Fresh Blood

Name: Jackie Baldwin

Title of Book: Dead Man's Prayer

'From page one the prose is tight and punchy...'

Ex-priest DI Frank Farrell has returned to his roots in Dumfries, only to be landed with a disturbing murder case. Even worse, Farrell knows the victim: Father Boyd, the man who forced him out of the priesthood eighteen years earlier.

With no leads, Farrell must delve into the old priestís past, one that is inexorably linked with his own. But his attention is diverted when twin boys go missing. The Dumfries police force recover one in an abandoned church, unharmed. But where is his brother?

As Farrell investigates the two cases, he canít help but feel targeted. Is someone playing a sinister game, or is he seeing patterns that donít exist? Either way, itís a game Farrell needs to win before he loses his grip on his sanity, or someone else turns up dead.

One of the best things about being a reviewer for is discovering new authors before anyone else. Jackie Baldwin is an exciting author whose debut novel is one which will stay with me for a long time.

Farrell has unusual demons to face and the whole past-affecting-the-present was executed with a high level of skill from Baldwin. Just when you thought things couldnít get any worse, the tension was increased by another dastardly deed as the killer engaged Farrell in a twisted game of cat-and-mouse.

The lead was beautifully created and his interaction with others showed not just his character but theirs. Mhairi McLeod was the finest of the support cast but Lind, Walker and Moore all deserve a mention as does Mrs F.

From page one the prose is tight and punchy with just enough description to spark the imagination of dark deeds and fantastically dark characters. The more I read, the faster I found myself turning the pages as I raced through Baldwinís assured debut. Iím already wondering how long itíll be before I can read the next instalment.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ĎDead Manís Prayerí is a fine example of the past coming back to affect the future. Where did the original idea for it come from?
I think we are all moulded to a greater or lesser extent by the past. When something bad happens we paper over the cracks but the stress fractures remain underneath. I thought it would be interesting to have a character who feels he has put the past behind him but who has that sinkhole open up under him with no warning. I also wanted a plot involving a character who has struggled with his mental health. A long time ago someone close to me suffered a psychotic breakdown and it affected me profoundly.
2) You handle the procedural elements of the story with aplomb. How did you go about researching the necessary details?
Our local Writer In Residence contacted my local police station in Dumfries and they were kind enough to invite me in and show me all the hidden bits in the Station, like the armoury and firing range and a DI allowed me to fire questions at him. I had also done quite a bit of criminal court work as a solicitor so I felt comfortable writing about prison visits and the like.
3) You have chosen a new location for crime fiction and brought it alive. What drove you to set your novel in Dumfries?
I grew up here so this place is in my blood. I am a ĎDoonhamerí and not a ĎDum(b)friesian.í Wee cow joke there, for the uninitiated. Dumfries is the largest town in Dumfries and Galloway. It is big enough to have a seedy underbelly, but small enough to cause difficulties such as someone you know turning up in the Dock when you are sitting in Court. There is limited scope for reinvention as someone somewhere can be relied upon to dish the dirt. The region is a blank canvas with its castles, islands, and landed gentry on the one hand and desperate drug fuelled poverty, crime and squalor on the other. All the satellite towns and villages in the area have their own distinct character and identity. It provides scope for diverse plotlines as well as countless places to hide a body!
4) There is a strong religious thread to the story. How hard was that to incorporate into your writing?
Less hard than you might think. I went to the local Benedictine Convent in Dumfries for 13 years. The nuns themselves were lovely but back in those days, Catholic teaching was quite extreme for impressionable young minds. We would hear grisly tales of the ghastly deaths of martyred saints. Put it this way, it would make your average Noir writer cry like a baby! And this was in primary school. There was a lot of symbolism, incense and disturbing imagery. As a child I would worry that the flames of Hell were licking at my feet. I think that is why I like to explore themes of guilt and redemption in my work. I was able to tap into all of that quite easily even though it was so long ago.
5) Can you tell us how you went from being an aspiring author to a published one?
Like most of us, with great difficulty! I sent it out to some agents and a few expressed some interest but didnít take me on. I became discouraged and put it away for a few years as it was so hard writing in a vacuum. I then attended a crime writing workshop, got my writing mojo back, and decided to give it one last big re-write and send it out again. I had just finished the rewrite when someone posted on Facebook that Killer Reads were open for submissions. I fired it off, thinking nothing of it and two weeks later I received an acceptance. I was completely shocked!
6) What is the single most important trait of a good story for you?
I like complex, flawed yet likable characters that are a bit Ďotherí or on the fringes.
7) When you created DI Frank Farrell, did you have any particular person in mind as a starting point?
I had an image of a tall, dark, rather severe, ascetic man. However, when I started to write he would insist on having a sense of humour and warmth about him so I had to go with that.
8) Will we be seeing him again?
I hope so! I am writing book two at the moment.
9) Do you plot your writing in advance or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
A bit of both really. My process for this book was to write the blurb first. Then, I wrote twenty chapter headings. After that, I wrote a monologue for both DI Farrell and DC McLeod to find their voice. Finally, I wrote a two page outline in prose telling the story. Then it was time for page 1, Chapter One and I simply kept going until I got to type the magical words, The End. Except, that it wasnít, it was only really the beginning. Multiple drafts followed.
10) Which three crime fiction novels have left a lasting impression on you?
Bad Samaritan - Michael J. Malone

I enjoyed the whole book but had a completely visceral reaction to the ending. The world created had become so real to me it felt like a punch to the stomach. It took me days to get over. I also liked the way he created such an unusual twisted villain in Stigmata who was such a damaged, driven character but with a backstory all of his own.

Missing Presumed - Susie Steiner

This book left a lasting impression on me for several reasons. The plot had everything you could hope for with an incredibly well executed twist. However, the reason it stayed with me was primarily because of the warmth and humanity of Steinerís lead character, DS Manon Bradshaw. I loved the incongruity between her chaotic, needy personal life and her dedicated professional one. By the end of the book she felt like a friend I was desperate to hear more from. I think it is a great example of the pulling power exerted by a lead character in a series.

The Shut Eye - Belinda Bauer

This book made a lasting impression on me because of its heart breaking plot and the character of Anna, from whose point of view much of it is written. Although Anna presents as neurotic and unstable, albeit for good reasons, she has a vulnerability about her that made me feel completely on her side. The plot, involving psychics and a present and cold case of missing children was incredibly skilful. The haunting resolution still lingers in my mind.