Fresh Blood

Name: Roz Watkins

Title of Book: The Devil's Dice

'...a superb and strong debut and I look forward to Meg’s next case...'

A SHOCKING DEATH: A lawyer is found dead in a Peak District cave, his face ribboned with scratches.

A SINISTER MESSAGE: Amidst rumours of a local curse, DI Meg Dalton is convinced this is cold-blooded murder. There's just one catch – chiselled into the cave wall above the body is an image of the grim reaper and the dead man's initials, and it's been there for over a century.

A DEADLY GAME: As Meg battles to solve the increasingly disturbing case, it's clear someone knows her secrets. The murderer is playing games with Meg – and the dice are loaded…

‘The Devil’s Dice’ is a gripping thriller which has been given the ‘supernatural’ tagline. Why it certainly has a sense of the Gothic about it, thankfully Watkins doesn’t allow a ghostly spectre to give Meg Dalton vital clues. What Watkins does best is use myths and legends that surround this case to bring to it a sense of the macabre without being fanciful.

Witches are definitely in with crime fiction these days, (read the brilliant Cathi Unsworth and Syd Moore if witches are your poison), and Watkins neatly fits in with this esteemed company. Here, folklore is mixed with Greek myth and legend, making Meg Dalton’s first case out of the ordinary. I am not sure what is legend and what has come from Watkins' imagination, but Watkins drops in these enticing morsels to drive her plot, and her reader on to her astounding and heart thumping conclusion.

Meg Dalton is one of those wonderful detectives you immediately like, but know that despite the bumbling exterior, (I found myself seeing her as a female version of Columbo…), that Meg, like that other great creation, does not miss a trick. She knows who is lying and who has something to hide. It is just convincing others that she is on the right track, even if it means putting herself in danger as Meg does get battered during this book. Meg is not without her own demons, but this perfectly ties in with the case, especially when halfway through she is dealt a blow that puts her and her job in jeopardy, while at the same time allowing her to confront the demon that has been torturing her for years. Again, as with the Author of the Month, Ed James, here we have Watkins producing a spellbinding plot, while at the same time allowing her story to have a pulsing heart with private dramas played out alongside a series of murders. In the end, both strands come down to families keeping secrets.

This is a superb and strong debut and I look forward to Meg’s next case, with her battered raincoat and dishevelled look. A great, atmospheric debut.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) DI Meg Dalton is quite a likeable character despite being a bit of a maverick with a number of issues. How did Meg form over time and what was it about her that made you want to put Meg centre stage?
I hadn’t planned to write a police procedural (on account of my complete ignorance of police procedure) and the book started off as a psychological thriller. Meg wasn’t the main character, but as soon as she limped on stage, she just put herself in the centre!

Meg seemed to have a strong voice and character, so I gave in and let it be her book. It’s not worth arguing with Meg. Luckily I had an old friend who’d been a CSI and whose husband was a detective, and they were happy to spill the beans if given sufficient alcohol. I still worry that the police procedure in the book is inaccurate, but of course if it was accurate, it would be deathly dull.

There’s a lot of me in Meg, although thankfully my childhood was much less traumatic than hers, and she’s younger and more kick-ass than me. One reviewer called her a ‘geek warrior queen’ which made my day. It’s fun to rant about things through the medium of Meg, and I can always blame her if people disagree with me.
2) There is a sense of the supernatural in ‘The Devil’s Dice’. This is a new sub-genre that is currently becoming more popular with writers such as James Oswald leading the field. Have you always wanted to combine crime and supernatural in your writing?
I’ve always been intrigued by things creepy and unexplained. As a kid I was always inventing ‘mysteries’ and even managed to inadvertently create one of my own. ("Mum, why is water dripping out of the light bulb in the porch?" It was because I had left the bathroom tap on upstairs and flooded the house…) I used to pore over the Fortean Times, and especially remember the spontaneous human combustion stories where there was always just a pair of feet and some charred remains.

I’m a scientist by training, and believe that if something appears ‘supernatural’ it’s because we haven’t worked out the explanation yet, but there’s that wonderful phase of not knowing. It must have been incredibly exciting to be a scientist in Victorian times (provided of course you were rich and male) because there was so much to discover. Meg’s a scientist too, but it’s less fun for her because she always has the pressure of a hideous murder to solve. I enjoy torturing her with things that seem supernatural, but that she’s adamant must have a rational explanation.
3) The Peak District has a vast landscape that is perfect for your book. Did this lend itself to the legends and myths you have in your story?
Definitely. I find the quarries, cliffs and woods in this area quite creepy, if you let your imagination run free. But the caves take it to the next level. It’s one of my nightmares to be trapped underground with the water rising around me, so of course lucky Meg gets to experience this.

There are some deeply sinister myths and legends in this area, and I like making up new ones which reflect the themes of my books.
4) There are big seismic tremors in Meg’s personal life. Will we see the continuation in your next book?
Yes. Gran has a bigger part in the second book. Sadly she is dying of stomach cancer. She doesn’t want to die slowly and horribly. Meg and her mum are adamant they won’t let her, but are worried about the implications for them and for Meg’s career if they help her die. Meg’s friend, Hannah, has a disability and is against assisted dying, and she gets more of a say in book 2. Since I started ‘The Devil’s Dice’, the political climate has changed. With the brutal cuts in healthcare budgets and social care, I felt strongly that we needed to listen to the voices of people with disabilities on the assisted dying issue. It doesn’t change my opinion, but I could imagine the current government wanting to bump people off if they’re too expensive, so we’d need plenty of protection in place!
5) You were shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger. How did it feel to get so far out of so many entries and did it open doors for you to get your debut in print?
It was an incredible feeling. I’d actually got an agent and was in discussions with publishers by the time the long-list was announced, and I’d put the competition out of my mind. I only realised I was long-listed when Stephen Booth tweeted congratulations! I was thrilled of course. Because of having a deal in the pipeline, I offered to pull out at this stage but they said not to. And although I’d thought of the competition as a stepping stone to getting a book deal, it’s also been really useful in getting attention for the published book.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I am, although I love other genres too. Because so many authors have been so incredibly supportive of me, and said such lovely things about my book, I’m now desperately reading proofs for other people. It’s a good problem to have, but it means I can’t find time to read other books. So I’d relish a desert island experience. I’d take:

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I’m not sure if this counts as crime but but I love her books and haven’t yet read this one.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I love this book and could re-read it many times while waiting to be rescued.

The Collector by John Fowles. I read this years ago and thought it was brilliantly horrible, so would enjoy having the time on my island to read it again.