Author of the Month

Name: Priscilla Masters

First Novel: Winding Up The Serpent

Most Recent Book: A Velvet Scream

'‘A Velvet Scream’ is another masterly crime novel from Masters.'

On a freezing December morning Steve Shand is collecting his car to go to work. After a heavy night celebrating his friend’s birthday Steve conscientiously left his car at the club and got a taxi home. Now it is a cold morning, his girlfriend is not impressed with him and he can’t get in his car. From the side of the club he hears a noise. Thinking it a cat Steve investigates and discovers a girl in amongst the rubbish, barely alive.

Kayleigh Harrison would have died if she hadn’t been discovered. She is only fourteen so how did she get in to the club? What kind of predator preys on young girls to get his gratification? These are the questions DI Joanna Piercy must ask to find out who could be callous enough to rape and then dump a young girl, leaving her to die. But something doesn’t quite add up for Joanna. Kayleigh’s story doesn’t quite ring true. Her behaviour at the club and afterwards do not coalesce with her story. Why is she deliberately hiding something? And what part does it play with the destructive relationship she has with her mother? And is this the first attack on a young girl? It appears not.

Facing trials herself with an impending disciplinary and a wedding to organise, Joanna and her trusted sidekick, Mike Korpanski, with quiet determination unpick the tapestry of lies to lead them to a remorseless manipulator of young girls who, when he has finished with them has no compunction to leave them for dead. When another young girl is reported missing Joanna is determined that this sexual predator must be tracked down and caged before any more young lives can be added to the growing list of victims.

A new Joanna Piercy novel always gets me excited. Masters, with her medical background has brought us a myriad of brilliant cases from simple domestic settings to a killer stalking the corridors of a general hospital. With them all, she infuses issues that affect us all without being worthy or detracting from the main plot of the book. I enjoy the relationship Joanna has with Mike Korpanski although in ‘A Velvet Scream’ their partnership appears to take a back seat. In this latest instalment the story focuses around Joanna, her fears for the future regarding her impending marriage and more importantly, her career as a DI. Will Joanna make it down the aisle in time, if at all?

With exact plotting, Masters juxtaposes the relationship of Kayleigh and her mother with that of Joanna’s frozen and strained ties with her future stepdaughter, Eloise (who in my mind has to be the most spoilt brat of all time). Now that she is studying locally Joanna fears that Eloise will be become more a part of their lives. The years may have progressed but their animosity towards each other seems to be well preserved. Families, deconstructed or solid, play a large part of the novel and Masters is excellent at showing what goes on behind closed doors isn’t always pretty. In a lot of her books family in-fighting has proved again and again to be a powerful motive for destruction, to themselves and others. Try the brillaint ‘Scaring Crows’ and ‘Embroidering Shrouds’ if you haven’t done so already.

Masters is unafraid of showing the frustrating side of policing and how an investigation can stagnate and halt to a stop when no clues, witnesses or information is forthcoming. There are no car chases to alleviate the frustration Piercy feels when getting absolutely nowhere. She simply chips away at the surface and prays she will finally hit gold. ‘A Velvet Scream’ is a chilling crime novel that is extremely well written, dealing with an issue that constantly rears its ugly head on our newsreels. With care and sensitivity Masters unravels and lays out a chilling tale that leaves you contemplating much after the final word is read.

