At first glance, Charlie Flowers – sat before me – seems too enthusiastic to be a criminal mastermind. His bouncy gait, his wonky grin, his jovial use of ‘Wotcha’ as a greeting, his love of skateboarding cats and random nineties pop duo Daphne and Celeste…
Let me preface: the man I am interviewing has not committed any serious crime, nor is he on the run from any law enforcement establishment. His latest book however - he nonchalantly mentions – titled Murder Most Rural is topping the British Detectives in the USA chart on Amazon and his series of Thrillers (based around the character Rizwan Sabir; a former al-Qaeda operative, lifted by Counter-Terrorism Command who now battles his old comrades) have been highly extolled by Flowers’ peers; including Teresa DiMeola (author of Ground Zero), Rich Knight (author of Darkness of the Womb) and Tom Cain.
And here he is before me. Charlie Flowers. Unarmed.
Born in Eastern Europe in the Sixties and raised in Britain in the late Seventies, Charlie’s working career has seen him as a reporter at a local newsdesk, as the frontman of a post-punk indie band and later as a roadie and truck driver. Whilst some might muse that the pen (or even the guitar) is mightier than the sword and therefore harbour some pent up violence, I ask him how on earth he ended up as a Crime writer.
‘A couple of years ago, I was undergoing a few operations on my joints, as years of van and truck driving had worn them out; so I was literally laid up for a few months with nothing to do,’ * he begins… *‘, With lots of spare time, my mind turned to the strange and wonderful people I'd met in the world of Islamism and counter-extremism. And I decided I'd write a book series based on what I'd seen and who I'd met. Couple that to a sudden thought that popped into my head late one night- "what if James Bond was Muslim?" And you have the beginning of the Riz series. I also decided that if I was going to write thrillers, I would try and avoid the usual thriller clichés, i.e. brooding taciturn hero pursues mysterious tall blonde woman, and is eventually betrayed by his boss, who he hates. I turned all that on its head, and came up with a sarcastic hero who is engaged to be married to his short, slightly irritating cousin, and who works for an outfit which will back him to the hilt’.
Riz is somewhat the anti-hero; less an officer and gentleman and more a bloody-nosed realist with a heritage burdened by its own traditions, juxtaposed with the ‘Middle England’ with its teacups and net curtains – where he finds himself stationed for operations. Is Riz based on a real person, I probe?
‘It was late one stormy night when I came up with him! No really…’ he guffaws ‘, I was staring out into the back garden. One could say he is loosely based on two people I have worked with in counter-extremism; one is Maajid Nawaz from Quilliam, the other is Mubin Shaikh, who was an agent for the Canadian security services. Both have autobiographies out and they're well-worth checking. Both men were streetwise youths who became radicalised and then wised up - and both are pretty tough cookies’.
I ask where he gets his inspiration from for the plots…
‘The inspiration for the crime in ‘Murder Most Rural’ was in trying to commit the perfect murder in an age of DNA testing and ever-present surveillance. There's a troupe in crime writing called the "locked room mystery" and it's just a continuation of that theme. A body is discovered and no-one has been near the body, so how could they have been killed?’
He continues sagely ‘,my research is a combination of actually going to locations and research on the web and in libraries, topped off by interviewing experts and getting them to critique the finished work. I've got a retired murder squad detective on call to pull me up on any errors in forensics, for example…’.
Aside from the precision when it comes to the details of the MOD training and explosives in the books, there is also the prevailing sense of the author’s own affection for the character Holly ‘Bang Bang’ Kirpachi; a talented hacker, married to the hero and herself heading up a female group fighting against jihadis. The inclusion of Holly and her counterparts gives what would be quite ‘macho’ subject matter a softer edge.
‘Riz has limits,’ explains his creator ‘as he has a conscience. He's rarely fired his personal pistol in anger, although he's a handy boxer. But his wife and the Muslim girl gang she helps command, have no consciences and no limits to their savagery. They'll happily nerve gas whole city blocks and blow up funerals. Riz, of course, recognises this and often allows his wife to do the nasty stuff. On the other hand, orders are orders. If the home secretary tells Riz to blow up a building, he'll do it’.
Having cut (or maybe sharpened) his teeth in the music industry, Flowers knows the power of social media for the promotion of his work. He engages in continual dialogue with his thousands of online fans worldwide and teases them with excerpts from forthcoming novels. ‘I actually write everything in notepads, by hand, in laborious block capitals, and then I type it all up via Notepad, then post onto my Facebook wall to proof, and finally into Word. All this is late at night to a pounding soundtrack…’.
I ask him what’s next in his swiftly escalating career. ‘Loads!’ he beams ‘, 'Murder Most Rural' is being made into an audiobook, ‘Hard Kill’ (from the series) will be a graphic novel, then there’s a spin off SAS novel called ‘The Siege’, a short story called ‘Badami’, and my first ever Young Adult novella, which is an account of Riz's wife's early teenage years and is a whirlwind of burlesque, street racing, geisha ceremonies and ill-advised tattoos…’.
And with that, he bounces off to continue his creative mission.
Charlie Flowers is published by Endeavour Press, and is a member of the Crime Writers' Association and International Thriller Writers, Inc.