Evolution of a Character

Marshall Browne on the making of Inspector Anders




ANDERS CAME TO ME as a visual image - several years ago. He slipped into my mind when I was in bed one morning half asleep. A man gets off a long-distance train in a city. He walks a little strangely... A few other particulars came immediately: he has an artificial leg, he's a policeman, and he's been sent from the capital to the south to investigate... something. He will meet a woman who is in trouble. The city is plagued with corruption and misused power.

That was it. The image was a romantic one, yet it was grounded in the bitter realities of a city's terror and criminality. That was clear-cut.

My ideas come in such ways. Most often they go nowhere, but sometimes they keep coming back, persistently tapping me on the shoulder. This image kept tapping, and one day I began to think about it more deliberately.

It was the indistinct man, who I called Anders, who was at the centre of my thinking. In my head, he was suddenly walking the streets of this dangerous city, and piece by piece his background and persona and objectives began to float up out of my subconscious... Mornings, under the shower, another bit of him would emerge...

I still hadn't written down a word. What else did I have? He was a hero, crippled in the service of the State; an anti-terrorist expert; he was on a last mission before early retirement; he was deeply cynical about the corruption of the State, and about his own career; he was courageous, had cautiously attempted to do honest police work in the face of 'the system'. His secondment to anti-terrorist work had been a Godsend. He was able to effectively combat a clear threat to society — which was also the aim of 'the system' — in the maintenance of its vested interests.

What else emerged? He is fifty; a bachelor; he loves good regional food and wine; he doesn't smoke but carries a lighter for ladies left over from when he did; he is extremely polite, with old-fashioned manners; to himself, mainly, he has a corrosive wit. He has killed in the line of duty, always as a last resort; he has a battered old 9mm Beretta Brigadier with an eight-shot magazine which has not been fired in anger for ten years; he is a B-grade marksman which is quite satisfactory; the Government keeps him up to date with the latest technology in artificial limbs — and he has a spare; his stump hurts and he uses an ointment on it; he's been awarded the highest police medals; he has a strong sense of justice — but, also, an inertia, at the hopelessness of, in most cases, achieving it. His world is one of terrorists, criminals, venal government agencies and endemic corruption that is immovable. His corrosive wit is his way of dealing with it. He sees what he is enmeshed in as a kind of bitter, black comedy. However, belying his conservative and polite demeanour, in the way-out events of The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders, he has discovered within himself the capability to take extravagant action. It was not effective to be merely a whistle-blower — a quantum leap outside 'the square' had to be taken. In effect, he has re-evaluated his life and future, and decided to take more risks. This will be the way he is in the future.

The actuality of the world outdoes the fiction writer's talents. Real events and individuals are so astonishing as to be unreal — Benjamin DeMott describes a kind of 'universal descent into unreality'. This is the territory of Anders. And he is calling the shots.

It evolved that Anders has a love life which has always been unusual. He is attracted to mature, life-weary women, adrift from their former moorings. He loves their lived-in lives, their quiet fortitude or desperate vivacity — as much as their bodies with their pendent breasts... All his women have had some part of their life trashed. He has found divorcees, widows, single women the length and breadth of the nation. 'The way you conduct yourself can only be defined as sexist,' his old friend, Arduini says. Anders doesn't reply. His women are his soulmates; there's a roughly equal exchange... He is always on the lookout for them.

He has another passion. His ancestor poet — Anton Anders (deceased 1875). A minor but competent poet, long forgotten, whose work Anders has sworn (to himself) to bring back to public notice. Way back, he is of Dutch ancestry. His forebear came to Italy two centuries ago, stayed long enough to start a family and disappeared into the Pacific islands.

He is not tall, yet not short. His hair is a mixture of black and grey. The face is distinctly authoritative, yet also calm and sympathetic...an out-of-doors' face, which...has become indoors. A northerner... dependable, but with a dreaming kind of look.

I spend more time thinking about Anders than writing about him. When I do write I follow where Anders goes, the stories have minimal planning at the outset — a location, and a general situation — but the rest is up to Anders. He is devious and experienced enough to make intricate moves in the face of the situations he's in. Anders' world is created by his experience of life. That is what I think. I've begun to trust him. Unlike his colleague, Matucci, who is a good pragmatic cop who wants to do his job, do right, but whose interests are in clothes and women, Anders has an eye to the bigger issues.

Anders is a romantic.

He turns up next in Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament, on an investigation grounded in the big business of super-modern Europe hunting a mass murderer who has unique objectives — and mysterious origins. But is it an illusion? To find the killer they must follow two distinct trails which lead back to the past: the 1970s — and...1494.

Matucci is with him. They are there because of Anders' anti-terrorist skills, and because the Italian Government is happy to have them out of the mafia heartland. They are pleased to be out!

Not a word is written on this, but already in my brain Anders and Matucci are in Strasbourg...hunting through the city and its institutions, maybe coming across my own footprints in the city, put down there last September as the first chilly rains of autumn started.





Email Duffy and Snellgrove