I began to draft The Judas Case in the last week of November 2013. This followed a frantic three weeks of plotting, note-taking, character-discovery and scene-setting, all stimulated by a single thought that had come to me one evening in a budget hotel-room in Coventry: what if Judas had been working for the Temple police all along?
At that point the idea of writing fiction about the historical Jesus had long since been put aside. I was on the point of drafting a novel about something else entirely, set not in 1st Century Jerusalem but 21st Century London. Then my subconscious, obviously sensing that I was about to commit a fatal creative mistake, sidled up and jolted me with the solution to a question I thought I’d given up wrestling with nine months earlier: how do you make fiction out of a life about which virtually nothing is known but practically everything is believed?
I had wanted to make fiction out of gospel for a very long time – the thought first occurred to me when I spent the summer of 1980 travelling around the eastern Mediterranean and I imagined, Dunning-Kruger naif that I was, how wonderful it would be to write about a life in which psychology, social realism, myth and theology all rolled along in a harmonious whole.
The long road to Coventry November 2013 really began a year after that Mediterranean summer, in Greensboro North Carolina. In the middle of a conversation with the great Theodore Hines, a man of deep wisdom and a bewilderingly rich intellectual hinterland, we got on to the subject of Vietnam. Not the American involvement, but the French colonial regime. He mentioned that he had once read an interview with the commander of the French paratroopers at Dien Bien Phu, whose experience was turned into fiction in The Centurions. The paratroop colonel was a devout Catholic. Given that, and given his experience of fighting a colonial war, he was asked - if he had been a Roman centurion in 1st Century Judea, under Pilate’s command, how would he have dealt with Jesus?
The colonel did not hesitate.
“I would have had him quietly murdered up in Galilee,” he said.
And that, completely unrecognised at the time, was the seed from which the idea of The Judas Case shot.