I first encountered Bill Knox in a second-hand bookshop in Inverness, twenty-odd years after his death.

I was browsing the shelves while hiding from the inevitable Autumn Highland rain, idly looking for nothing in particular. Randomly, I pulled out a battered old hardback and read the title: Death Department.

Intrigued, I flicked through a few pages, discovering that it was part of a series of 1950s Glasgow-set police procedural novels. I read a few pages, then a few more.

Somewhere between pages one and fifty, the rain must have stopped.

I bought the book, brought it home with me to Fort William, and forgot all about it while I worked on the next book in my own DCI Logan crime fiction series. I then ‘rediscovered’ the book while doing my traditional post-writing office tidy, where I clear away the weeks of clutter that have accumulated while I’ve been hammering away at the keyboard.

I’d spent almost a full ten minutes tidying by that point, so I felt I had earned a break. After clicking on the kettle to make a cup of tea, I sat down, skimmed the pages I’d read in the shop, then carried on with the story.

A few hours later, I’d finished the book. I hadn’t even bothered to get up and make the tea. Which, as my wife will attest, is practically unheard of.

I had been expertly drawn into the world that Bill had created, and was right there alongside detectives Thane and Moss as they carried out their investigations. I had identified with the detectives right away – the imposing Chief Inspector Colin Thane, with his no-nonsense attitude and dogged determination, and his trusty Inspector, Phil Moss, whose loyalty to his friend was second only to his worries about his grumbling ulcer.

They immediately felt like real people. More than that, they felt like real Scottish men, whose evident care for one another was masked beneath gruff exchanges and barbed banter.

Despite the books being written over half a century before, these were the people I was writing about. Bill’s Thane and Moss could have been my own DCI Logan and DI Ben Forde.

Yes, some of the terminology was different, and there was a lot less swearing in Bill’s book, but down below the surface, down where it mattered, we were both writing about good but complicated men doing their best to bring killers to justice.

More than that, we were writing about the relationships between those men, and how their experiences affected them and those around them. We were writing gritty, gripping stories, but with a seam of very dark, very Scottish humour running through them.

Bill’s family believes he’d be delighted that his books are being published all over again, and we’re all excited at the thought of Colin Thane and Phil Moss being introduced to a whole new audience of readers.”

I went online to order some more in the series, and to my dismay found that they were very difficult to get hold of. I managed to hunt some down from second-hand booksellers, off eBay, and from Amazon resellers, but they were often in poor condition, sometimes with pages missing – and, in one instance, with four chapters of an entirely different book by another author inserted upside-down at the back.

So, I turned detective myself. Digging around, I discovered that the books were all out of print. At that point, I had quite recently established my own publishing company, solely dedicated to publishing my own books.

But what if I didn’t just publish my own books? I thought. What if I could use my publishing company to bring Bill’s books back into print for modern audiences?

Bill passed away in 1999, and I was unable to track down details of his agent. Emails and calls to his old publishers went unanswered. Several months passed, and I was just beginning to fear that I’d reached a dead end when I managed to get the contact details for Bill’s daughter, Susan.

Susan, thankfully, was delighted by the idea of us bringing her late father’s work back into print, and it was while chatting to her that I realised the similarities between Bill and me extended beyond our crime novels.

We were, and are, arguably too prolific for our own good! Bill wrote countless novels under several pen names. I’ve written over two hundred books using dozens of pseudonyms. Like Bill, I’ve often switched between genres. Like Bill, I’ve had a blast doing all of it.

One of Bill’s pen names was even Michael Kirk! Maybe he’s some sort of literary relation…

Bill found early success when he became the youngest-ever Glasgow journalist at the age of just 16. At the age of 17, I sold my first piece of written work – a monster movie screenplay set in the Highlands of Scotland called Curse of the Bog Women.

We were and are both family men, with a shared love of Golden Retrievers.

There is some debate over whether he invented it, but Bill is widely accepted as having been the one to bring the word ‘neds’ to the public consciousness. One of my characters, Bob Hoon, is also responsible for some interesting additions to the English language, but none that I can repeat here.

We are both multi-talented – as well as being a journalist and author, Bill went on to become the face of STV’s Crimedesk and Tales of Crime shows. Along with writing, I’m quite good at putting things on and removing things from high shelves.

The similarities are truly uncanny!

I am very proud to be able to bring you the reissued Thane & Moss novels, starting with Deadline, which was originally published as Deadline for a Dream in the UK, and In For the Kill in the US.

Bill’s family believes he’d be delighted that his books are being published all over again, and we’re all excited at the thought of Colin Thane and Phil Moss being introduced to a whole new audience of readers. So, stick the kettle on, get the biscuits out, and settle down to enjoy a genuine slice of Tartan Noir history from one of Scotland’s true master storytellers.

from the foreword to the new edition of Deadline

JD Kirk is the pen name of multi-award-winning author, screenwriter and writer of comics Barry Hutchison. He has written over 140 books for children as Barry Hutchison, over 15 books for adults as Barry J. Hutchison, and is now thoroughly enjoying murdering people as JD Kirk. He has no idea what the JD stands for. Barry was Shortlisted for the Kindle Storyteller Award 2021 and 2022. He won the Royal Mail Award for Scottish Children’s Books in 2010, and the Scottish Children’s Book Award in 2012. He won the Lennox Author Award in 2011. He lives in Fort William with his wife Fiona and their two children. Barry and Fiona are co-founders of Zertex Media.
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Bill Knox’s first three Thane & Moss novels – Deadline (1957), Death Department (1959) and Leave it to the Hangman (1960) are now reissued by Zertex Media in paperback, eBook and audio download.
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Read an extract from Deadline