Why I Can’t Stop Threading Hints of the Supernatural Into My Crime Fiction Novels. By Peter Laws

Hi everyone,

The Rev, Peter Laws, has written a really great post on threading the supernatural into his crime novels and I’m really excited to share it all with you guys today! But first, you need to know who he is and what he writes, right??

About the author:

Peter Laws

Peter Laws is an author, journalist, film critic and YouTube horror host. He’s also a church minister with a taste for the macabre. He’s the creator of the acclaimed Matt Hunter series of horror tinged crime thrillers. Hunter is an ex-vicar turned atheist academic, who helps the police solve religiously motivated crimes. The first in the series, ‘Purged’, had Matt on the trail of a Christian serial killer, who fast tracks his victims to heaven by baptising them, then killing straight after. The sequel, ‘Unleashed’, pulls Matt into a world of poltergeists and the supernatural, though he insists a flesh and blood killer is at work. Unleashed won ‘Thriller of the Year’ in the Fully Booked awards for 2017. In the third Matt Hunter novel, ‘Severed’, Matt has to contend with a bizarre pseudo Christian cult.

He’s also the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book The Frighteners: Why We Love Monsters Ghosts Death and Gore. It’s available from Icon Books in the UK and Skyhorse in the US.

He writes a monthly column in the print magazine The Fortean Times and hosts the popular podcast and YouTube show The Flicks That Church Forgot which reviews scary films from a theological perspective. He also does quirky cover versions of obscure horror songs on there, so why not drop by. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgZZklJNcUEZplFDboNho6g

Each of his novels also have a companion soundtrack album, filled with original music composed especially for the story. Find those at Bandcamp by searching for Peter Laws. The score for Purged was recently nominated for the award for Best Score of 2017, from Reel Music.

He regularly speaks at churches and events and may be available to speak at your event, if you’d like to get in touch.

http://www.peterlaws.co.uk

About the book:

When a blood-soaked man is discovered with the word Baal-Berith scored into his flesh, the bewildered police call on expert Professor Matt Hunter to assist. Before long, a gruesome discovery is made and Hunter is drawn into a frenzied murder investigation.

With a fury of media interest in the case, and the emerging link to a documentary on demonic possession, Hunter is unable to escape a dark world of exorcism and violence … even when events spiral frighteningly out of control.

Click the link below to order your copy now:

Possessed (Matt Hunter 4) by Peter Laws

Why I Can’t Stop Threading Hints of the Supernatural Into My Crime Fiction Novels.

By Peter Laws

Peter Laws writes the Matt Hunter novel series, the latest of which is Possessed. They follow Matt, an ex-church minister turned atheist professor, who solves religiously motivated and occult-related crimes. You’ll find the books in the crime fiction section, where they feel very much at home…yet they contain many hints of the supernatural. Here, author Peter Laws shares five reasons why he can’t seem to stop doing that…

1) It Makes The Story More Epic

I like spectacle. I always have. If I walk into a supermarket and it’s huge I’m not thinking…crud, how do I find the Ben and Jerry’s. I think, yes! This place is big. This place feels like an adventure. I view life that way too. I first realised this growing up Chester-le-Street, Co Durham. Walking home from school could have easily been a banal, functional exercise. Yet something in me wanted to make it bigger. So…the moment I imagined that one of the homes I used to pass was haunted by the ghost of a mad old woman, that entire home-time experience took on new meaning. Normal life suddenly felt…epic.

What often fuelled my expanding universes was the library on the high street. You’d almost always find me in the section marked ‘Unexplained’, soaking in stories of poltergeists or spontaneous human combustion or UFOs. This stuff said that the adventures of Hollywood might come to my town, to my skies.  

It’s can’t help but do the same in my novels. True, the Matt Hunter universe sits perfectly well on the Crime Fiction shelf. Yet those stories are filled with rumours of another world. For Matt such notions are just another opportunity to tut and shake his head, and maybe he’s right to do so. But me? I get a kick out of it. Because when I put that stuff in, it makes his world, and my world, feel a little bigger.

