Fresh Blood

Name: Sheila Bugler

Title of Book: Hunting Shadows

'Bugler’s debut is akin to a big hit of narcotics, but in paper form. This book will give you a buzz!'

DI Ellen Kelly has been out of the game ever since confronting her husband’s killer and taking the law in to her own hands. On her first day back Ellen is given the case of a missing girl: a girl of nine who looks very familiar to Molly York who was kidnapped two years previously, her body found dumped on some wasteland. Nobody wants a repeat of that horrific case where nobody was arrested for her murder. Now everyone is wondering if the same person who took Molly has now taken Jodie. And if that is the case, then Jodie needs to be found sooner rather than later.

As always, it is never easy as there are secrets within the family of the missing girl and major suspects who were also involved with Molly’s investigation. Ellen, who is still dealing with her own personal demons, has to deal with people holding back information from her, both in her own department as well as the family.

The wonderful thing about ‘Hunting Shadows’ is how quickly I was pulled in to the story. Bugler has delivered a wonderful creation in the form of DI Ellen Kelly: a DI who has to juggle her job alongside motherhood. Bugler wonderfully paints a portrait of a woman coping to live without her husband as the shadow of her husband’s killer stretches over her enforced new life. Due to her emotional frailty and this new case, Ellen also finds herself plagued with memories of her early childhood that are brought vividly to life through Bugler’s prose.

‘Hunting Shadows’ is a haunting tale about mothers and daughters, the theme running through Ellen’s life as well as Helen’s, the mother of the missing girl. Despite the reader knowing the perpetrator of the crime quite early on, it does not take away any of the tension of the investigation. If anything, the writer perfectly marries the police procedural and the psychological novel seamlessly and Bugler delivers an addictive crime novel of such a high standard that I could not leave this book alone until it was finished.

What also appealed to me was Bugler’s way of making her characters three-dimensional. To me, nobody was introduced simply as a plot device and you felt that each one, whether they played a major or supporting role, was thought out and deserved to be in the story. There are a few that I would love Bugler to expand on but what I do hope is that the writer maintains that balance between a rollicking good thriller with a well-written novel with characters that are tangible. Bugler’s debut is akin to a big hit of narcotics, but in paper form. This book will give you a buzz!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Did you choose to write crime fiction or did crime fiction choose you?
In the sense that I’ve never wanted to write anything else, I think crime fiction chose me. Like a lot of crime writers (I suspect), crime fiction is the place that feels most like home. I’m not sure if this makes sense but it’s the closest way I can describe how I feel about it.
2) Your detective is DI Ellen Kelly and you have given her a very colourful past. Her husband was murdered and Ellen sought revenge against her husband’s killer. What attracted you to this back story for Ellen?
Firstly, I’m interested in how our past affects the people we become. It was important, therefore, that a character as strong as Ellen had a complex past. Secondly, of course (and at the risk of sounding horribly pretentious), a character often does things that surprise the writer.

So, the decision to make Ellen a widow was a conscious one. As a parent and working mother, I wanted to explore the issues facing today’s working women. In crime fiction, we don’t often see examples of women trying to balance the demands of working life with raising children. Making Ellen a widow meant I could explore this in a bit more detail than if she had a loving, supportive husband holding the fort while she was out solving crime.

On the other hand, Ellen’s decision to act the way she did seemed to have very little to do with me! In an earlier draft of this book, Ellen confronts Billy Dunston, the man who killed her husband. The scene where Ellen kills him wasn’t planned. It just happened as I wrote it. Once it was done, I knew it was absolutely right. And so it became part of her past and another strand to her character.
3) Ellen Kelly has grown up in a very strong Irish Catholic upbringing. As you were born in Ireland is this a little of your own history blurring in to Ellen’s?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Ireland was a strongly Catholic country when I was growing up. I attended a convent school and received a staunchly Catholic education.

On the other hand, my parents were not typical of their time. Both are atheists and, unlike most of my contemporaries who were hauled off to Mass every Sunday, my parents refused to take us. In fact, one of my (short-lived) childhood rebellions was to sneak off to Mass on my own, telling my parents I was going for a cycle.
4) ‘Hunting Shadows’ is about the death and kidnap of young girls. As a mother yourself did you find this subject matter difficult to write about?
At times, yes. As a parent, I am fascinated by themes of parental love and the importance of giving children a safe and loving environment. This is a theme I keep coming back to in my writing, probably because – like most parents – I’m so aware how easy it is to get it wrong as a parent.

