The Third Rule was launched 20th February 2013, to mass hysteria, to plaudits far and wide, to invitations onto talk shows and news shows, to knocks at the door from Booker Prize officials, and to emails from Richard and Judy.
Yep, I’m lying. The Third Rule fell out of my computer ten years ago and landed with a near-silent thud on a distant Amazon shelf. Since then, however, it has developed a rather cult following (if it’s even possible to get a rather cult following) and has garnered a few hundred great reviews.
I’m trying to be impartial here, but those reviews report on a topic that is, to some, “scarily possible, highly feasible”. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your reviews, and I thank you for taking this book as seriously as you did, and as seriously as I’d hoped you would.
The return of capital punishment, and the almost nazi-like barbarianism used to get someone – anyone – into the Slaughterhouse whether they are guilty or not is central to the book. It has, in that respect, connotations of Orwell’s 1984, where the past is changed to suit the present, and Big Brother has eyes everywhere. Yes, The Third Rule is meant to rattle your cage not with promises of utopia, but of threats of dystopia in its most brutal sense.
The protagonist goes from hero to train-wreck in a short space of time. We see one man’s collapse against some of the worst experiences a person could experience. Part of it was horrible to write because of that – it forced me to deal with things that I found unnerving back then, but things that really scare the living shit out of me these days (I won’t mention them for fear of ruining parts of the story for you).
2013 is a decade ago (I know, right!), but I actually began the book 19 years ago in 2004 (or thereabouts – fuzzy memory, and all that). I took a break of a few years while I, and my best mate, wrote TV scripts that ultimately took us nowhere, before returning to finish the book around 2012. It was a fairly lengthy book, reaching some 260k words. Some liked it that long and enjoyed being absorbed into it, others not so much, claiming it could be cut down.
Bloodhound Books republished all the CSI Eddie Collins books to date (up to Ledston Luck), and that included The Third Rule after I conducted a fairly extensive re-write with 120k words chopped out and chucked in the bin. She’s better for it, I think; sharper, perhaps not such a drudge, I don’t know.
Anyway, Bloodhound and I split up after a year or so, and I republished The Third Rule (and the other titles) in 2019. I have to say that the publishing environment had changed significantly in those couple of years and I found selling books – and in particular, selling The Third Rule – a difficult task compared to earlier days.
I think I’ve always known why that was, but shied away from admitting it to myself and actually doing anything about it. You see, I wrote The Third Rule for a new and dynamic character I had created – a Mr Eddie Collins. He was perfect for the role, and I loved writing him. He really was an advocate for DIY justice, and cared little for anyone other than himself and the job he was engaged with. Readers warmed to him, and even loved him by the end of the book (seriously, read the reviews and you’ll see). As I say, I adored writing him, and couldn’t wait to carry on writing him in the following books. But that story, that book – The Third Rule – should have been an end to it; it was meant to be a one-off, a standalone. I messed up.
The Third Rule features politics (not party politics, there’s nothing in there about any minister, or any government in reality – it’s fiction, remember?), but it’s a weighty swing at right wing politics (not by me, the author, but by the story framework and the characters who lived within it, yes this is true – like it or lump it), and you either lap up this kind of story, this genre, or you spit it out and vow never to go there again. Anyway, because of the political slant, I had alienated a lot of readers who didn’t go on to read the next book in the series, Black by Rose. Those who did, I believe, went there simply to follow Eddie Collins, and this is where my read-through has come from.
Either way, the book belongs on its own.
So, I wrote a replacement series opener, The Pain of Strangers, and relegated The Third Rule to my own distant shelf until I could sew another lead character into place to fill Eddie’s shoes. The series is much better for it; now all the books in his series are true crime thrillers with a strong hint of police procedural, and soupcon of forensic noir (I just made that up!), and more than a dash of humour (actually, a bucketful of humour).
The Third Rule is out on its own as it should have been ten years ago. It is a standalone, and it won’t cause any harm (I hope!) to the series from which it was hewn; it should be enjoyed for what it is: a thriller about a man who fights the bad men in power and (almost?) wins. Kind of.
That man is not Eddie Collins; Benson has been replaced, so has Ros and a few others. So, who is the new man in The Third Rule? His name is Reginald Ponsonby-Smythe, and he’s a real go-getter!
Happy birthday The Third Rule.