Fresh Blood

Name: Lesley Kara

Title of Book: The Rumour

'...a book that delivers a punch in the solar plexus and will leave you reeling... '

When single mum Joanna hears a rumour at the school gates, she never intends to pass it on. But one casual comment leads to another and now there’s no going back.

Rumour has it that a notorious child killer is living under a new identity, in their sleepy little town of Flinstead-on-Sea.

Sally McGowan was just ten years old when she stabbed little Robbie Harris to death forty-eight years ago – no photos of her exist since her release as a young woman.

So who is the supposedly reformed killer who now lives among them? How dangerous can one rumour become? And how far will Joanna go to protect her loved ones from harm, when she realizes what it is she’s unleashed?

‘The Rumour’ tackles the issue of what happens to those who kill and how they cope with life and their new identities when they have been released. This has big echoes of the infamous Mary Bell case of 1968 and the killing that happens in Kara’s debut happens only a year later in 1969. There is always a stigma about anyone who has killed before. Will they kill again? If it was a child, is any child near that particular person safe? Kara plays with these issues in the setting of a psychological drama.

Placed firmly under ‘Domestic Noir’, Kara shows how one simple rumour can cause a tsunami of distrust and panic. Joanna finds herself centre stage as she was the one to vocalise the rumour and soon finds herself earmarked on social media for poking her nose where it shouldn’t be. There is a morale question here that Kara sets: should the perpetrator who has by rights served their time be allowed to live quietly under an assumed pseudonym, or should they be shown for what they have done to the unsuspecting people who live within the vicinity? It is a tough question to call. I know they are extreme examples, but would anyone want someone like Rose West or Myra Hindley living next door? Is their crime any greater or lesser a travesty than someone who only killed the once? Is it less of a crime if they are convicted of manslaughter rather than murder? Are we more outraged if the victim is a child than an adult? It is all food for thought as Kara unravels her disturbing tale.

Joanna is personable enough even though I did at times get frustrated with her that she could show an immaturity that belied her years. Plus, although some minutiae of daily life builds a background to the characters, I really didn’t feel the need to know if you should use one or two poo bags to pick up dog mess, or the correct term for a dog eating another dog’s poo! Hardly life's dilemmas and it did tend to deflect fro the main thrust of Kara's story.

There are several twists which are very clever and I did not see, which is always good when one reads so much crime fiction and can normally see the signposts a mile away. One of the twists was clever, even if a little melodramatic, but Kara adds a sting in her tale right on the last page which is a little zinger.

‘The Rumour’ is a book that delivers a punch to the solar plexus and will leave you reeling by the end of it. A gripping and thought-provoking novel that will have many talking about it!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘The rumour’ of a killer in their town starts at the school gates. As a writer have you listened to several rumours at such gathering places and was it this that gave you the idea for t novel? Wherever people gather, be it the school gates
Wherever people gather, be it the school gates or the workplace, gossip and rumours abound and like many writers, I have a tendency to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations! The idea for ‘The Rumour’ first started when a colleague told me a similar story to the one my main character Joanna hears, namely that a notorious figure who’d committed a terrible crime many years ago, was living nearby in a safe house. For a few days after hearing this, every time I saw someone of the right age group and gender, I speculated on whether it could be them. I also started looking at the houses I passed every day and wondering which one it might be. This happened several years ago, but something must have been percolating in my subconscious all this time, because when I was thinking about starting a new novel, the idea of someone with a dark past living under a new identity was the first thing that popped into my mind.
2) Joanna is the one who carries on the rumour, and as like a virus, the rumour about this killer infects one person after another. Was it your intention to show how a rumour starts and how like an infection, it begins to grow?
The analogy of a virus to describe the spreading of a rumour is very apt. Sometimes, even if we’re determined not to, the compulsion to share what we’ve discovered is too tempting to resist. So we choose someone trustworthy, someone like us, who isn’t the sort to pass it on to all and sundry. Except of course, that person then chooses someone else to tell, someone equally trustworthy, and before long, a whole chain of people have been ‘infected’ with the information. That was one of the reasons I decided to set the novel in a small community, where there are more (and closer) links between the various inhabitants and where the repercussions of spreading a rumour are far greater and potentially more damaging than in a city.
3) There is a lot of social hierarchy in the town where Joanna lives. I never even knew there was a club for babysitting, although I can see it makes sense. Is there a usual pecking order with these mums?
My own children are grown-up now, but when they were small, I joined a babysitting club similar to the one in ‘The Rumour’. I didn’t stick with it for long because I soon discovered I’m not really a ‘group’ person and they were cross with me anyway because when it was my turn to bring the file to the meeting, I forgot all about it and never turned up! As for a pecking order, I think it’s inevitable that some people command more social standing than others. Personally, I’ve never cared about such things because I’m quite happy with my own company, but I’m sure it can be difficult for many young mothers, especially if they’re newcomers in a small town where everyone already knows each other.
4) The rumoured killer living in the town is Sally McGowan who killed another child in 1969 when she was only ten years old. This has definite echoes of the infamous Mary Bell case of 1968. Was this case a big starting point for ‘The Rumour’?
Well, I certainly researched the Mary Bell case and of course, there are parallels within ‘The Rumour’. But I was also inspired by other, more recent cases, such as the James Bulger killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. These high-profile stories about children who kill or maim other children have always interested me, because even though they are quite rare, they attract acres and acres of press coverage. It’s always fascinated me that we seem to judge children who kill far more harshly and ‘monster’ them to a far greater degree than we do adults who commit similar crimes, and of course, the press often fuels this sense of outrage with sensationalist stories. So that was one area I wanted to explore. The other thing that interested me was how a victim’s family so often feel that justice has not been done, that while the perpetrators are rehabilitated and enabled to start again under a new identity, the suffering of the victim’s family continues unabated and they are fair game for press intrusion.
5) Have you always enjoyed reading psychological thrillers and is this why you decided to write your own?
I have a very wide taste in reading but yes, I’ve always loved psychological thrillers in much the same way I once enjoyed the scariest rides in theme parks! I love the suspense and anticipation, that exhilarating thrill of knowing something bad is going to happen. But unlike scary fairground rides, I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of thrillers. Maybe that’s why I decided to write one of my own!
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?
Crime fiction is a particular favourite of mine and if I were stranded on a desert island, I’d need something pretty substantial to keep my brain active, novels that I could read over and over again and still find something new. I’d probably choose Umberto Eco’s historical murder mystery The Name of the Rose, because of its many layers of meaning and postmodern playfulness. It would help me to remember all that literary theory I learned at university!

Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James would also keep me occupied. It’s set on a desolate and eroding stretch of coast in East Anglia, in and around an isolated theological college, and sees the poetry-loving detective Adam Dalgliesh investigating a series of unholy murders. I know this part of the world very well and P.D. James captures it perfectly.

My third choice would be A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. With its dual narratives – a police investigation into a missing girl in the 1960s, and a reporter in the late nineties who is writing a book about the case – this novel is masterfully plotted and utterly compelling. After reading these novels, one after the other, I would quite happily start all over again, determined to work out just how these three incredible authors pulled off such complex and riveting fictional puzzles.