Fresh Blood

Name: Sarah Ward

Title of Book: In Bitter Chill

' astonishingly assured debut novel.'

In 1978 two girls were abducted: one managed to escape but one simply disappeared. Thirty years later the mother of the missing girl is found dead in a hotel room, apparently a suicide. The surviving girl, Rachel Jones, has lived with the mystery most of her life, but the death of her friend's mother stirs her to find the truth and lay to rest her ghosts and feelings of guilt.

The death of Yvonne Jenkins also provokes the police to pay more attention to the investigation into the disappearance of Sophie Jenkins, an investigation never closed but hardly active. Rivalry between Detective Constable Connie Childs and Detective Sergeant Damien Palmer for success and the approval of Detective Inspector Francis Sadler adds impetus to the investigation.

The winter chill of Derbyshire echoes the frozen life of Yvonne Jenkins after the disappearance of her eight year old daughter. Rachel Jones's life has also been on hold for many years.

When Sarah Ward asked me to read the early version of her book with a critical and honest eye I was both thrilled and apprehensive. It is an honour to read someone's hard wrought lines, but what if I didn't like it? I needn't have worried. I started off, notebook at the ready, prepared to be a critical friend, but not long into the book I was so engrossed in the story that I forgot the criticism and just enjoyed the novel.

This book is an exciting and absorbing story that investigates the troubling aftermath of every parent's nightmare, a missing child. Thirty years after the abduction of two children and the permanent disappearance of one of them, the tendrils of the agony and pain live on.

The chilly beauty of a Derbyshire winter underlines the frozen characters of those touched by the tragedy. Yvonne Jenkins, mother of the missing girl, has never recovered from it. Rachel Jones, the survivor is coping but only slowly coming back to the warmth. Even the policeman, who as a young constable was involved in the investigation, cannot forget the frustration of not finding Sophie.

The psychological impact of the events are beautifully understood and portrayed with delicate sensitivity. The police team are an interesting crew with their own interactions and motivations which drive the story. The rivalry between Connie and Damien Palmer is lightly touched upon but I think could easily develop in future books. This is a very accomplished first novel, with hints of Peter Robinson and Ann Cleeves. This is an astonishingly assured debut novel.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Were you influenced at all by stories in the news about missing children? I'm thinking particularly of Madeline McCann, but also those who emerged after a period of imprisonment?
I was influenced by the children who went missing during the early eighties: Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper. They were later proved to have been the victims of Robert Black who preyed on young girls during that decade. Their disappearance had a strong effect on me when I was growing up.
2) Did you need to do a lot of research for this book or did you write using your knowledge and experience?
The passages set in the 1970s were drawn from my own experiences. I set my book in Derbyshire which is where I live and is an area I know well. I needed to research the police aspects of the case and also how you go about discovering your family history.
3) ĎIn Bitter Chillí is a brilliant title as it mirrors the atmosphere of the book. Is it a reference to John Keats' St Agnes Eve? If so, can we expect more literary allusions in future books?
Well spotted! Yes it is reference to Keatsís poem and I thought it nicely reflected the chill both of the plot and winter in Derbyshire. My next book is set in the spring and, again both the title and plot have allusions to the season. But the title isnít lifted from a poem this time.
4) The frozen beauty of winter in Derbyshire is a background to the action in this story. Was there any particular reason for setting the book there?
I live in Derbyshire and we are strongly affected by the weather. Iím constantly looking at the forecast as it tends to dictate what I do with my day. This is particularly so in the winter which can be brutal. Iíve been snowed-in a few times. I didnít really want to set my narrative anywhere else.
5) I am interested in the process of writing. When you are writing, do you start from the plot or from the characters? Is the plot set out in your mind before you begin or do the characters take over and lead you on?
Iíd say Iím largely plot driven but I do tend to formulate the narrative as I go along. Characters grow as I continue through the book and I get a strong sense of how they might react in a certain situation. But, in my experience, people also do surprise you and I think itís important not to lose that in fiction. People can, and do, act out of character.
6) I understand there is another book in the pipeline. Is it a sequel to the first or a completely different format?
It is a sequel but I like to think it would work well as a standalone. ĎIn Bitter Chillí is half police investigation and half the story of the protagonist, Rachel. Her story comes to an end and, in my second book there is a new protagonist and new story but the same police characters.
7) As a newly published author what advice would you give to anyone looking for their first deal?
It may sound obvious but you need to write the best book that you possibly can. Itís a very competitive environment and you need to have belief in what youíve written.
8) What are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
A really difficult choice as I have read so many crime novels that Iíve loved. But Iím going to choose:

Johan Theorin Ė Echoes from the Dead

Agatha Christie Ė Crooked House

P.D. James Ė Shroud for a Nightingale