Fresh Blood

Name: Dan Waddell

Title of Book: The Blood Detective

'This is a cracking first novel...'

The year is 1879 and Bertie is on his way home from the pub. However, he is never to reach home as he is murdered in the churchyard of St. Johns church. Bertie is one of several victims in a case that is to become one of the most horrific of its time.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, DCI Grant Foster is called to the church to find the body of a young man. But this time, the body has been bizarrely mutilated – a cryptic clue that leads back in time when a serial killer was terrorising that part of London. Soon, Nigel Barnes, a genealogist is brought onboard to find out who the victims were - and what happened over a century ago.

As the bodies mount Nigel recognises echoes of the earlier investigation. Someone seems to being a copycat killer - 125 years later! It is soon after that Nigel finds another link between the present and the past and that the killer is drawing nearer to the investigating team than any of them could ever have anticipated…

This is a cracking first novel in a planned series brings together the art of genealogy with history and a present investigation. I have to admit to being a little sceptical of the premise and wasn’t sure if it would work well at all. However, I was very pleasantly surprised and remained glued to the book for the two days it had me in its thrall.

The Blood Detective starts with a murder from 1879 and jumps over a century later to a body being found in the same location. From there, Waddell continues at a cracking pace. With Waddell’s obvious knowledge about genealogy, we are taken around the different institutes and given an insider’s know-how on what you can and can’t do. (Nnever lick your fingertips when looking through aged documents - unless you want one of the security guards shouting at you!)

Who would have guessed that these two subjects, genealogy and a police investigation could have been brought together and transformed into a great police thriller? The Blood Detective was an excellent read and I believe that many people are going to be picking this one up and not being able to put it down again until the nail-biting finish.

The Blood Detective is fast-paced, exhausting and exhilarating. However, it may put some people off tracing their ancestors. Sometimes, it is best not to know...

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I’m a journalist so I believe in economy of words and pace and my style reflects that (I hope). You have to know your limitations and your strengths, and I know my style suits the crime genre - it’s my favourite genre - so I don’t have to try to hard to make it ‘fit’. My aim with this book was to produce a cracking read, to compel people to read on, devour it one sitting. I’m not the person to judge whether I’ve been successful but the feedback so far has been very pleasing.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I hope my books will form a series, so I should say the former, but it really doesn’t matter to me. I love following a character’s development over the course of a series – Martin Beck, Rebus, Bosch, Wallander, Lew Archer. But I also love a one-off, and enjoy it when a favourite writer of mine puts the tried and trusted to one side and tries something new. I’ve just finished Mark Billingham’s standalone and liked it a great deal.
3) What inspired you to combine genealogy with crime fiction?
I think they’re a perfect marriage for several reasons. For a start, genealogy is as close to detective work as most of us will get – following clues, overcoming obstacles, following hunches, uncovering secrets, there are many similarities. Secondly, I’m fascinated by the skeletons in our closet, the rogues and the black sheep. Thematically this ties very well into crime novels, where rogues and skeletons play a major part. Finally, genealogy, like much of crime fiction, is all about the dead.

