Bradford-based crime writer Liz Mistry’s hugely popular DI Gus McGuire novels have taken the genre by storm. She spoke to Yvette Huddleston.
Two years ago Liz Mistry was struggling with debilitating depression and anxiety – today she has three acclaimed crime fiction novels to her name, is working on the fourth and has just signed up to do a PhD in Creative Writing.
It is quite a turnaround. Mistry’s Bradford-set DI Gus McGuire novels are dark, gritty page-turners that have already gathered a loyal following. The first two books – Unquiet Souls and Uncoiled Lies – were published last year and, the latest book, Untainted Blood was launched this autumn. “It’s all happened very quickly,” says Mistry who was born and raised in West Calder in Scotland but has lived in Bradford, where she has worked extensively as a teacher in inner city primary schools, for the past thirty years.
“I started an MA in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity in 2015 and for about five or six years before that I had been quite poorly with depression which incapacitated me for quite a while. During all that time though I had ideas for stories I wanted to tell and it was always going to be crime fiction because that is what I enjoyed reading.”
Having enrolled on the masters, Mistry was still nervous about whether she would be able to cope with the demands of the course. As it turned out it suited her very well. “There was something about the mix between the academic and the creative that really worked for me.” She used the time to finish the manuscript for the first novel and her dissertation for the second. In the end she received a distinction, secured a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books shortly after – and her writing career was well on its way. The first two books sold over 50,000 copies. Mistry’s central character, DI Gus McGuire is a complex, troubled figure who has been traumatised by a disturbing event that took place prior to the opening of the first novel. He has his demons and Mistry says she drew on her own experiences in his characterisation. “He is quite profoundly damaged and has a lot of mental health issues. I am always quite open about my own difficulties because my feeling is that the more we talk about these things, the easier it is going to be for other people. I still get really down sometimes but I know I can get over that and I think that’s a really important message to get out there.” Bradford is a key component of Mistry’s books, almost a character in itself, and the setting has an authenticity that can only come through familiarity and affection. “I love Bradford and its diversity,” she says. “It has its problems like any city but it has got a heart that a lot of big cities don’t have.” With a new three-book deal with Bloodhound, of which Untainted Blood, is the first, Mistry is clearly on a roll. “I am quite focused and write quickly,” she says. “I will be writing at least another two Gus McGuire books and I have ideas beyond that.”
Mistry says she has been inspired and influenced by so-called ‘Tartan noir’ writers like Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Stuart McBride – and her classy writing and tight plotting is right up there with her heroes. A powerful, inventive and interesting new voice within the crime fiction genre, she is definitely one to watch.
Untainted Blood by Liz Mistry
Published by Bloodhound Books, £8.99
Bradford detective Gus McGuire’s latest case takes him on a dark and disturbing journey through his hometown as tensions rise in the already volatile city when extreme right-wing politician Graeme Weston stands in a by-election caused by the discrediting of the local Tory MP. Meanwhile, a serial killer appears to be targeting Asian men who lead an alternative lifestyle. McGuire and his team try to establish whether the murders are linked to the political upheaval.
A feature of Mistry’s books is the warm and supportive family dynamic, unusual in the crime genre. Gus’s mother is a strong, spirited mixed race Scottish-Afro Carribean woman and his father, Dr Fergus McGuire a criminal pathologist, a straight-talking, no-nonsense Scot. Here McGuire’s domestic and professional lives collide in a way which raises the stakes of the investigation even higher. Gus himself is an appealing mix of vulnerability and strength – an inspirational leader to his team – and the relationships between colleagues is nicely realised. The narrative motors along, but apart from anything else this is a timely, hard-hitting look at contemporay issues and concerns which are confronted head on – Mistry describes the book as her “response to everything that was going on with Trump and Brexit.”