White Crocodile, my debut thriller, published in August 2014 was a stand-alone crime novel. Set in the land minefields of northern Cambodia, it tells the story of emotionally damaged mine clearer Tess Hardy, who travels to Cambodia to discover the truth behind her estranged, abusive husband’s death. On arrival, she finds that teenaged mothers are going missing from villages around the minefields, while others are found mutilated and murdered, their babies abandoned. And there are whispers about the White Crocodile, a mythical creature that brings death to all who meet it.
White Crocodile, was hard act to follow, firstly because the story was based on time I spent working in the minefields of Cambodia, and was therefore very personal to me, and secondly because it got universally fantastic reviews, being called variously, ‘a stunning debut’ in the Mirror, ‘an ambitious thriller’ in The Mail on Sunday, ‘a powerful, angry book’ in The Times, and being compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, by none other than Crimetime’s Barry Forshaw, in The Independent!
When it came to writing my second novel, I had a choice of whether to write another stand-alone or to embark on a series. As an avid reader in the crime genre myself, when I thought about my favourite novelists I realised that virtually all were writing series characters. Mo Hayder has Jack Caffery, Lee Child, the indomitable Jack Reacher (lots of Jacks out there in crime fiction), Jo Nesbo, Harry Hole, and Steig Larsson, the unforgettable girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander. As a reader, there is something incredibly enjoyable about revisiting characters you have loved, and following their journeys as they move through different crimes and evolve in their own personal and professional lives.
Many readers of White Crocodile told me that they wanted to see Tess Hardy again, but her job as a mine clearer (rather than a more traditional detective) and the subject matter didn’t really allow for her return. Not to mention the fact that I had killed virtually everyone else off!
Decision made – the biggest challenge in establishing the Jessie Flynn series, was to find a lead protagonist, other major characters and a subject matter that readers would enjoy even more than White Crocodile and that I, as a writer, would enjoy writing more than I enjoyed writing about Tess Hardy. I am a firm believer that if you, as a writer enjoy your craft, that love and passion will transfer itself to the page.
I also wanted to write a series that was original and a little out of the ordinary within the crime genre, both in terms of the characters, the world those characters move in and the stories that they get embroiled in. It really made sense to me to use my expertise – as a psychologist – and my military experience. Psychology is such an interesting subject and so relevant to the crime novel and I am lucky enough to have a degree in the subject. Combining psychology, my military experience and the fact that I wanted my protagonist to be a woman, to reflect the huge number of clever, funny, independent women that I know, it was an easy step to come up with the character of twenty-nine-year-old clinical psychologist, Dr Jessie Flynn, currently working with the Defence Psychology Service.
Jessie Flynn’s profession as a clinical psychologist enables me to explore crime from a uniquely psychological perspective, not only the criminal’s motivation, thoughts and feelings, but also the victims and the investigators – Jessie herself and the other key characters in the series, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector Bobby ‘Marilyn’ Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes.
The first novel in the series, Fire Damage, has Jessie counselling Sami Scott, a deeply traumatised four-year-old boy whose father, a Major in the Intelligence Corp, was badly burnt in a petrol bomb attack whilst serving in Afghanistan. Sami is terrified of someone or something called ‘The Shadowman’ and tells Jessie Flynn that ‘the girl knows’. However, there are no girls in Sami’s life. Sami also carries a huge black metal Maglite torch with him wherever he goes, clutching onto it like a loved teddy bear. Sami’s parent insist that his trauma stems from seeing his father in hospital burnt beyond recognition, and that Major Scott is ‘The Shadowman’, but Jessie feels that that something far darker explains Sami’s trauma.
I have just completed a first draft of the second Jessie Flynn novel and sent it to my publisher, Harper Collins, so I am waiting with baited breath to see if they like it. Jessie Flynn is a hugely compelling and multi-dimensional character, and as such is a gift to an author, and I am looking forward to developing her, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, in many future novels.
Fire Damage, by Kate Medina, is published by HarperCollins