Author of the Month

Name: Ashley Dyer

First Novel: Goodnight, My Angel

Most Recent Book: Splinter in the Blood

'This is thriller writing at its best.'

DS Ruth Lake stands over DCI Greg Carver with a gun. Did she shoot her boss? And if not, why is she removing evidence from his apartment?

Lake and Carver are on the hunt for a serial killer who carefully poses his victims and covers every inch of their bodies in intricate, cryptic tattoos. Dubbed the ‘Thorn Killer’ by the media, he uses a primitive and excruciatingly painful method to make these marks. Then it gets personal: the killer stages his latest victim to look like Carver’s wife.

Lake is convinced that Carver knows more than he admits. But how can she hope to unravel the half-truths, hidden meanings, secrets and lies at the centre of this investigation when she herself has lied and lied?

Intrigued, the Thorn Killer watches their every move - all the while plotting the next. Can Carver and Lake pull together to catch him before he strikes again? Or will they be held captive by their own web of lies?

‘Splinter in the Blood’ is the first in a new series of novels by critically acclaimed psychological thriller writer Margaret Murphy, writing as Ashley Dyer. This time Murphy is partnered with Helen Pepper, an ex-forensic scientist who now lectures on policing - and this new series is off to a powerful and gripping start.

We are introduced to DS Ruth Lake who we meet standing over her boss with a smoking gun in her hand. Can we trust the protagonist as she starts to clean her boss’s home of fingerprints? Is this a corrupt detective? If so, what games is she playing, and why? From the very start we are questioning everyone and their motive. That’s what makes this such a gripping read. Who do we trust? Who is lying? If you’re a fan of ‘Line of Duty’, you’re going to love this.

The serial killer at the centre of the story is original and dangerous. Dyer has researched her story well and that oozes out of the confident prose. So enraptured in the story, I was actually dreaming about it. That has never happened to me before. This is thriller writing at its best.

The relationship between the two leads is natural and professional. The dialogue never feels forced and the whole story flows with the natural acts of the characters rather than stilted set pieces for the sake of entertainment. There are plenty of red herrings to keep you guessing and the reveal is both satisfying and exciting.

‘Splinter in the Blood’ is a dark, disturbing story with an ingenious plot. This feels like a series you will want to devour.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You write in consultation with Helen Pepper, a Senior Lecturer in Policing. How instrumental is she in the plotting of your novels? Do you plot around what you learn from her or seek her advice on the story?
I come up with story ideas and usually write a short, two-to-three-page synopsis. After that, we bat ideas back and forth, talking about story, forensic procedures that might come into play, police approaches to particularly categories of crime, and so on. I mull for a bit, then start on the full outline, which may be 20,000 to 40,000 words long.
2) There is some new ground covered here; poisonous plants, seeing auras, facial recognition - did you know about these before you started writing or were they subjects you found out about in your research?
My first degree was in environmental biology, and I’m also a keen gardener, so I knew that a lot of common species were toxic – I just didn’t realise how toxic, until I researched them. This made for many happy hours of research. As for auras and facial recognition – I’ve maintained my interest in and connection with science over the years, so I’d read about both in the news and in scientific magazines. Carver’s auras were partly inspired by my own experience, too. In my early-to-mid thirties, I’d suffered several TIAs (mini-strokes) as a result of a flare of Lupus, after which I’d experienced, among other things, phantom aromas and distortions of visual perception, during which things would look very far away – as if I were looking down the wrong end of a telescope. This is sometimes referred to rather charmingly as the ‘Alice in Wonderland effect’. I was interested in using synaesthesia; people with the condition may ‘see’ the colour yellow when someone mentions the word ‘envelope’, for instance. Numbers, days of the week, sounds and even tastes can trigger colours for a synaesthete, and some famous artists and musicians – Billy Joel, Van Gogh, Duke Ellington to give a few examples – are, or were, synaesthetic. I wondered if a person who has suffered physical trauma might develop the condition, so read around the subject. Most of what I found was anecdotal and uncorroborated at best, and mostly relating to ‘psychic’ abilities, in the vein of, ‘Are psychics synaesthetes?’ But I did find a couple of scholarly articles reporting that people who have suffered brain trauma may see auras as they recover. That earned the phenomenon a place in Splinter In The Blood.
3) I felt we barely scratched the surface with Ruth Lake whereas we learned quite a lot about her boss. What are your plans for Ruth and will DCI Carver feature in book two?
I’m not sure that Carver is more transparent – I think he’s kept more than a few key facts from his colleagues and friends. But we are less accepting of women than of men who are closed and secretive, and who compartmentalise their work and private lives. Admittedly, Ruth is unforthcoming, but I think we see that as more suspect in a woman that a man and we naturally wonder what she’s hiding. Of course, Ruth does get involved in some pretty dubious activities as a person who is supposed to uphold the law, so I suppose it’s understandable that suspicion of this deeply private woman is heightened, under the circumstances.

Ruth and Carver return in book two, which I’ve just finished writing. Ruth’s dark past is clarified in some ways, but there are still many unanswered questions.
4) A great deal of research goes into your novels. Is it something you enjoy? How important is it for you to be accurate?
Confession: I sometimes have to tell myself to stop. Research is a great pleasure – I’m passionate about lifelong learning – and I’m always greedy to learn more. Accuracy is key and Helen would not be happy if I bent the rules of physics and chemistry out of shape, and although I like to imagine beyond the stated facts of my research, I don’t want to make stuff up. There’s really no need, anyway – I can usually think around a roadblock, and it’s more fun to take on that challenge than to invent things that simply could not happen.
5) Your last series featuring Fennimore and Simms seemed to be hitting their stride after three novels, why have you decided to start a new series and will you return to Fennimore and Simms?
The story-maker in my subconscious brought several threads of story-web silk together from incidents and observations dating back to 2010 (and possibly further), and I loved the warp and weft of it. How could I deny it?

Will I return to Fennimore & Simms? Never say never…
6) How important is police procedure to you? Do you change your story to fit in with procedure or allow fiction to take over for the purposes of entertainment?
The writer’s job is to reimagine the procedure, to find ways to subvert it, and to misdirect the reader. There’s no need to make stuff up – and it’s more challenging and interesting to work out ways to use the science and procedure to confound readers’ expectations than to shatter the time-space continuum by messing with the laws of physics!
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
Writing crime fiction while denying its long and illustrious heritage would be supremely arrogant, and I may be many things, but I’m not that . . . I love crime fiction, and I read a lot of it. Crime choices: Ask me this in a month or a year, and my answers will almost certainly be different, but for now, I’ll go with Mystic River by Dennis Lehane has everything: social commentary; elements of noir; the long-term consequences of violent crime, told with cracking dialogue and heart-stopping suspense.

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris would have to feature – not only because it was a seminal work, but because Clarice is a strong female protagonist who, despite being at a disadvantage as a woman in a testosterone-charged institution, wins the day.

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver. I was first aware of this book as a film which I must have seen in the early seventies. More recently I read the original and was struck by its warmth and wit, the clever use of legal insider knowledge and the raw, human emotion of the book, which must have seemed very daring at the time it was published in 1958, but still has the power to shock, sixty years on.