Author of the Month

Name: Natasha Cooper

First Novel: Festering Lilies

Most Recent Book: A Greater Evil

'This is an intense in-depth, genre-busting novel with a deep sense of humanity at its core.'

Trish Maguire is dealing with a case concerning a new building called the London Arrow which has been found to be structurally unsound. The owners are in dispute with the insurance company as to who should be paying to have the work corrected so that the building doesn’t continue to crack. Trish’s friend, Cecilia, who is heavily pregnant is also working on the case. A few days after their last meeting Trish has a visit from Cecilia’s husband, Sam, about a letter he has received from a woman who alleges that she is his biological mother. He asks Trish to make a few enquiries about this woman who is currently in prison awaiting trial. He needs to see what kind of a woman she is, especially as she is currently accused of being instrumental to her partner having killed their infant.

Upon his return, Sam finds Cecilia badly beaten in his own studio. The baby is saved, but Cecilia loses her fight for life. It is upon Cecilia’s mother’s request that Trish looks further into the matter, especially as Trish’s best friend, Caro, is heading the investigation into Cecilia’s murder – and her prime suspect is Cecilia’s husband. It seems that not only is the case a delicate one, but Trish finds herself in a very vulnerable situation. Her intuition says that Sam is innocent and she is desperately trying to keep the friendships that mean so much to her.

The subject of motherhood is the main theme that threads and weaves its way throughout Natasha Cooper’s novel, A Greater Evil. First, there is Cecilia who is heavily pregnant with her first child whilst her husband, a famous sculptor, is finding out about a woman who claims to be the natural mother who abandoned him when he was only a baby. She explains that it was to save him from the hands of a violent father.

Another facet of this story concerns Cecilia’s mother and her failure to involve Cecilia's father in her daughter's life. We explore the reason’s she feels regret at her decision, especially when she realises that her daughter hadn’t exactly been truthful with her. A Greater Evil takes a deep look at mothers and the rearing of their children (or lack of it) and the misconception that mothers always know exactly how their children think and behave.

Aside from these plot lines, there is also the case of The Arrow, a building which has been found to have design faults. It is the mark of a good writer that the legalities are explained in a clear and concise way so that the reader is not lost in legal jargon that could otherwise be off-putting.

The history of Trish Maguire - and her nearest and dearest - are lovingly drawn, bringing home the subject of motherhood full circle. Even Trish is beginning to feel maternal instincts towards her teenage half-brother. A Greater Evil deals with a crime that is perpetrated on a vulnerable woman and this could have been extremely difficult if not handled by the assured pen of Natasha Cooper. This is a marvellous book, one which does not just focus on the crime itself, but the intricate permutations that happen behind the scenes to the people left after a brutal crime. This is an intense in-depth, genre-busting novel with a deep sense of humanity at its core.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
What a very difficult question! I'd just say I write crime novels, i.e. novels about crime. I don't fit into any of the specific sub-genres such as courtroom drama, serial-killer thriller, whoo-whoo, quilting mystery, etc
2) Your latest novel, A Greater Evil, deals with the brutal murder of a woman who is pregnant. How did you feel writing about a subject that is so abhorrent to the general public when it happens in real life?
I think most of the things crime novelists tackle, are abhorrent to the general public when they happen in real life. As Dr Donne wrote, 'any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind'. Murder should be horrifying.

But there is one aspect to this kind of fiction that we writers tend to forget: when you're imagining the scene and picking the right words and arranging them in the best order, you're thinking about so many things that distance you from the emotional impact of what you're writing. Because of your question, I have just re-read the scene and in fact the bit I find most horrifying – as a reader – is the tiny moment when the victim's husband 'delicately picked some of the hair away from her eyes, feeling the sticky weight of the blood that clumped it together.' I suppose it's the contrast between the intimacy, the gentleness, of his action and the reality of everything else that has just been done to her...
3) Making your main character, Trish, a barrister must have been a daunting task as you have to ensure that you are totally up to date with the intricacies of the law. How did you achieve this?
Making Trish a barrister was in many ways mad because I am not a lawyer myself. But I am so fascinated by that world, and by the way barristers – like novelists – have to be really good story-tellers in order to convince the judge or jury that their version of what happened is the one to believe. Luckily I have some dear and unbelievably helpful friends who are at the Bar and when I get really stuck I ask them for help. I also have a few law-students' textbooks, which can help with the basic stuff. And, as I point out in the prelims to A Greater Evil, I am writing fiction.

