Before the questions and Michael's excellent answers, a quick note of thanks for his responses.
AUSTCRIME: The implication of a large, unfinished tower as a sort of a "blight on the landscape" was interesting. In one way you've got a locked room mystery, in another it's a blank canvas. Did you have something in particular in mind when you came up with the concept of The Tower?
MD: I wanted to write about the dark side of globalization and the idea of The Tower came to me because of the Tower of Babel. One of the novel’s themes is the way the boom in immigration created by globalization, although in general a very positive thing, has created new opportunities for international crime. I thought Sydney, a big city where one-third of the inhabitants speak a language other than English at home, could provide a great snapshot of that phenomenon.
AUSTCRIME: Nicholas Troy is a tricky character. He starts off as one of the good guys, yet by the end he's made some silly mistakes, he's very compromised and yet he steps back from going too far. How tempting was it to take Nicholas that one step further at the end? What were you exploring with Nicholas?
MD: A lot of crime heroes are basically good guys, even if a little rebellious and they sometimes take too much drink. I find myself more interested in characters who contain more of a mix of good and bad, and Troy is one of us. I think a lot of people can go either way, depending on what happens to them, and Troy is a fairly young bloke still struggling with this. I’m also interested in the way that when most people do wrong it happens gradually, one step at a time, and I wanted to show that, to the point where you could maybe sympathise with Troy even as you knew he’d gone too far.
AUSTCRIME: Jon McIver seems considerably harder and more embittered one hand, and yet on the other, he supports Nicholas in some bad times. He's also not afraid to give Nicholas compromised advice for expediency's sake. Did you ever find yourself wanting to take McIver into more of a hero figure?
MD: No. Again, I like characters who are complex and I know plenty of real men who are like McIver, including a few cops. They’re prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve what really matters to them, which is usually their job, but as long as that’s not under threat they can be quite generous. They’re also often interested in mentoring younger colleagues, and while this can seem generous I think it’s often driven by self-interest. They need younger allies, and the process of watching a young person develop can be a way of revisiting your own youth and experiencing some of the pleasures of that marvelously simple emotion, nostalgia.
AUSTCRIME: Sean Randall seems to be a character who is completely driven by his own hedonism and self-involvement. Do you think there are any redeeming features in Sean that a reader should be seeing?
MD: I think Sean’s past redemption, but he’s aware of this and to some extent mourns it, which I hope will attract a reader’s interest, if not her sympathy.
AUSTCRIME: The idea of a city within a city, populated with illegal immigrants who went undetected for such a long time came across as quite a compelling theme. Do you think that that sort of invisibility is easy in a big city like Sydney?
MD: I do. In fact, the situation described in the book actually occurred on a Sydney building site, although not on the same scale. I think this city has an extraordinary number of sealed worlds that we know little about. The experts say there are 100 serious organised criminal groups in the country, many in Sydney, and their industry sector turns over at least $10 billion a year from drugs alone, plus all the people smuggling, money laundering and everything else. How much of that do we ever hear about? It makes this place a great place to set a crime series!
AUSTCRIME: Family ties are a strong part of THE TOWER, with Margot very keen to see justice for her father's reputation. What sort of a person did you want readers to see Margot as?
MD: I think she was spoilt brat whose personality was sustained by her parents and their great wealth. When that suddenly disappeared at an early age, she had trouble coping because she hadn’t acquired much sense of who she really was, let alone much wisdom, in her 28 years. She was drawn to defend her father’s reputation, which is admirable, but unfortunately she didn’t have the qualities of character needed to do it. In fact she made a very arrogant mistake which led to her death. I think she’s one of those people who passes through the world without ever having much sense of what’s going on around her. In her case it was because she was insulated by money.
AUSTCRIME: Good crime fiction seems always to address issues of social concern - no matter what period in history the books come from. What issues do you think really should have a light shone on them? Are there any particular issues you were trying to draw upon in THE TOWER?
MD: Globalisation (see above) and post-natal depression. When I decided to make Troy a pretty ordinary bloke in his early thirties, I looked around for a plausible reason why his life might become upset. Problems with marriage are pretty high on the list for many people at that age. In this case it’s Anna’s (his wife’s) long-running post-natal depression and how it destroys the emotional and physical intimacy they once had, and how he finally responds to that.
AUSTCRIME: Are you planning a next book featuring Troy and McIver? What other characters do you see reoccuring from THE TOWER?
MD: I’d like to do a series in which Troy matures, which is something we don’t see in a lot of crime series but which I think they’re well suited for. I’d be very keen in a second book to get Susan Conti, a detective in The Tower, into the Homicide Squad where she will work closely with Troy. It was my original intention that she be a more major figure in this novel, but unfortunately it became too crowded.
AUSTCRIME: Which crime fiction books would you recommend to new readers to the genre?
MD: What an unfair question! There’s such a variety these days that I think you need to know someone pretty well, or at least know what other books they enjoy, to answer that. If I tried to give some general recommendations I suspect I’d just annoy a lot of readers. All I can do is tell you who I like (see below).
AUSTCRIME: Is there any particular crime writers (or writers in general) that you think influence your writing the most?
MD: These ones are crime but not classic detective novels: Pete Dexter (for his extraordinary writing), Elmore Leonard (for the dialogue), Richard Price (for the characters and structure), and George Pelecanos (for the social observation). For the standard detective novel: Michael Connelly (for the intensity) and Ian Rankin (the earlier less baggy books) and Reginald Hill (when he’s not off on one of his overly literary detours).