Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
Thriller set in the Fenlands – plus author interview
1st February 2016
After you Die by Eva Dolan, thriller set in the Fenlands.
Another outing for detective duo Ferreira and Zigic based out of Peterborough, UK.
This sleepy, picturesque village normally sees little in the way of excitement, but a gas leak in one house, leads to the discovery of two bodies in an adjoining house. Mother Dawn and daughter Holly are found dead. Husband and biological Dad is not living far away with his new partner and her family.
After an accident Holly became severely disabled, tended by Dawn, and as the story progresses it becomes clear that her one lifeline was the internet, where she has been building a reputation as a blogger for disability rights. Hate crime, however, has reared its ugly head. Dawn, meanwhile has been building a reputation quite different in nature, by entertaining multiple sexual partners. Enough material for the detectives to get their teeth into right from the off.
The story opens with a young boy making his way along country lanes, too young surely to be on his own? He is an inhabitant of the village, living in foster care with a local family. His backstory and the activities of Dawn and Holly all warrant closer inspection by the investigating team, as several characters come under intense scrutiny.
The narrative rolls around as the search for the perpetrator continues, the idiosyncrasies of village life permeate the process, relationships between the locals skew the dynamics, and deliberately steer investigations in circuitous directions. Who is to know whether they will get the team to their goal…
I enjoyed reading After You Die, and for me the plot unfolded in a slow and thoughtful way – slow for me is good; explanations for any shifts in the storyline concretise the unfolding strands, one clue leading to another in a measured and planned way. Twists turn into credible leads until the detectives hit a brick wall, and then have to open up new avenues.
The setting is fairly bleak, fitting for a murder story, mists descend, the weather closes in. Dolan conveys the stultifying feel of a close knit English community under the pressure of suspicion.
A good murder mystery to get your teeth into.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
Over to Eva who has kindly agreed to answer our questions:
TF: This is outing no. 3 for Ferreira and Zigic. They have quite an easy manner with each other. How much has their relationship developed organically as you write, and how much have you planned in advance?
ED: Zigic and Ferreira just clicked naturally the first time I put them on the page together at the very beginning of Long Way Home. I’d done a bit of work on their backgrounds and characters but I didn’t want to write them to death before I started, so I decided to ‘learn by doing’ essentially and was really happy when they seemed to get on – it’s like being a matchmaker coming up with a crime fighting duo.
They’re not exactly a chalk and cheese pairing but they’re different enough to compliment one another. Zigic is usually the calming influence, he’s deeper, more analytical. Whereas Ferreira speaks first and thinks later far too often. That makes for sparks occasionally but right from the off I realised they would have genuine respect for another and as the series has gone on they’ve bonded more closely. It’s been an entirely organic process, led by them. I honestly just open the Word file and let them run.
TF: The investigators face a pretty brutal situation and there are multiple leads to explore. How do you achieve the authentic feel of a police investigation, how have you researched?
This is embarrassing! I’m so glad to hear it sounds fully researched because I’ve actually done very little. There are a couple of police officers I run procedural points past if I suspect I’m about to make an absolute howler, but other than that it’s all common sense and imagination.
I think a fully realistic portrayal of police work would be the kiss of death for a detective novel. Nobody wants to see Zigic filling out paperwork for three hours. In reality he’d never leave the station.
My research focuses on the issues which lay at the heart of each book. So with Long Way Home I spent time speaking with gangmasters and migrant workers. Tell No Tales was a slog through the grimiest parts of the online far right world. And for After You Die I did a lot of reading up on disability related hate crimes, old cases, statistics, and spoke to people about the right to die and challenges of caring for loved ones with very little support for local services.
TF: In the news one sees so often that people will project their anger and upset onto an innocent target, and somehow get that victim to “carry” all the negative feelings and animosity. The Hate Crimes Unit in your books deals with this all the time. What drew you to this particular aspect of policing?
ED: That is sadly very true. All crime is reprehensible but as a writer it’s fairly easy to come up with mitigating circumstances with most bad deeds. He robs a bank to pay for a life saving operation for his old nan. She commits murder because it’s kill or be killed. Revenge, greed, self defence…those are all motives we can understand and could maybe imagine ourselves acting upon.
But hate crimes are different. They’re about attacking someone because you don’t like what they are. Just that. Not what they’ve done. What they are. To me that is human nature at its darkest and it was something I wanted to explore.
The legislation covers crimes motivated by racism or religious intolerance, homophobia or transphobia, and prejudice towards the disabled. These are groups of victims who, in many cases, are already marginalised and vulnerable, and whose stories do not get told in fiction or media reporting. I felt very strongly that, in some small way, I wanted to expose this area of crime and bring it to wider attention.
And as a writer you’re always looking for the story other people have missed. Putting my detectives into a Hate Crimes Unit meant I had that corner of criminality to myself.
TF: TripFiction has been created to invite readers to explore ‘setting’ as a background to a good story (“see a location through an author’s eyes”). Why have chosen Peterborough and environs as your setting?
ED: Once I knew the series would be set around a Hate Crimes Unit and be initially concerned with issues arising within migrant communities I realised I needed somewhere with a large migrant population, but somewhere small enough that they wouldn’t be absorbed easily into pre-existing communities. Peterborough appealed to me because it had become a bit of a flash point in the immigration debate, the first place national media went when they wanted to explore it. Also it’s kind of an anywhere UK, similar to many post-industrial Midlands and northern cities which are struggling to find new identities after the collapse of manufacturing.
It’s an intriguing mix of old a new, a beautiful Norman cathedral dominating the city centre, which had its heart ripped out during redevelopment in the 1970s, lots of Jacobean buildings bulldozed and replaced with brutalist structures. Beyond the city the Fens stretches out to the east, flat, isolated, brutal in its own way, a landscape made for hiding bad deeds and dead bodies.
TF: Your publisher describes you as an intermittently successful poker player. We are keen to hear more!
ED: I’m more intermittent than successful at the moment! I’m mainly an online player, small stakes, because I really hate losing money. For me poker is kind of like meditation, you have to be completely focused on the table in front of you and it’s really good for clearing the mind ahead of a writing session.
TF: What is next for Ferreira and Zigic?
ED: Zigic and Ferreira will be returning next January in new book, still untitled, and I’m hugely superstitious about discussing works in progress because I think it breaks the spell, so no teasers. Sorry. They’re still in Hate Crimes and this next book is more in keeping with After You Die than the first two books in the series, dealing with how prejudice affects the family and friends of a murder victim, and how the community responds, with conflicting forces seeking to use the murder to further their own agenda, others only wanting to be left in peace.
TF: And what do you hope for, for you personally and for your writing in 2016?
ED: I’m quite chilled out about everything, to be honest. I’m not a big planner so whatever 2016 brings I’ll deal with it as it comes. There are some fabulous events coming up and I’m hugely looking forward to talking about After You Die, meeting readers and, of course, my fellow crime writers for some boozy catch ups. Writing wise…the next Zigic and Ferreira story is percolating away. I have a killer opening scene and a few characters in mind,
Thank you to Eva for sharing her thoughts and personal photos! You can catch up with her on Twitter