I couldn't possibly keep up with all the changes in the law and, even if I tried, by the time the novel was published the law would have moved on again. So, while I always try to make it accurate, I don't eviscerate myself for every little slip. Lawyers can have their fun picking me up on mistakes; most readers wouldn't notice – or care – if I were a little out of date here and there. The principles are right, I believe, and I have never consciously twisted or misrepresented the law to suit my own purposes. But these are definitely not textbooks, and obviously no one should ever think of using them as the basis for a stint in court!
4) In A Greater Evil, one of the main characters is unsure if a woman in prison is his mother. The outcome to this situation is rather ambiguous at the end of the book. Is this a relationship you would like to continue in a future novel?
I doubt if I'll be taking this relationship into other novels in the series. I left a tiny bit of ambiguity because life's like that. You so rarely ever get complete answers to anything. And I share the feelings of Cassandra, the heroine of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, who believed that novels should leave you thinking about the characters. When everything is sewn up too tightly the book dies instead of living on with a faint 'I wonder' in some readers' minds.
5) There is a section in A Greater Evil when there is the possibility of a bomb scare and a Muslim is on a crowded train and many passengers believe he could be the bomber. In today’s climate, especially since the Big Brother fiasco over racism, do you feel justified in placing that scene within the book?
As I wrote in the prelims, I finished this novel before 7/7 so that my choice of Russell Square for the relevant tube station in the novel was pure horrible coincidence. After 7/7 I did discuss with my publishers whether I should take out the scene because of that coincidence and came to the conclusion that to censor what I'd written because of terrorism, would be to give in to it.

And, don't forget, in the scene in question Trish castigates herself for her unspoken fear – which is, in fact, shown to be groundless.

I think the scene is legitimate in that it represents a self-protective, if irrational, instinct felt by many people because of what happened on both 9/11 and 7/7, then goes on to show that in this case the fear was unnecessary, and that the real – unnoticed – threat came from someone quite different. All of which fits into one of my major preoccupations: that it is all-too easy and nearly always destructive to make judgments about people on the basis of their appearance.
6) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Oh, yes. I'm definitely a crime fiction fan. And I read right across the genre. I tend to avoid very graphically violent novels, particularly those involving torture, although I don't much mind mutilation of dead bodies. After all, you can't feel once you're dead, and it's the feeling that matters.

It would be impossible to list all my favourites. They would go on for pages, and I'd be sure to miss out some special ones quite inadvertently, which would be irritating. In general I like well-written novels that deal with sadness, madness, and moral-choices made in situations of life-and-death urgency. Characters that behave in ways I find psychologically unconvincing put me off, and I have to feel affection for at least some of the characters if I am to be gripped by the narrative.
7) Without giving away the plot, which book, yours or another writers, included your favourite plot twist of all time?
You do specialise in tricky questions! Plot twists aren't really something I particularly cherish. I'm so very much more interested in the characters and their emotions. If you forced me to choose, I think I would pick the ending of Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent.
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Another impossible question. There are so many wonderful crime films it's really hard to decide. Maybe Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, which remains exciting even when you know exactly what's going to happen.
9) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
This would have to be John le Carré's Quest for Karla omnibus, which is a bit of a cheat because it includes all the Smiley novels. I can re-read them over and over again, and they never pall.
10) You are due to be the ‘Chair’ for the Harrogate Crime Festival this year, running from the 19th – 22 July. How are you getting on with your new role and how excited are you about the upcoming festival in July? Do you have more news about who is appearing? What great things are you expecting during this year’s festival?
I'm thoroughly enjoying my role in preparing the 2007 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and I can hardly wait for July. I've loved being a participant in the past because it is a terrific festival, and having such a big part this year is a huge honour. Things are going really well, and we have a great line-up of speakers. As you know, I think, the special guests are (in alphabetical order) Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Frederick Forsyth, and Val McDermid.

We also have lots of familiar writers, much loved by the Harrogate audiences, as well as several exciting newcomers to the Festival, including: Michele Giuttari, who used to run Florence's flying squad and now writes thrillers; Peter Temple, the bestselling Australian novelist; Nick Stone, whose wonderful first novel, Mr. Clarinet, made such a mark; Nicola Monaghan, who won a Betty Trask award for The Killing Jar; Jason Goodwin; Peter James, who has just won the Prix Polar Européen in Paris; Lindsey Davis, who combines serious Classical knowledge with irresistible humour; and many many more.

We have writers of all kinds from the funniest to the most serious, and I hope everyone will have a fantastic time. The full programme should be up on the Harrogate Festival website pretty soon now...