I started writing my ‘Blind Detective’ series almost by accident. I’d wanted to write about my grandfather, a soldier during the First World War, who was blinded at Passchendaele in 1917, and Line of Sight—which was published in 2014 to tie in with the WW1 centenary—began as an exploration of how my character, Frederick Rowlands, has coped with the loss of his sight in the ensuing decade. We first meet him when he is working as a telephonist in a London solicitor’s office. Connecting a call at his switchboard one day, he overhears a conversation which may or may not refer to murder… From then on, he’s hooked—both on the excitement of solving the crime, and on the need to bring the perpetrator to justice. Writing from the perspective of a blind character has been challenging, but I hope I’ve conveyed Fred’s experience of the world, relying as it does on his use of his remaining senses, as accurately and convincingly as possible.
Subsequent books find Fred—with the assistance of his friend, Chief Inspector Douglas of the Metropolitan Police—putting his considerable intelligence to work in order to solve a variety of crimes. Game of Chance, set in 1929, has him on the trail of a serial killer with a connection to St Dunstan’s, the institute for the war-blinded. Time of Flight is set in the thrilling and dangerous world of 1930s aviation. In Out of Shot, Fred journeys to Berlin on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, and is caught up in the glamorous world of the Berlin film industry.
End of Term, the fifth book in the series, has an ostensibly quieter setting than 1930s Berlin, but is just as much concerned with murder. It’s set in the summer of 1935. With his wife, Edith, Fred is attending the end of term festivities at St Gertrude’s College, Cambridge, when a research student is found dead in suspicious circumstances. As one of the last to see the young woman alive, he finds himself caught up in the police investigation—discovering, in the course of this, a darker side to the university town.
Since much of the action of End of Term takes place in a women’s college, at a time when women were not awarded the same degrees as men, I wanted to focus on what it must have been like for women students and staff to have their efforts continually undervalued. So there’s a definite feminist strand running throughout the plot! And there’s another reason why I chose a Cambridge setting. As an undergraduate at Girton College (the model for my St Gertrude’s), I was fascinated by the atmosphere of the place, whose Victorian Gothic architecture seemed like the perfect setting for dark deeds. I still feel there’s something unsettling about the way the wind whistles around the tower, and along the endless corridors, in which it’s all too easy to get lost…