This month, author and soon-to-be-doctor Rob McCarthy, scribe of the Harry Kent novels, attended the police station to answer bail for
some jumped-up charge we’ve brought against him his 5WH interview, enticed over the threshold by the promise of a few mugs of lukewarm tea and whatever’s left of the CID biscuit tub.
A person-check via Ops Room threw up some interesting tidbits…
Rob McCarthy is a final-year medical student based in Bermondsey, South London.
As a diehard fan of both medical and crime fiction, he decided to combine the two in a British setting after struggling to find a contemporary UK-set medical thriller. He began writing The Hollow Men after moving to London in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, inspired by the boarded-up shops and the sirens keeping him awake outside his halls of residence. The book was shortlisted for the Society of Authors Betty Trask Award this very month.
The Hollow Men was published by Mulholland-Hodder in 2016, followed by A Handful of Ashes in 2017. Rob has also written for the Guardian about issues facing young students in the NHS and the junior doctors’ strikes. He is currently working on the last instalment in the Dr Harry Kent trilogy.
In his spare time, Rob enjoys cycling, hiking, travelling, mountaineering, and a good beer.
This time we adopted Tony Blair’s ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ approach, and threw Rob – roughly – into a cell on Friday night then all went home for the weekend. That’ll learn him, we thought, as we tucked into our doughnuts and supermarket lager. And so it did. The following Wednesday we remembered we had some random dude in the pokey who hadn’t been fed for five days, so opened the door to find Rob more than amenable. The old ways really are the best, it seems. After making him feel a bit more chipper with a microwave prisoner meal – All Day Breakfast, the lucky dabber – we shoved him in the interview room and shone lights into his face. Really bright ones, too.
Who would you want to come to your rescue if you were held hostage in a South London fried chicken shop, and for what reason?
The consultant who supervised my psychiatry rotation was notorious for handling the most challenging outpatients in South London, and as he was nearing retirement was both full of anecdotes and trying to find anyone who would take on his most difficult customers. Highlights included the paranoid schizophrenic who was so convinced MI5 were following him he’d bought himself a revolver which he proceeded to lay on the table in outpatients. Or the time a lorry driver having a panic attack was rampaging around a Welsh motorway, so he was recruited by the police to broadside the lorry and talk him down, which ended with him punching the lorry driver in the face.
So yes, a man who seemed able to talk reason into even the most psychotic individuals would probably be a safe bet, especially given his soothing valleys accent would certainly de-escalate the tension. Whilst he was a brilliant psychiatrist, I’m not sure how much use he would be if I actually got shot or stabbed, but hey – prevention’s better than cure, right?
What John Sandford protagonist – Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers – do you prefer, and why?
Fantastic question. I think Sandford manages to do something different with both of them – the Davenport books are a bit more political, a bit darker sometimes, and the character is far more grey in terms of morality, particularly in the earlier books. Broken Prey still gives me chills. The Flowers books – particularly Bad Blood – can be dark, too, but they have a little more wry escapism and gallows humour, and since Davenport’s got a wife and children now, Flowers has the space to have a bit more fun.
Davenport’s a great character, and Sandford has done some imaginative things with his arc to ensure every book has a fresh story, but in the end I think I’d have to go for Flowers – I love the small-town feel of it, the way he floats around Minnesota uncovering Hot Fuzz-esque conspiracies in small towns. I’m also a fan of his son-of-a-preacher-man moral absolutism, too, as it gives him a different kind of moral conflict than the more commonly-seen maverick cop.
When do you write? When you’re not working twelve hour shifts as a ‘nearly-doctor’, studying for exams and occasionally sleeping, that is?
Fortunately the twelve-hour shifts are only occasional at the moment, though that’ll all change after I (hopefully) qualify in July! I’m certainly not someone who plans their writing schedule or has a daily word target – I can go through bursts of four or five thousand words a day and then not write anything for a month… I tend to write quite late at night, somewhere between eleven and two a.m. I’m a bit of a night owl, so I’m often more inclined to sleep in in the morning and go into the hospital for the evening shift. We get placed at district general hospitals, which are often near motorway junctions in the middle of nowhere, and writing’s a good way to while away the evenings stuck in the accommodation there!
And I know it’s a cliché, but I’m also partial to a long train journey or a nice cafe on a Sunday afternoon.
Why do you think Jeremy Hunt is still in his job?
I don’t know. I’ve never forgiven the BBC for, on the day of Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, announcing that Jeremy Hunt had been sacked before rescinding it an hour later. It was the day after our end-of-year exams, so we all went to the pub to celebrate before becoming incredibly depressed. And being drunk at lunchtime for no reason.
At the end of the day, Jeremy Hunt is still in his job because the British people voted the government he worked for back in. If the NHS – which is the most comprehensive healthcare system in the developed world whilst costing one the smallest percentages of GDP – disintegrates, we only have ourselves to blame.
Where do you see your character, Dr Harry Kent, in ten years?
Alive, if he’s lucky… And I make no promises about that! From the start, I’ve envisioned Harry’s story as a trilogy. The third book starts about four months after the end of A Handful of Ashes, and Harry’s in a pretty difficult place, and it follows his efforts to discover once and for all what happened to Zara, and who put her in the minimally conscious state she’s imprisoned in.
I think by the end of A Handful of Ashes Harry’s beginning to realise that he can’t do everything he wants to at once – have a life as a doctor, work for the police and have a personal life. In the past he’s neglected the last one, so I think in his head, solving what happened to Zara will put that chapter of his life – working for the Met, working with Frankie Noble – behind him, and let him move on. Of course, what Harry plans and what Harry does in terms of getting involved don’t always correlate, but I’ll let you wait and see how it all turns out…
How much time have you spent working with ‘the filth’ a la Harry, or is it all research-research-research?
I’ve spent some time shadowing paramedics responding to 999 calls, which is a brilliant experience. It showed me every side of London, and I’ve been into places I never otherwise would have, from luxury apartments to crack houses. Again, we end up working with the Met regularly, either them calling us or us calling them, and it’s a good place to pick up police procedure and jargon. Once, a patient – a young woman -became violent and the paramedic had to hit her panic button. I’ve never been more glad to see a police car…
Rob’s novels The Hollow Men and A Handful of Ashes follow Dr. Harry Kent, forensic medical consultant to the Metropolitan Police, as he becomes embroiled in a few scrapes of his own. Here be the blurb for the excellent The Hollow Men…
Usually the police work means minor injuries and mental health assessments. But teenager Solomon Idris’s case is different. Idris has taken eight people hostage in a fast-food restaurant, and is demanding to see a lawyer and a BBC reporter. Harry is sent in to treat the clearly-ill teenager . . . before the siege goes horribly wrong.When Solomon’s life is put in danger again at a critical care ward, it becomes clear he knows something people will kill to protect. Determined to uncover the secret that drove the boy to such desperate action, Harry soon realizes that someone in the medical world, someone he may even know, has broken the doctors’ commandment to “do no harm” many times over . . .
Next month it’s Scotland’s own Alan Jones being wrestled to the ground, lobbed into a prisoner van, then questioned about some spurious offence we’ll cobble together when back at the nick. It’s all about teamwork, after all.