Dark Blood came from a rather unusual place for me – real life. Normally I just sit myself down in a darkened room and make stuff up until something seems like a good idea for a book, but Dark Blood was inspired by the real life case of Stephen Beech. Now please note that I say ‘inspired by’, not ‘based on’, because those are two hugely different things. I really don’t feel comfortable with the thought of basing a novel on a real case, because to me it just feels a little exploitative. A little sleazy. Taking someone else’s pain and using it as the basis for a book … it doesn’t seem right. But for some reason I can justify taking real life events and going off on a tangent with them. Call me a beardy hypocrite if you like.
Stephen Beech had over a hundred convictions by the time he was thirty eight, for a wide range of offences including rape and armed robbery. In 1992 he got nine years for raping a 66-year-old housekeeper, and was released in 1998. he lived under licence until 2001, after which he was a free man. From that point on, the only legal control the police had over him was through a Sex Offenders’ Prevention Order. He’d done his time… So in 2002 he decided he fancied living by the sea, and Cambridgeshire Police stuck him on a plane for Aberdeen. OK, so that’s simplifying things a bit, but Beech had no connection with the North East of Scotland, no relatives, no friends, nothing. One day he was living in a police cell – for his own protection – and the next he was in sunny Aberdeen. Beech was considered “extremely likely” to reoffend and it’s estimated to have cost about £200,000.00 a year to keep him under 24 hour supervision.
Now in real life, with a lot of hard work, Grampian Police and Sacro (Safeguarding Communities, Reducing Offending – a charity that monitors sex offenders on behalf of Scottish social work services) did a good job of keeping Beech from doing anything while he was in Aberdeen … but in fiction, things just don’t work out that way. The notion of this being the flip-side of the sex tourism trade just wouldn’t go away. Once you’ve served your time, you can live wherever you like, so what if another sex offender as dangerous as Steven Beech landed on Aberdeen out of the blue, only this time things didn’t go according to plan?
And that was the starting point for Dark Blood. Of course, there was a heaped handful of other cases thrown into the mix – the opening salvoes of a gang war, Donald Trump’s multi-million pound golf resort, counterfeit goods, murder, artificial insemination… All wrapped up in another first for me, an actual police procedural. Up till now I’ve been writing what I like to think of as ‘police thrillers’, but with Dark Blood I thought I’d sit down and try my hand at an honest-to-God police procedural.
Of course, in the end, it was all just one big excuse to torture my main character DS Logan McRae even more. Well, if he wanted an easy life, he shouldn’t have been born fictional, should he?
Dark Blood is published by HarperCollins