But the main inspiration was coming up with the plot. I’d spent a day researching death certificates for the Who Do You Think You Are? book, and I was in the pub when the premise came to me – how about if a body turned up with a reference carved into its chest that led the cops to a death certificate of someone murdered on the same day, same place 125 years before? I’d had a few beers but I managed to text the idea to myself, so it wasn’t lost in a fog of alcohol. Unlike most drunken ideas, it still seemed a good one the next morning. You won’t hear me bemoaning the ubiquity of the mobile phone…
4) You have been credited with writing the book to accompany the TV series of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’. Has genealogy always been a passion of yours and is this your background before you started to write fiction?
No, like most people under 30, I suspect, I didn’t really give a thought to my ancestry. It was only when I was 32 and my son was born that I started to care. His birth meant the Waddell name would continue – I was the last male before his arrival – and I got a real kick out of that knowledge. Then I wondered why. I realised I knew nothing about where the Waddells came from – what was this line I was so proud of continuing? So I started tracing my family tree and within 45 minutes had uncovered two family secrets that had lain dormant for more than half a century. I was hooked. My interest helped me land the role writing the WDYTYA book. By training I’m a news journalist – I’ve done a stint on several national newspapers and places like Reuters and the BBC, but over the past few years writing books has been my main job. I wrote ten non-fiction titles before I leapt into the shark-infested waters of fiction.
5) In The Blood Detective you explore ‘psychogeography’ - the imprint on a building when something bad has happened within its walls - and you mention in particular the demolished road where Christie lived. Do you think there is a link between history and the echoes it leaves behind in bricks and mortar?
Definitely. There’s a quote I like that reads ‘The dead are invisible, they are not absent.’ That isn’t meant to suggest they’re hanging around us and we need the likes of Doris Stokes to find out where they left that £50 note. It means that the past impinges on the present. Its influence is constantly felt. In the obvious sense of skills and physical attributes we inherit from our forebears, but I also believe that past events and not just people can leave an imprint. Visit any well-preserved battlefield, or the site of a notorious killing like the one at Rillington Place, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. I lived in Notting Dale where the book is set. It’s always had a dark history and despite gentrification, building the Westway and razing slum terraces it still retains a seedy, noirish atmosphere.
6) Nigel Barnes is ‘the blood detective’ of the book who reads as a very likeable character. Are we going to see Nigel develop in future books along with other mainstay characters?
I hope so. Nigel, DCI Foster and DS Jenkins turn up in the next book, tentatively titled Blood Atonement, which I’ve just handed to my editor, and I’ve got some strong ideas for several other books in which they would feature.
7) Genealogy is a huge enterprise these days with more and more people wanting to know their family tree. What do you make of this new fashion for the need to find out about people we are related to by blood?
I think it’s great. For me, genealogy isn’t about drawing up ornate family trees and ticking off ancestors one-by-one. It’s about finding out who your ancestors were, the circumstances of their life, how they loved and lived. It’s about putting flesh on the bones. Learning how your ancestors struggled and survived is remarkably humbling, too.

I have a bit of a theory about why it’s taken off, other than the fact it’s a very compulsive hobby. I think we live in quite fractured communities these days – I think the sense of belonging we got from institutions such as the church or is a thing of the past. Instead people are turning to their ancestors to get that sense of belonging, and understand how they’ve come to be where they are.
8) Do you think genealogy is likely to be a lasting influence on people or do you believe that like the Victorians and séances that the craze will eventually fizzle out?
It’s always been a relatively popular hobby. The Victorians were very keen on it, particularly the aristocracy. So I don’t think it will fizzle out because I think the desire to find out where we came from and seek out the heroes and villains of our family tree will always be there. There has been a massive boom recently, thanks to the TV series, and also the digitisation of so many records, which means you can do much more at the keyboard of your PC than ever before. Possibly the current huge level of interest will slacken eventually, but it will still remain very popular.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
I remember reading Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow as a teenager and being absolutely knocked out by the twist. Not sure what I’d make of it now though.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Not a very original answer probably, but Manhunter, the Michael Mann mid-1980s adaptation of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, is nearly as chilling as the book and far superior to the film version of Silence of the Lambs. I’d rank that up there.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes, I read more crime than any other genre and have done since I read Emil and the Detectives as a boy. There are many authors I admire, so off the top of my head: Len Deighton – he’s the master; Ross MacDonald – I read The Goodbye Look when I was way too young to understand some of the more adult themes, but I loved Lew Archer and have done ever since; Elmore Leonard - for many reasons but mainly for the dialogue; Henning Mankell – I’m a sucker for gloomy Scandinavian cops; Thomas Harris – Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs are up there among the best; George Pelecanos – his books possibled a fabulous sense of time and place; Dennis Lehane – I love all his stuff, not least his work, like George Pelecanos, on The Wire; and Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – I’ve nearly finished the reissue of the Martin Beck series and I’ve loved every single one.
12) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
It’s a toss-up between The Ipcress File and The Goodbye Look. I’ll go for the former.