Fresh Blood

Name: John Macken

Title of Book: Dirty Little Lies

'ĎÖa gripping story that propels you through the pages like a runaway train with no brakes.í'

Reuben Maitland is head of GeneCrime, a facility that deals with collating DNA and other materials to catch the perpetrators of often heinous crimes. After many years of success, Reuben has patented a method that could change the way criminals are traced and brought to trial. People from the very top are leaning on Rueben to put this new method in to practice. However, Reuben is not sure that this new technique is ready to be used in a real-life crime situation. Reuben has invented Predictive Phenotyping. A method which will give the authorities a summary of what the perpetrator looks like. A photo fit just from a personís DNA.

Everything is going good in Reubenís life, until it crashes and burns Ė in a serious way. Reubenís wife is having an affair and he is unsure of the paternity of his new-born son. Taking revenge on the man who has usurped him in the marital bed, Reuben is fired from his job and takes the Predictive Phenotyping with him. Some months later, someone is killing the team at GeneCrime. All he asks of his victim is where Reuben Maitland has disappeared to? It seems that someone who was wrongly convicted is looking for revenge and, in order to get to Reuben, it seems the killer is more than happy to make his way through the entire GeneCrime team before he gets to his main target.

Dirty Little Lies is a wonderful debut. It starts off with a gory opening chapter and just doesnít let go. At over 400 pages, this is a gripping story that propels you through the pages like a runaway train with no brakes.

Macken is a scientist whose work has encountered the world of DNA and he feels that it wonít be long before something akin to Predictive Phenotyping is available to the police. Is this something we should praise or something that could become frightening to think about? This is the scenario that Macken plays with in Dirty Little Lies. Is this kind of methodology a blessing or a curse? Could more innocent people be sent to jail rather than the guilty if not controlled properly? It is a very interesting debate.

Mackenís clipped and precise prose keeps the dialogue flowing, while the storyline gains momentum with every passing chapter. You cannot help but feel sorry for Reuben. He has so many people gunning for him, while dealing with the numerous and ever-growing number of demons he has to contend with.

The characters seem well rounded. My particular favourite is DCI Sarah Hirst who acts like an ice maiden with a cool veneer. Towards the end I felt that she could be warming up, but she is certainly a character I hope will be in future novels and who could take on an even bigger role.

This was definitely an exciting book - a marvellous debut - that should do well. I am not a particularly fast reader, but I completed this novel in just two days, which really shows how the story grabbed me as I raced to the finish.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Crime novels encompass many sub-genres and styles. How would you describe your book?
I'm not sure about the genre to be honest. Itís meant to be gritty and dark, a thriller to chill the blood and speed the pulse. Thatís what it says on the tin.
2) What type of crime novels do you prefer? Do you prefer series or standalone?
Standalone novels pack more dramatic punch because youíre not riding along with a central character you feel you already know. In a one-off, you can literally end up anywhere, whereas in a series the rules are tighter. That said, good series can be absolute pleasures when they are firing on all cylinders.
3) Have you had the idea of writing a crime novel for some time?
I guess I have always been drawn to it, but it wasnít until I hit on the angle of having a forensic scientist operating on both sides of the law that I really began to get excited and develop it into a novel. Writing it, editing it and selling it took about 2 years from that point.
4) Who or what influenced you to write a crime novel in the first place?
Although Iíd always fancied having a bash at writing a crime novel, the state of current technology was a big factor. The rate of change in the science that underpins forensics has meant a rapid change in what could be possible if pushed to its limits, which is one of the things the book is about. As a full time scientist using those same technologies, it suddenly made me think What if? And out of that came some pretty scary thoughts.
5) In your short biography you are accredited as a scientist Ė does your Ďdayí job ever have any dealings with the world of crime forensics and DNA profiling?
I donít have any direct dealings with crime forensics. I run a group of researchers engaged in cancer research. However, the DNA techniques which forensics uses are almost identical to the ones we use, so I have a very good working knowledge of how these things tick.
6) Reuben Maitland has developed a process which is called Predictive Phenotyping where he can download what the perpetrator looks like by gathering his/her DNA. Is this a process that you think will be available in the future or is this from research you may have been involved in? Could it be a procedure used in our lifetime?
The scary thing is that since I started writing, the technology has already begun to appear in dribs and drabs. As research for the book, I sent 2 samples of DNA to a company in Florida called DNAPrint Genomics Ė a cheek swab from myself, and one from a Korean colleague. For added fun, I swapped our names on the envelope. DNAPrint promise to be able to predict your ethnicity, your eye colour, your likely skin tone etc just from a microscopic sample of your DNA. And they did. Despite my obvious ploy to fool them, they accurately predicted our characteristics. So the ability to isolate DNA from the scene of a crime and to gauge what your suspect looks like may not be that far away.
7) In Reuben Maitland you give us a likeable, yet damaged, human being. Did you decide that it would make it more readable if Reubenís life was particularly horrendous, with his addiction to amphetamines, etc?
I just felt that it would be fun if he was compromised. The idea is that he is taking forensics out onto the street, mixing with the good guys as well as the bad, and hunting the people he couldnít touch when he was part of CID. So his journey from cutting edge forensics officer to someone who has lost his job, his wife and access to his child has given him some internal scars, which give him some interesting angles on things, allowing the plot to unfold in unusual directions.
8) The division of GeneCrime and the officers of CID who work alongside these scientists appear to be very three-dimensional and, at the end of the novel, there is a distinct feeling that we havenít really left Reuben and his colleagues. Are you in the process of writing another Maitland novel?
The second book in the series is already finished, and the third is currently being written. Dirty Little Lies is all about establishing a character who hopefully will run and run. As I say, the first three books are fairly sorted. After that, well, that would be telling!
9) Would you describe yourself specifically as a Crime fan and, if so, which classic and current authors do you most admire?
I have always loved crime, particularly its directness. Very little is wasted in a crime novel. It seems to strike right to the heart of issues which other genres approach almost tangentially. I tend to read anything that grabs me from the first page when I'm stood in a book shop. So in terms of favourites, itís often been more about books than authors. That said, I have recently enjoyed books by Mo Hayder, Simon Beckett, Robert Goddard and Peter Robinson.
10) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Very difficult to say. It changes with time, as things come in and out of favour, and I try to just enjoy each crime novel on its own merits. That said, I really do like William Landayís book Mission Flats, which came out a year or two ago.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
It would have to be LA Confidential. The book, although fantastic, is so dense and skittish and multi-layered that the fact that anyone made a coherent film out of it is amazing.