Fresh Blood

Name: J.S. Law

Title of Book: Tenacity

'I would certainly recommend you dive in to ‘Tenacity’...'

Lieutenant Danielle (Dan) Lewis is back after a years’ sabbatical from her job at the Crimes Involving Loss of Life division. A few years back Dan was lauded and applauded for catching a serial killer, but as with all fame, it is fickle and soon she was ostracised and her fifteen minutes in the limelight was brought to an abrupt end.

Now she is back and has been specially requested to head the investigation in to the suicide of a Royal Navy sailor, his body found on the nuclear submarine, Tenacity only a few days after his wife had been found brutally murdered.

Although she is only supposed to be looking in to the sailor’s suicide, Dan can’t help but feel certain the two incidents are linked. She also senses that the sailor, who she had known briefly during her days as a new recruit, was pointing to a murderer on-board Tenacity. With barriers being swiftly erected, Dan feels she is being thwarted and that someone doesn’t want her prying in to their business. Then she gets word that Tenacity is ready to leave for manoeuvres. Dan makes a quick decision and finds herself under water in a small and hostile environment. Soon she realises that there are frightening machinations within the deep depths of the dark waters.

I was rapidly and completely submerged when I started ‘Tenacity’. Although Danielle Lewis is a bit of a maverick and not a team player in any way, she is portrayed as having a soft centre despite her hard exterior. Her long-suffering partner in crime, John Granger is a perfect foil for her – solid, dependable and patient – and I do hope that we will learn more of Granger in future novels.

What I found particularly fascinating about this debut was the way that old traditions of the Royal Navy, some of which should have been phased out decades ago, are ardently adhered to with a weird sense of the superstitious. Law is saying that if something isn’t done in a certain way then it could attract disaster for a mission or for the vessel in question. It is these traditions that hold a bizarre fascination for those of us looking in from the outside. It was also interesting to read about the rigidity of the pecking order on a vessel.

Law perfectly conveys the claustrophobia of a submarine and the stern mentality needed to cut yourself off from society for many weeks, if not months, to wander the dark depths of the oceans in a metal tube cheek to jowl with your work colleagues. For many of us this would be a nightmare. I imagine if you lived in a studio flat and invited forty friends (and that’s friends not mere colleagues who you only know at work) and asked them to live with you for a month then the novelty would quickly wear off. Plus you wouldn’t have to deal with keeping your elbows in and your head bent so as to avoid any protruding metal pipes or dials. And you wouldn’t have many takers if you included a nuclear reactor and they had to sleep under a load of missiles!

When the submarine dived I felt as though I was being completely submerged along with Lewis. I could feel the onset of hysteria, of being trapped in that tube with metres of water above, to the side and below. ‘Tenacity’ is not a fast-paced thriller, but Law does keep the suspense susurrating like the waves on a shore: continuous and ever-mounting, reaching higher and higher. Law also has a good eye for characterisation and each individual was sharply defined. I would certainly recommend you dive in to ‘Tenacity’ and would be a superb choice to put in your suitcase. And if you are offered the chance of experiencing a submarine trip, I am sure you’d think twice about accepting once you’ve read this book!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) You have used your experience in the Royal Navy as the basis of your novel. Did you always think during your time in the Royal Navy that certain aspects of the job would make a good plot for a book?
In the Navy there’s a saying, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’, and storytelling is part and parcel of Naval culture. Not only socially, but we use anecdote-based training a lot of the time to better prepare trainees for submarine life and the cultures on board. With this in mind, I guess I did always think that I’d eventually use my experiences to write a book but I didn’t really intend to write a submarine-based novel so early on in my writing career.
2) Did you deliberately use a female protagonist to highlight the misogyny within the armed forces? Is it as rife as we are led to believe through the media?
I think the armed forces are a microcosm for society in many ways. To say that we don’t have a problem with sexism would be simply incorrect, but it would also be unfair to say we’re not doing something about it. I think the difference between when I started in the Navy in the early 90s, to when I left twenty years later, is vast. We’re making real leaps and bounds in terms of diversity and people’s acceptance of others. I was around when homosexuality became ‘legal’ – as it were – in the armed forces, and I thought it was a positive thing, and that it was treated positively by the vast majority of people I knew. My experience of the service is that it is really inclusive and on submarines, it’s always more a question of whether you’re a qualified submariner – whether you’d earned your dolphins – everything else is, as it should be the case, not important. Can you do the job? Are you part of the team?

