Cut Dead is the third book in the DI Charlotte Savage series. My detective was born in a story I’d written about a serial killer, Harry. Harry was so mad/bad/sad I decided he couldn’t possibly exist without some sort of counterpoint. A police officer was the obvious foil, but was there room for yet another male detective with the usual drink problems and hang-ups about women? Not for me there wasn’t. DI Savage is the opposite of the male, drunk, hunk: she is female, has children, a home life and the sort of relationship with her partner that most of us would recognise (rather than the dysfunctional relationships of many fictional detectives). Boring? No, Savage has her demons, but I like to think they are plot driven rather than arising out of inadequacies in her personality.
DI Savage works out of Plymouth. When I began writing book one, Touch, I initially wanted to set it in Brighton, where I’d once lived. However, a certain Roy Grace had pretty much claimed the city as his own. The next obvious location was Plymouth (my home now). The more I explored this possibility the more I realised that Plymouth and the surrounding area offered a fantastic milieu in which to base not just one story, but a series. Within a five mile radius there is everything from inner city deprivation to picture-postcard villages, from beautiful unspoilt coastline to naval dockyards and nuclear submarines, from lush lowland countryside to the unforgiving moorland wilderness of Dartmoor.
In Cut Dead the action is very much focused on the rural side of the West Country – although readers of past books will know the story won’t be a cosy mystery complete with cream teas and a friendly vicar. Far from it since in Cut Dead DI Savage is handling a cold case relating to the gruesome murders of several women.
A few readers of book two, Bad Blood, told me that the story involving rival gangsters was too complicated. Certainly writing it involved much agony and a whole lot of plot jiggling. No such problems here folks, one line says it all: police hunt psycho serial killer! Writing the book was easier too, especially since the killer wrote his own scenes with very little help from me (a fact which disturbs my wife greatly). I framed the killer’s POV in the rarely used second person and found this technique allowed me to visualise his actions more vividly. It certainly made writing some of the scenes deeply unsettling.
Beneath the simple plot layer run the familiar themes I like to explore: landscape and agency. In other words how much are we moulded by the environment around us and what are the choices we can make as free agents. The killer in Cut Dead is haunted by his past, but in his own mind his actions are entirely rational.
Followers of the backstory arc through books one and two will realise by the end of book three that DI Savage is also hurtling towards her own set of choices. Watch this space since all will be resolved in book four.
Cut Dead is published by Avon