Books come from the strangest places. It was back last summer and I’d been invited on a day out by a mate in the local constabulary. He was the guy in charge of the force riot squad and ahead of a visit from the EDL they were sensibly trying out one or two moves on the edges of an airfield in North Cornwall. The script called for the guys in the Ninja gear to advance through a maze of derelict buildings while myself and a couple of other guest hooligans got busy with spent baton rounds, small rocks, and anything else we could find. An afternoon’s recreational stoning of the men in black? Irresistible.
The exercise went well. The Ninjas never caught us, we got lucky with a couple of shots, and sped home in the back of a supercharged BMW. On route, I shared the rear seat with the ACC who’d extended the invite. By now, I’d settled on a mental health theme for my next book.
Jimmy Suttle and his estranged wife Lizzie have lost their only daughter to a deranged twenty-something with delusions about saving four year-old girls from their evil mums. In the backwash of this tragedy, while Jimmy Suttle tries to break a particularly brutal murder, Lizzie sets out to discover exactly how Claire Dillon fell through the safety nets designed to protect kids like young Grace. Two investigations, one of them deeply personal.
Research for Lizzie’s expedition into the broken world of mental health went well. Statistics do no justice to the situation. Suffice it to say that the money’s run out and it’s the police and the para-medics who are increasingly left to sweep up the pieces. One exhausted sergeant in Portsmouth, at the very end of his tether, described his night shift as “the armed branch of the social services.”
But could I make this story fly in the sleepy corner of East Devon where Jimmy Suttle has found his perch? I put the question to my ACC mate in the back of the BMW. He nodded at once. By chance he’d recently had to present a paper on the issue. Nearly forty per cent of police time, he said, is now devoted to the mad and the bad. These are people with nowhere to go, and no one to look after them. And the consequences can be terrifying.
True story. You’re in a pub in genteel Sidmouth. It’s darts night. There’s a retired holiday maker in the corner, doing the crossword. A younger guy steps across to him and asks for the money for a drink. He politely declines. The younger guy gets the money from someone else, returns to his table, takes the top of the pint. Then he gets up, crosses the pub again, draws a bayonet, and stabs the man with the crossword to death. The pub falls silent. The young man returns to his table. And picks up his drink.
The book’s called Sins of the Father. Stay safe.
Sins of the Father is published by Orion Books on 20th November in hardback £18.99 and ebook £9.99. Touching Distance is published in paperback on 1st January 2015 £7.99.