a number of other authors of crime novels had gone this way too, and used as main characters a cleaner, a realtor, and a florist. My choice was a builder. In the course of his job he goes to different sites, interacting with the people there, which become the setting and the cast for each book.
I decided to set the novels in the area of the East End of London where I live. I live in Forest Gate which is in Newham, one of London’s 32 boroughs. The advantage of this is that I can walk the streets, and look at houses and other places where my builder might work. Local readers like a setting they know, but I have taken care not to so pepper the books with local references that those who don’t know the area feel left out.
The novels have the same main character, Jack Bell. Wherever he works there is at least one murder. This is, to say the least, unlikely, and, if it were anywhere near real, he would soon get no clients. But this is fiction, which is a game between writer and reader, in which the reader chooses not to be bothered by the body count.
Most small builders don’t have all the building skills, and Jack is no exception. He is primarily a carpenter but has picked up other skills. He can do basic electrics, he is a nervous bricklayer, and can only go so far as a plumber. There are times when he has a go himself, perhaps not too wisely, and times he has to call other tradesmen in. Problems often arise on site, either to do with the job itself, the employer being difficult or Jack at the limit of his skills.
There is romantic interest in each novel. Jack is divorced, but has a daughter, 10 years old in the first novel, which complicates his personal life. His divorce came about because of depression which led to heavy drinking. Alison, his then wife, kicked him out. He had a period on the streets before straightening out with the help of Alcohol Halt, a more secular group than AA. At the start of the first book, he has been dry for a year.
He lives in Forest Gate in the East End of London where I live myself. He grew up in Plaistow, a couple of miles away. He mostly works locally, and has a van with Jack of All Trades painted on both sides. It is a trade name that he regrets, but with the van painted up, a website and stationery printed – he has learnt to live with it. And, as he says, it is at least memorable.
Jack didn’t do well at school, but is sharp and quick to learn. His job involves a variety of skills, above the obvious manual ones. A builder must be able to estimate materials for the job, measure up, handle money, and deal with on site problems involving the work and his various employers. Aside from his work, Jack has developed an interest in astronomy and has a telescope. It is his delight to go out on dark, winter nights and look at the stars. An interest not always shared by his girlfriends.
The latest list of books is here.