EVERYONE LIES, first in a series by A.D. Garrett, was a hit in the UK, delivering vivid characters, an intricate story set in the violent Manchester, England underworld, and forensics details with the ring of authenticity. The American edition, recently released by St. Martin’s, received raves from Kirkus and Booklist and a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which praised the novel’s brisk pace and its balance between the intricacies of forensics and the cerebral instincts of criminal investigation.
In EVERYONE LIES, two former colleagues who almost destroyed each other’s careers in the past reunite to solve a string of murders that no one else is taking seriously. Kate Simms has spent five years rebuilding her life after being demoted for giving forensics analyst Nick Fennimore privileged information about the disappearance of his wife and daughter. Fennimore has been quietly teaching at a Scottish university and mourning his murdered wife and his still missing child. They should stay away from each other. But if they don’t work together, the killer may never be caught.
The series is a collaborative effort by crime writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Dave Barclay, writing under the pseudonym A.D. Garrett. Murphy, who does all the writing, is the CWA Award-winning author of nine psychological suspense novels under her own name (all now available as e-books through her website). Recently she talked about the new series and about partnering with Barclay.
First of all, Margaret, welcome to ITW! I understand you’re a new member.
ITW has been incredibly welcoming, and I just want to take a moment to say how strongly I feel that both writers and fans benefit from having an organisation like this to introduce readers to writers and to support those writers in their work.
How did your collaboration with Dave Barclay come about?
It all began in 2008, when I was asked to help organize a panel discussion as part of a national science festival, hosted by the city of Liverpool. Did I know two other crime writers brave enough, or foolhardy enough, to have their work scrutinized, explained, and potentially ridiculed by a panel of six (yes, six!) scientists? To their credit, it didn’t take much to persuade Val McDermid and Peter James to face the ordeal with me, and the panel—Murder, Mystery & Microscopes—was a double sell-out. One of the scientists was forensics expert Professor Dave Barclay, and in 2010 I saw him again—this time giving Ann Cleeves and Mark Billingham a thorough going-over. My agent knows I’m a science geek, and she said she’d love to get the two of us together on a project. We met over gin & tonic, Dave said he’d give it a try, and the rest, as they say, is history. I do all the writing, but we work closely on plot outlines and scientific and procedural elements, with Dave checking chapters for scientific goofs.
What makes Manchester the ideal setting for this story?
We needed a major city in the northwest of England—because that’s where I live, and I could easily zip over to do geographical research, or just to get a feel for place. Manchester was pre-eminent in the UK and worldwide for its trade and manufacture of textiles right up to the mid-twentieth century, a legacy that is reflected in its grand architecture, but also in the extremes of wealth and poverty seen in the city today. I do love writing about contrasts: they add depth to a story, and Manchester has a lot to offer in that vein.
EVERYONE LIES is filled with gritty, completely believable details about the criminal underworld, prostitution, and drug trafficking. How did you research these topics?
I did a lot of lurking on forums—official and unofficial sites—gaining insights into drugs culture as well as the physiological effects of drugs. During my web-trawl I found a quirky British Government report which applied a business model to the drugs trade, complete with flow charts and schematics on business structures and entry levels and strategic responses of dealers. Apparently criminals really can see themselves as entrepreneurs (only with guns and a penchant for violence!) But good research and attention to detail isn’t enough; there comes a point when the research needs to be re-imagined to work for the story, so you have to put yourself in the shoes of the forensic scientist, or the addict, or the dealer, or the gangster who runs the operation. You see one example of this in the opening scene of EVERYONE LIES, in which an addict thinks about what heroin means to her as she prepares to shoot up.
A reader from Australia emailed: her son was a recovering addict and he told her that the scene summed up his relationship with heroin. “Every politician who ever said, ‘Just say no’ to drugs, should be made to read that passage,” his mother wrote. I found that both humbling and oddly encouraging—I’ve always felt that fiction allows both author and reader to examine social issues that may be just too raw to confront in real life, yet some critics condemn such close scrutiny as exploitative, and say that crime should never be treated as entertainment. This mother’s heartfelt words are an eloquent rebuttal.
Do you have any theories to explain the fascination that forensic science holds for ordinary people?