I certainly don’t think that misogyny is rife in the armed forces and, as I say, I really think we’re making big steps to tackle what residual sexism there is.

Note: I use ‘we’ throughout that answer - I’ve actually left the services, so I guess it should be ‘them’ now, but I’m not convinced you ever truly leave - you can take the sailor out of the Navy, but you can’t take the Navy out the sailor.
3) You are excellent at describing the claustrophobic atmosphere of the submarine. I also got an intense feeling of isolation in a tube crammed full of people – a bit like feeling alone in a crowd of people. Was this deliberate?
It was. I mention in one of the chapters that you’re never more than a few metres away from another person when on board a submarine, but they can be really lonely places. It’s true, they’re all about belonging, about being part of the team, and I wanted that to come across. When you earn your dolphins it is a big deal to become part of that team. I wanted Dan to go on-board and to be an outsider: not to be a qualified submariner; to be a woman in a man’s world; a police officer amongst the 'general population'; to be in a strange place, where she didn’t really understand or know the customs and cultures – I wanted her not to fit in, in any way, to see how she would deal with that situation, which very quickly became very hostile.
4) Is there such a staunch chain of command within a submarine? Again, we have read about newbies being put through certain ‘tests’. Is this part and parcel of that particular culture?
In the Navy we have military discipline, as you would expect, but I would say less so in comparison to, say, the Army, and also the surface fleet. The submarine fleet are disciplined, but we’re much more relaxed in the way that we enforce our discipline. Many of the guys on the submarine that were working for me would call me by my first name, whereas on a ship that would be much less likely to happen as they tend to adhere much more strictly to the formal chain of command. The submarine service ‘does’ its own culture, and its own traditions. The days of hazing are gone, as they should be (those frat boy initiations upon which your inclusion in the team depends). The submarine service has a really healthy culture, where we all work with- and for- each other: we submerge together and we all break surface together. Once you’re part of that team, once you’re in the club, it’s a really strong place to be. I think now that we have women in that club, we’ll prove that gender is a non-issue in the submarine service, too. Once a woman’s earned her dolphins she’ll be as much part of the family as anyone else.
5) You deal quite specifically with the workings of a nuclear submarine and Royal Navy operations. Did you have to get permission to publish ‘Tenacity’ like others do who have previously worked within MI5/MI6 as the book might include sensitive information?
In a word, no. I have had some Navy guys read it to make sure there was nothing in it that would get me into trouble, and I made sure that all the information I included had been formally declassified. I had to make some changes to the layout of the boat and some of the operations procedures to make sure I didn’t fall foul of that spec. Instead of having to seek permission to include the information, I went the other way, and just removed all sensitive information from the beginning. For me, ‘Tenacity’ is not about a submarine, it’s just set on a submarine. It’s a crime thriller and it’s about Danielle Lewis. The submarine background is less important than establishing her as a character, though for many ‘Tenacity’ seemed to become a character in its own right.
6) You have left the ending of ‘Tenacity’ quite ambiguous. Will we be seeing some characters from your debut in future novels?
Oh yes… I’m on it right now.
7) 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?
I would have to say Clare Mackintosh’s ‘I Let You Go’. I think she’s an outstanding author and I’m sure she’s going to have many, many top ten hits and better.

William McIlvanney’s ‘Laidlaw’ – when you read McIlvanney you really develop a sense of place, and I tried to use this technique in ‘Tenacity’ to make the sub come alive, as he does to make Glasgow a character in his books. He’s the godfather of tartan noir for a reason, you know?

‘The Concrete Blonde’ by Michael Connelly is my third choice. I love that Harry Bosch stuff. If you want to learn how to write a series character, then just read and learn.

Not a crime novel, and so not in the running (though it would be in my top three selection above, otherwise) Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ really teaches you how to create tension and drive plot with the most simplistic of language - it’s definitely one of my firm favourites.