2) It Brings The Fear Into The Readers Home

Here’s another reason why I feature the supernatural in my stories, and it has to do with fear. Sometimes, when I read a crime novel I get a unsettled at the thought that horrible things might come my way. Especially when I read serial killer stories. The thought of a nice, smiley neighbour secretly murdering folks, gives me a chill for sure. Yet, I also know the statistics. The chances of me being the victim of one of those guys is extremely small.

I rejoice in this, by the way and I have no desire for the stats to rise. What I’m getting at is that when I close the book, the sense of threat mostly stays in the page. Which is a shame. Yes, I’m a little weird, but I kinda like being scared sometimes. I like it when a story slips from a book and starts to assemble itself in my waking world.

So while the Matt Hunter books are filled with human folk doing bad things, I don’t lie in my bed at night thinking I might meet one of them. But the supernatural elements…now that’s another story. This happened a lot when I wrote the second novel Unleashed, which some people have told me they couldn’t finish because they were too creeped out. Yay! I wrote a lot of that in a country pub at night. When I finished my writing session I’d walk to my car, and my eyes would dart to the shadows in the fields. Sometimes I thought I could see the very black rabbit I’d been writing about in the book, only out there, walking through the fields. At least in my mind’s eye. The threat of the book spilled out into my life, and that interested me. I think they call it ‘immersive entertainment’.

Course, I’m also really rational too so I often default to cynicism. For example, when I dropped a knife in my kitchen the other day, it started rapidly spinning on the floor. A spooky? Nah? I knew it was just physics. Yet a mysterious Witch bottle had been delivered that day to my house, from an anonymous sender, a saga I shared on Twitter. It was the supernatural element that made that sense of creepiness both welcome and unwelcome.

Call me twisted, but I want some of my readers to feel that too. That when you shut a Matt Hunter book you’re like, yeah, fine, that was good or whatever. But then you switch off the bathroom light and spot a shadow, then turn. Now, think about it. If that black shape vanishes when you look straight at it then you know for sure it’s wasn’t a serial killer, lurking in your bath. Phew. Crisis averted. But if you thread the supernatural into at story, into your life, you’re never fully sure. Even if the thing vanished, could it have actually been there moments ago? Who knows? But whatever the case, you might feel a little spook, long after the book has been closed. And that my friend, is what I call, added value.

3) I Love Ambiguity

I really like The Omen, the melodramatic 70s movie where Robert Mitchum thinks he might be bringing up the anti-Christ (the kid certainly has a Satanic haircut). What I especially love is that you can read that film two ways. If you’re a religious, end-times type, you can say…wow, here is a comprehensive example of Biblical prophecy coming to pass: a chilling account of the power of Satan, killing people who get in his way. Though I’d remind such people that some of the Bible verses in that film were entirely made up for effect.

However, you can also read The Omen as a series of colossal misunderstandings. Just tragic accidents that manage to build an atmosphere of growing religious dread. Watch The Omen closely and you’ll realise that nothing really happens that you could call fully supernatural…unless you want to see that. I adore this approach in stories. When they leave the reader to pick their own worldview, and not be forced into one or the other. That’s what I try to do with the Matt Hunter books.

Yes, he’s a committed rationalist, and yes he defaults to logic. Yet he’s surrounded by people, and situations, that readers could, if they wanted, call genuinely supernatural. In Possessed, he’s faced with various spooky conundrums that really touch on this notion. This pleases me, this paradox, because in a sense I want to give the reader what they want. You can read the Matt Hunter books as a story about a decent but blinkered man, blind to the genuine supernatural battles around him. Or instead, you can read him as a sensible voice in a sea of delusion. Take your pick. It’s your world, after all (it stopped being mine the moment you bought it).

Or don’t pick a side. That’s what I do. I don’t. People can get confused at this. They assume that as a minister I must be on the side of the religious characters in my books. Or others assume that I must be on Matt’s side, because he’s the hero. But I don’t want to choose because both sides intrigue me. They’re both persuasive. And the older I get, the more I see that this insistence on choosing, might not be as mature as it’s made out to be. Actually, I think real maturity comes when we stop seeing the world in a lazy, dualistic way. Sometimes we simply don’t know the answers…it’s a mystery.