‘A Velvet Scream’ is another masterly crime novel from Masters.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Everything! Plot, location characters, action, reflection, getting under the skin of your characters, making your readers’ skin crawl. And I always remember some advice my son gave me years ago when I first started writing crime. “Do the unexpected!”
2) This is the tenth Joanna Piercy novel since your debut, ‘Winding Up the Serpent’ in 1995. How do you feel the characters of Piercy and Korpanski have developed over that time?
Joanna has softened and Korpanski’s definitely got more cheeky. What started out as a prickly relationship has now softened to a warm bond between them which both Matthew and Fran Levin are perfectly aware of. She’s actually learning to listen to him and watch it. He’s often right!
3) In ‘The Velvet Scream’ Joanna is disciplined for her erratic behaviour at the end of the previous book, ‘Grave Stones’ which ended with Piercy putting her officer in danger. Did you feel that Joanna needed to be taken down from her pedestal?
I feel bad about this but you’re right. I did want Joanna to be flawed, to expose her “feet of clay”. Worse and more cynically I didn’t want her stuck behind a desk but out there. So any promotion in the air had to be suppressed.
4) ‘The Velvet Scream’ involves the alleged sexual assault of a fourteen year old. With your medical experience is this a situation you felt comfortable writing about without sensationalising such a grave crime?
It’s not comfortable subject matter but hey – neither is murder or child abuse. I don’t write to stay in a comfort zone but to explore crime, its causes and consequences. As a nurse I wanted to portray the reality of such events. Not sensational or dumbing it down. In the end the immediate aftermath of rape is not the dramatic screaming and shouting but such mundane things as testing for sexually transmitted diseases. That’s the reality.
5) After so many years Piercy is about to be married. With her aversion to having children was it deliberate to blend her feelings in with the plot line of your new book?
Right back in And None Shall Sleep I had a “discussion” with Peter Day, my then Allison & Busby paperback editor, about a scene where Joanna is fairly aggressively questioning a suspect with her two-year-old daughter sitting on her knee. Peter wanted the child removed. I felt so strongly that this was a plot line I wanted to develop, again to show Joanna in a less than pleasant light, that I roped in a Chief Superintendant to support my case and the child stayed. It gives Matthew and Joanna’s relationship a running sore which may or may not be resolved. Along with Eloise!
6) Korpanski is a good foil for Joanna but he tends to stay in the shadows when Piercy is centre stage. Will we see more of him taking a lead role? (If you don’t have him shot again!).
I have plans for Mike Korpanski though that doesn’t include having him shot again – at the moment. The tables may well turn with him and Joanna, certainly when Colclough resigns and there is a new boss at the station. Watch him.
6) Korpanski is a good foil for Joanna but he tends to stay in the shadows when Piercy is centre stage. Will we see more of him taking a lead role? (If you don’t have him shot again!).
I have plans for Mike Korpanski though that doesn’t include having him shot again – at the moment. The tables may well turn with him and Joanna, certainly when Colclough resigns and there is a new boss at the station. Watch him.
7) In many of your books your plot lines have been placed within the health service. Do you find fascinating situations for your books when in your other job as a part-time nurse?
I have lunch every day I work with the psychiatric nurses who, like me, cover the entire hospital for specific problems. They are full of stories – as are many of my patients. Tragedy and drama are never far from a hospital and my buddies are only too happy to help – for a free book and a mention - though until recently not many of my colleagues knew about my “life of crime”. It became public when the hospital magazine did a feature on me.
8) In your books there is a lot of information regarding the medical aspect of the investigation regarding protocol, etc. How much is from your own experience and how much research do you need to do to give it authenticity?
This is where I’m really lucky! From my 92 year old father who is a retired surgeon and told me about the “swordstick” injury involving the radius and ulnar, to my son who is an anaesthetist and told me about the cardiorator pattern during resuscitation and my husband, a retired GP and his mates who are police surgeons, I’m surrounded by well-informed people. Anything I’m stuck on there’s always the Internet.
9) You have written standalones as well as the Piercy and Martha Gunn series. What can we expect from Prisicilla Masters in 2012?
I’ve just submitted the new Martha Gunn, currently called Smoke Alarm! (A little gem of a plot from my nurse friends). I plan to start the new Joanna Piercy which I hope to have finished by summer and a standalone already written, called Danse Macabre about a cross dresser. And then…
10) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I was so depressed after reading that and so in awe of her plotting but at the same time she is an inspiration to me.