Curiosity? Our need to know is fundamental to human nature. So when we consider the greatest taboo that remains in human society—the taking of another life—we want answers. A popular question at readings is, ‘Why would someone enjoy taking another life?’ I don’t have the answer, but I think my writing is in part about trying to find one. As a reader, as in life, I want to see evil punished, and I think most people have the same strong sense of justice. Forensic science can snare the guilty even if they’re long gone, and there are no witnesses; invisible clues can be made to luminesce like neon signs, given the right chemical or physical tests. But more than this—the reader can play an active role—and an active reading experience is so much more fun. Because all the scientific gizmos in the world are useless unless you know where and how to look, so the reader can apply logic, intuition, and an understanding of human/criminal behaviour to work the scene alongside the investigator. And when the investigator comes up with some new and exciting method to catch a killer—well, what could be more cool than that?
Helping Nick Fennimore after the disappearance of his wife and young daughter five years earlier almost destroyed Kate Simms’s life, and she has become isolated and distrustful while trying to hang onto the vestiges of a once-promising police career. What makes her turn to Fennimore for help with her current case? And why does he agree?
Climbing the career ladder is hard enough first time around for a woman in UK policing—even in the 21st century—and it’s taken Kate Simms four years of hard slog to gain a toe-hold after she slid to the bottom of the pile as a result of helping Fennimore. He fled to the safety of academe, leaving her to tough out the disciplinary hearings and demotion that inevitably followed. She’s still not entirely trusted or liked by her peers. She has no one else she can turn to; Fennimore knows this, and he knows it’s partly his fault, and that he didn’t act entirely honourably four years ago. So, Simms has no option but to ask for his help, and Fennimore has no option but to agree.
When you write a character like Marta, a high-level prostitute and a drug courier, do you try to find something within her that you can sympathize with and use to make her sympathetic to the reader?
Absolutely, and although from the start I could empathise with Marta, because I knew what motivated her, I recognised that readers couldn’t have those insights—not until later. So I tried to find situations in which we could see Marta’s admirable qualities—her courage and intelligence, but also her innate kindness—so readers can see her as the person she is, rather than the label that’s applied to her.
Was it difficult to transition from writing standalone psychological thrillers to a series following the same characters year after year? What are the pleasures—and the drawbacks—of writing a series?
I had dipped my toe into writing series characters some years back, under my own name (Margaret Murphy), and I enjoyed returning to the main protagonists. It’s a bit of an indulgence to be able to leave some unanswered questions at the end of a novel and carry them through to be resolved as the protagonists investigate the next big case. You can create a more complex story, and more rounded characters with a sense of personal history, knowing that you will be catching up with them again soon. But you do have to be on guard against repetition, and there’s a fine line between teasing readers and frustrating them! My aim is to provide little mysteries within the mystery that will tempt readers to come back for more.
The next book in the series, BELIEVE NO ONE, is set in the United States. Why the change of locale?
The great advantage of having a forensic consultant as a series character is that he can be asked to advise on investigations anywhere in the world, and we had always planned to give Professor Fennimore the opportunity to travel. The United States—and specifically Tulsa, Oklahoma and St. Louis, Missouri—were chosen for the very practical reason that Professor Barclay had advised on cases or delivered investigative training to law enforcement in both states, so had good contacts in both the Tulsa and St. Louis police departments. I blogged a day-by-day account of our research trip on our website at www.adgarrett.com, for anyone who would like to read more about our U.S. research.
When will BELIEVE NO ONE be published in the U.S.?
Summer of 2015.
Can we expect to see more of Simms and Fennimore in future books?
Most definitely! I submitted an outline for book 3 in the series to my UK publisher just recently. Some of the over-arching storylines are resolved for Fennimore and Simms, and we get to know a little more about Fennimore’s mysterious student, Josh Brown, while Simms and Fennimore get involved in an investigation into a miscarriage of justice which rapidly becomes an active case.
A.D. Garrett is the pseudonym for the writing collaboration between CWA Dagger award-winning novelist, Margaret Murphy, and forensic scientist, Dave Barclay. EVERYONE LIES is their first collaboration.
To learn more, please visit A.D. Garrett’s website.