In this sense, the soundtrack to much of my writing is the words of Larkin’s poem, ‘This be the Verse’. I am acutely aware of how easy it is to f**k up my own kids. Loving them is easy. Being a good parent, that’s a lot harder, I think.

If I wasn’t a parent, I doubt I would have written this story. Writing about the death and kidnap of children is a way of exploring my deepest fears. I wouldn’t have these fears if I had no children.

The sections I found hardest to write were those written from the perspective of Rob York, the man who’s young daughter was brutally murdered. He is – understandably – broken because of it. Irredeemably broken, I think. Getting inside his head wasn’t easy.
5) You have a wonderful eye for characterisation and there are some I hope will be brought to the fore in future novels. Is this likely?
Yes. There are several characters I’d like to bring to the fore in future novels: Jim O’Dwyer, Ellen’s potential suitor (he’s got a dark secret); Abby Roberts, the Family Liaison Officer Ellen is slowly becoming friends with; Ellen’s twin brother, Sean; Raj Patel, Ellen’s most trusted colleague.

Then the491re’s Ellen’s birth mother, Noreen, who has her own story. She’s shouting loudly to be heard at the moment, although she may have to wait until the third book in the series before that can happen. Ellen’s father, Michael, will also play a more prominent role in later books. His voice, and Noreen’s, are so strong right now. I’m very keen to give them some space to be heard.
6) The story doesn’t solely concentrate on the case in hand, but also highlights the dynamics between certain characters. In your opinion is character as important as plot?
Absolutely. More so, in fact. Character is key and the real reason people keep turning the pages of any novel. We do so because we care about the characters and want to know what happens to them.

Of course, plot is important, especially in crime fiction. But, for me, character is key. It always starts with the voice. I have to have the character’s voice in my head. Once that’s there, everything else follows. Voice is the character’s internal dialogue, their world view, all the things that make them unique. It’s about really getting inside your character’s head and this is the single most important thing that drives my writing.
7) The end of ‘Hunting Shadows’ is extremely gripping but also a lot of it is left in the air regarding DI Ellen Kelly. Will we be seeing more of her?
I hope so. I’ve got a whole series planned in my head and I’m busy working on the sequel at the moment.
8) What is the method to your writing? Are you very strict with yourself when you are embarking on a book and during the writing process?
I am strict, yes. I’ve got a job and two children. I have to be very regimented or the writing just won’t get done. My best time is early morning so I tend to get up early and write before the rest of world wakes up.
9) What are your plans for your next novel? Will we be hearing more from DI Ellen Kelly?
Most definitely. The next book in the series is called Watch Over You and it’s due to hit the shelves in the first half of 2014. It’s got some very dark, twisted female characters in it. I’m a bit obsessed at the moment with the role of women in crime fiction and this is obviously coming across in my writing!
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Only three? What a difficult choice!

‘The Guards’ by Ken Bruen. Why? So many reasons. Bruen is the father of Irish noir and no one does it better. The Guards, the first in his Jack Taylor series, is hard-boiled noir taken from the US and replanted in the west coast of Ireland. It’s a wonderful, lyrical, angry, funny, moving portrayal of alcoholism and Irish society. It also happens to be set in Galway city, a place I love more than any other.

‘Die a Little’ by Megan Abbott. There will always be a Megan Abbott book in any list of my top crime novels. Choosing just one is an almost impossible task. I’ve gone with this one simply because it was the first novel of hers that I read. I adore her writing. She explores the dark, complicated, messy world of female desires and friendships like no one else. This novel, set in the mean streets of 1950s LA is another masterful reinvention of classic noir fiction.

‘Norwegian by Night’ by Derek B Miller. This recently published debut (2012) has raised the bar in crime fiction. Moving, literary, original and utterly unforgettable, I would urge anyone who hasn’t already done so, to get their hands on this book. The main character, Sheldon Horowitz, is quirky, cantankerous and slowly growing senile. After witnessing a murder he flees the crime scene with a young child dressed as a Viking warrior. And that’s just the beginning....