Leigh Russell arrived with a bang on the crime scene with her 2009 novel, Cut Short, shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. She introduces D.I. Geraldine Steel in “a stylish, top-of-the-line crime tale, a seamless blending of psychological sophistication and gritty police procedure,” according to fellow novelist Jeffrey Deaver. “You’re just plain going to love DI Geraldine Steel,” Deaver added. Publishers Weekly also praised this “gritty and addictive” debut. Russell followed up this first success with the 2010 Road Closed, a novel that “confirms Leigh Russell’s promise as a writer… well-written, soundly plotted and psychologically acute,” according to the London Times. Eurocrime described it as “well-written and absorbing… with an exhilarating climax that you don’t see coming.” Dead End, the third in the D.I. Geraldine Steel series, will be published in June 2011.
Leigh, welcome to Scene of the Crime. It’s good to have you here to talk about contemporary England as a setting for crime fiction. First, could you talk to us a bit about the locations of your books?
People fascinate me endlessly; my thrillers are often described in terms like ‘psychologically acute’ (The Times). Until recently I didn’t draw on places for my inspiration. When I started writing Cut Short I had no particular location in mind and the setting for Cut Short and Road Closed is fictitious. Several reviewers have commented on a ‘convincing and disconcerting feel of contemporary Britain’ in my books, but this is a generic feel of England in the early 21st century. In Dead End (publication 2011) I tackle place for the first time and describe a real scene in Kent. I spent some time there, taking photos and making notes before writing that scene.
In the fourth book in my series my detective, Geraldine Steel, relocates to London. After the success of my first two books, my agent suggested this move to give the series a more international appeal. When I thought about it, I found it very exciting. Writing a series, I had been considering how to avoid my books becoming formulaic. One reviewer wrote that Road Closed gave the reader some ‘powerful surprises’ but giving my books a real location offered me the opportunity to give them a new dimension.
What things about London make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
What makes London unique? Every place, like every person, is unique. London is exciting, crammed with contrasts, packed with people – I love it!
How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?
I spent some time exploring London, deciding where to set my scenes. “I’ve found a fantastic place to dump a dead body!” I told my daughter one evening in the pub. “Shh, mum,” she replied, glancing nervously over her shoulder.
How does your D.I. Geraldine Steel interact with her surroundings? Is she a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect D.I. Steel?
Moving my detective from the home counties to London involved some research, not only about organisation and procedure in the Met. More important to me was looking into how the experience of policing in the Met differs from working in other forces. How do officers experienced in the Met regard someone who transfers from outside? And what differences would my detective notice? I am always keen to make such details as authentic as I can. Fortunately I have really helpful contacts on the police force who gave me lots of useful advice. As for moving to London, Geraldine Steel is going to find that exciting. Who wouldn’t?
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
I always do my best to be authentic and accurate about every aspect of my writing but no doubt I’ve made a few goofs. Hopefully the stories are too engrossing for anyone to notice if there are mistakes!
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
I enjoy so many authors, it is impossible to select just a few, but here goes. I have to mention the brilliant Jeffery Deaver, who is a fan of my crime novels, as is the award winning author Sam Millar. I read crime writers like Ruth Rendell. PD James, Frances Fyfield, Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid… and more… there are so many! But I also love Dickens, Edith Wharton, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro… I’m quite eclectic in my tastes. The only down side to writing is that since I started writing, I have very little time to read.
Another murder to solve… more about her personal quest which may eventually be resolved in book twenty of the series because, by that time, I may have run out of ways to avoid becoming formulaic. Then again, Geraldine Steel could always relocate – perhaps to the US… or the Caribbean… Of course that would require lots of onsite research!
Thanks again, Leigh, for taking the time to talk with us at Scene of the Crime.
For more information on Leigh Russell, see her homepage.
Leigh Russell also blogs at Crime Fiction.