Karen Campbell talks to Crime Time about her impressive new novel After the Fire
After the Fire tells the story of Jamie Worth, a Glasgow cop who becomes a firearms officer. On his very first turn, a nightmare series of events leads to him killing an unarmed youngster. The resulting fallout sees Jamie jailed for murder, ostracised by his force, and his family left to struggle alone.
Why I wrote it
I wanted to look at the human tragedies behind a police shooting – the victim, of course, but also the ricochet effect on the guy who pulls the trigger, on his family, his career, and the rest of his life. As a former police officer myself, I know that, for a cop to pick up a gun, it’s an extension of that desire to protect the community writ large. Yet, in volunteering to go that bit further in defending the law on our violent streets, cops also run the risk of breaking it.
A firearms cop has to make a split-second decision to shoot, in a confusing and highly volatile situation. Although he’s given advice and instruction, it is down to him, the individual officer, to make that decision, and, if he gets it wrong, the consequences can be catastrophic. As yet, no cop has been imprisoned for a firearms murder, but the potential’s always there. Even if an officer’s actions are justified, you still have a person whose career is built on public service, having to live with the fact they’ve killed someone – and all the psychological damage that can unleash.
I thought this would be a really interesting area to explore – plus it fits in with my aims as a writer in terms of showing cops as real human beings, who suffer as much as the flotsam and jetsam they deal with! I did a lot of research while writing the book, looking at the legal position; the psychological effects recorded in cops who’ve killed suspects – and what prison does to offenders and their families. Traumatic doesn’t begin to describe that experience; but I hope that, in After the Fire, I’ve reflected it with truth, compassion – and a real frisson of fear.
After the Fire is published by Hodder & Stoughton