The Brighton pole-dancer and the Eastbourne private eye...

Eastbourne is once again for the setting for author Charlie Hodges as he offers the second in his new series of crime novels.

Saturday, 5th June 2021, 7:10 am
Charlie Hodges
Charlie Hodges

Live Bait (Farrago Books), the second Tom Knight Mystery, is the sequel to Vanishing Act which came out last year.

As Charlie explains, for a long time he’d thought that Eastbourne would be the perfect setting for a private investigator story. The books are his response.

“Once a major in the SAS, Tom Knight is a 73-year-old private investigator in Eastbourne who keeps working because he can’t afford to retire. He’s also a widower who falls in love rather easily, with mixed results.

“At the beginning of Live Bait, Knight is deep in debt after a much-needed knee operation which has forced him out of work for several months. In danger of losing his beloved penthouse on Grand Parade, he’s reduced to liberating out-of-date food from supermarkets and working as a life model for a very odd local artist.

“When her body is found under a railway tunnel, he embarks on a quest that takes him through Eastbourne and its hinterland to Sovereign Harbour and ultimately out to sea. Along the way he becomes involved in an illegal lobster-catching business with his friend Merv and gets into a violent feud with an unpleasant fisherman.

“I won’t say any more or I’ll spoil it. But while that side of the story felt like it was coming together, I was struggling to find a love interest for him. In Vanishing Act, Knight is besotted with a carer who works in a rest home. I wanted someone very different for Live Bait and it wasn’t proving easy.

“In fact I was stuck. Without that key female character the truth was I didn’t have a book. Plus there was a deadline. That was when fate took a hand in the form of an invitation to my new brother-in-law’s stag weekend in Brighton. I should add that he’s some twenty years younger than me. Which was why, at the tender age of 65, I found myself out one cold February afternoon with a group of men in their 40s, hardy outdoor types with a drinking capacity far eclipsing my own.

“The festivities began with paint-balling in the rain followed by quad-biking in the mud, followed by drinks, dinner, after-dinner-drinks and finally a pub crawl. By 1.30 in the morning I was more than ready for bed. In fact I was desperate for it. However, I was also honour-bound by the stag-night code that requires you to stick with the stag through thick and thin until he calls time, which my brother-in-law showed no sign of doing. So instead of going to bed I ended up in a decidedly swish pole-dancing club in The Lanes.”

Charlie added: “I freely confess to having lived a sheltered life. Never having been to one of these establishments I had no idea what to expect. What absolutely astounded me was the incredible strength and athleticism of the dancers.

“I watched agog as one of them ‘flew the flag’, holding herself at right-angles to the top of the pole, several metres above the floor. Another performed the ‘brass monkey’, spinning round the pole with her body outstretched while hanging on with the inside of her knee. I could go on. More to the point, my mind was made up – Knight’s love-interest would be a pole-dancer. She eventually emerged as ‘Lolly from Lanzarote’. At 61, Lolly is a little older than the performers I saw in Brighton but doesn’t look it. She’s fabulously talented. Like Knight, she can’t afford to retire and has to live off her wits. Needless to say he loses his head over her, as do his sidekick Merv and arch-enemy Detective Constable Bullock.

“My admiration for pole dancers now knows no bounds. I didn’t do a huge amount of research – my wife wasn’t keen for some reason – but I did learn that beyond the club scene there’s a whole world of instructors, schools and international competitions. In terms of physical performance the standard is right up there with Olympic gymnasts, in my humble opinion at least.

“I also took a lesson. The first task was simply to support my weight while hanging on to the spinning pole with my arms and legs. I lasted for three revolutions during which my face turned crimson and my heart rate rocketed. Even for a basic move like this, the demand on your core and upper body muscles is excruciating.”