Author of the Month

Name: Lynda La Plante

First Novel: Widows

Most Recent Book: Murder Mile

'...a typically gripping novel from a mistress of her craft and one you will devour!'

February, 1979, 'The Winter of Discontent'. Economic chaos has led to widespread strikes across Britain.

Jane Tennison, now a Detective Sergeant, has been posted to Peckham CID, one of London's toughest areas. As the rubbish on the streets begins to pile up, so does the murder count: two bodies in as many days.

There are no suspects and the manner of death is different in each case. The only link between the two victims is the location of the bodies, found within a short distance of each other near Rye Lane in Peckham. Three days later another murder occurs in the same area. Press headlines scream that a serial killer is loose on 'Murder Mile' and that police incompetence is hampering the investigation.

Jane is under immense pressure to catch the killer before they strike again. Working long hours with little sleep, what she uncovers leaves her doubting her own mind.

This is the fourth in La Plante’s, ‘Tennison’ series where we go back in time and see the beginnings of the steely and determined Sergeant Tennison who we originally met in the stunning ‘Prime Suspect’ TV series which gripped the nation.

‘Murder Mile’ takes place in the tail-end of the winter of discontent and it was only a few more months when Thatcher would sweep in to No.10 and Labour would be out in the cold for eighteen years. It will be interesting to see what La Plante makes of Tennison during the Thatcher years… but back to ‘Murder Mile’. This is a gripping police procedural which has a dash of Christie as the plot is quite involved and has plenty of twists that kept me guessing and second-guessing about the murderer. However, this isn’t Poirot and La Plante studiously keeps to the police procedural, so you learn everything as soon as Tennison does, which makes it a level playing field and made me feel more involved with the story.

There is no great ‘reveal’ here, but a team of police officers through checking and re-checking their facts, slowly bring a case against their suspect for these violet crimes. There is plenty of gory details if that is your bag, but La Plante doesn’t go in to too much gruesome detail, so that she appeals to a broad readership.

‘Murder Mile’ is a typically gripping novel from a mistress of her craft and one you will devour!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) In your last four novels you have taken us back to the early days of Jane Tennison, who was first introduced in Prime Suspect in 1991. What is it about Tennison that made you want to concentrate on her early years in the police force?
I was at a book signing in Sheffield when I was asked by a fan where Jane Tennison came from. I was astonished to realise I didn’t really know her past life. The reason being was I had researched ‘Prime Suspect’ with a real DCI, who was vital for the research for the script, but only guided me through her present work. As Prime Suspect began when Jane Tennison was already in her forties, I had never thought about her past. I found it more than interesting to return to the period of her life when she had just finished her training, and to uncover how she had become such a formidable woman.
2) 'Murder Mile’ begins in February 1979. How did you find writing in the past? Did you have to do a lot of research on how things were done in those days?
Because I had made the decision to write the young Jane Tennison, I obviously had to go back to the early seventies, and I was fortunate to know an ex high ranking police officer who had actually worked in Hackney at this time. Cass Sutherland was able to trace a number of officers to help me in my research. I found writing in this period – a time when there were no mobile phones, no DNA and no CCTV cameras – not at all difficult. It was fascinating to write and take on the challenge of maintaining the kind of pace that we are used to in modern day crime fiction.
3) Although still out-spoken, your Tennison here is much different from the hard DCI we saw back in ‘Prime Suspect’. Did you surprise yourself with aspects of Tennison’s character that you hadn’t foreseen until you started writing these books?
The young Jane Tennison is obviously just twenty-two and hasn’t yet developed the formidable characteristics that mark her out at the start of ‘Prime Suspect’. I found it intriguing to see her change year by year. As she is often the only woman attached to a station, she faces discrimination and a chauvinistic attitude, which was shown towards any woman working in the Metropolitan Police at that time. We see Jane learning to deal with it and growing a tougher outer layer. However, at the same time it was imperative that she retained her feminism as we follow her ambition and, often, her pain.
4) Do you find you need a different mindset when writing a novel compared to writing a screenplay?
The main difference between writing a novel and a screenplay is the freedom you have as a novelist to create scenes such as a five patrol car chase and a helicopter escape. However, when writing a script you have to be aware of the budget restrictions. You might have an allowance for one patrol car, but no helicopter, for example. I recall in an episode of ‘Trial and Retribution’ cajoling an editor to allow us to use his plane. The budget also has to deal with stunts. To have both a dramatic car chase and a vehicle careering off a cliff top is easily written into a novel, but on screen that would entail an incredible stunt and extraordinary costs to even allow for a vehicle to crash over a cliff. Otherwise, writing strong characters is the same whether for a novel or a screenplay.
5) A new version of ‘Widows’ has been filmed in the U.S. and is due for release later in 2018. How different will it be from the original version, and were you surprised that there was still interest in a screenplay that was televised in 1983?
The movie version of ‘Widows’, directed by Steve McQueen, is very exciting for me because although updated and shot in Chicago, and with political undertones, at the heart of the film is the original story of Widows. Truthfully, I was not surprised, but extremely flattered that the project came alive after so many years. I do also feel the original was ground-breaking and, sadly, I doubt it would be commissioned today as it starred four unknown actresses.
6) You are credited as one of the first women to write strong roles for women in the 1980s. Do you feel that roles for women (in acting and screenwriting) have progressed since then?
I am obviously more than aware that since the 1980s, and following ‘Widows’ and ‘Prime Suspect’, that roles for woman in acting, screenwriting and directing have progressed. In many instances I also feel that young actresses need far better protection than they get. They are often expected to play parts where they appear nude and act in graphic sex scenes, even in costume drama, which to my mind is unnecessary.
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like to take with you if stranded on a desert island?
I am obviously a great fan of crime fiction. I couldn’t name three novels I would like to be stranded on a desert island with, but I would choose books by Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly and Agatha Christie.