Rather than freak out, I think there’s beauty in this greyness. So naturally I paint the Matt Hunter books with those very shades. If you think these novels should be black or white in their worldview, then I’m sorry. They are a blend of the two. I can’t help that, because that’s how life often seems to me. A blend. Seeing life as a mystery cocktail doesn’t freak me out. It thrills me, because I don’t want to know if The Omen is all accidents or that it’s all orchestrated from the infernal pit. The idea of not knowing which it might be…now that’s where the tingles come.

4) It Gives Me Hope

There is, of course, a massive amount of crime fiction that doesn’t contain the supernatural. It’s great stuff and people love it. But let me admit something. Crime without a spooky edge, sometimes leaves me sad. Let me explain. Imagine a story starts, as they often do, with a woman being attacked and murdered in a park. Our heroes step in, they scrabble through a maze of twists and turns, then in the end, the killer is caught (or they get away with it). Either ending can work in terms of drama.

Yet my point is this, what I’m left with when I close the book is that a woman was murdered in the park. That was her ending. Her entire life was just hurtling toward being shot or axed or hit in the head with a concrete penguin. I can’t help it, but the idea her expendability makes me a bit sad. The thought of people just kinda stopping and that being that.

This is why I get my needle out. The one that threads the spectral through the tale. The thread that says…perhaps she lives on. Perhaps we all do. Course, we might not, I accept that. But the thought that we might gives me shivers and chills, but also comfort and hope.

A whole bunch of people die in the Matt Hunter books. In Possessed, there’s a few particularly comprehensive despatchings. I just don’t want those characters to be significant only as corpses. I like the idea that there is more to them. Chuckle if you like, but for me, letting the supernatural breathe in a crime fiction story does something welcome for the reader. At least it does for this reader. Ghosts are frightening, sure, but they’re like little pockets of air in crime fiction. They slink through the blood and bodies and say, hey…it might look like my final chapter is a ditch in a park…but what if it isn’t. Call me sentimental, or delusional (maybe I am) but I can’t help it. It comforts me. So I put the thread in, if only for my own benefit.     

5) I’m Open Minded. 

If you’ve read this far, you might already be getting a feel for me, but if not, let me fast track to the essence of what I’ve been waffling on about: I’m an open minded guy. I always have been, and I always will. I suppose therefore, by definition, I should be open to the idea that I won’t be open minded one day. But I doubt it.

This confuses some people, because I’m also an ordained minister. They think that ‘clergy folk’ must be massively rigid in all their beliefs, but like I’ve already said, I don’t think spiritual maturity comes when we lock everything down into compartments. Sometimes, it’s when we realise we might not have all the answers, that maturity comes, and where humility lies.

So yes, some people freak out when I say it’s possible that God might not exist. Some people freak out when I say that he might exist. But if you’re asking which one I lean toward the most then yes, life, it’s the latter. There are reasons why I think belief isn’t intellectual suicide, but I’m not going to hijack this piece with those. Maybe another time. The point is my feet are pointed toward the belief camp, and Matt Hunters are firmly pointed to the unbelief camp. For me, both points are perfectly reasonable.

That’s something that ticks me off about some Christians. They dismiss atheists as ‘fools’ because they think that not believing in God implies a lack of care or morality. That’s crazy. Some of my atheist friends are they very definition of kindness, and their choice to view the world as having no creator has a genuine beauty of it’s own. In other words, I respect Matt’s worldview. I see the sense in it. Yet equally, I sometimes get ticked off with Matt, who constantly dismisses other people’s beliefs as silly. I think life’s may be more complicated than that.

This is why the Hunter universe has plenty of room for both worldviews, simply because that’s the type of guy I am. I’m a Christian sure, who is open to the idea that God may be bigger than we think. This ‘all things are possible’ approach, was the the same fuel that made my walks from school so epic. I’m a grown up now, and I see no reason to abandon that approach.

So that, my friends, are the five reasons why I can’t help myself. I write crime fiction books that keep saying…boo.

5 thoughts on “Why I Can’t Stop Threading Hints of the Supernatural Into My Crime Fiction Novels. By Peter Laws

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