author of In Her Blood
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Hackney, East London. My family emigrated to Australia when I was 14, and I finished my schooling in the southern suburbs of Melbourne. I’ve spent most of my adult life travelling backwards and forwards between London and Australia.
At 12 I wanted to be was far, far away from where I was, and preferably somewhere where I was rich and glamorous . I can’t remember wanting to be anything at 18, except drunk, and at 30 I wanted to be an academic. What a come down.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
That Mao Tse -tung thought would liberate the international proletariat.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot, had a revelatory effect on me because it changed my understanding of what literature was for, and what it was about.
A long time after these experiences I realised that communicating an extraordinary emotional experience requires restraint and great discipline.
However, I wouldn’t have the cheek to say that any of the above really influenced me as a writer. I wish.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I had written a number of feature screenplays and got sick of them languishing in development hell. A novel seemed to be the way to go, as I could do it on my own, nobody would try to impose their ‘vision’ on it, and it wouldn’t take three years to raise the money to produce the finished article.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel In Her Blood…
Catherine Berlin, an investigator with a financial regulator, finds the almost-headless body of her informant in a shallow reach of the Thames. The death is linked to Berlin’s investigation of a local loan shark, and her unorthodox methods are blamed for the death. It looks as though she’ll pay only with her job, but then on a routine trip to her GP, who prescribes heroin to long-term addicts, she stumbles across a second body and is implicated in that murder too.
Berlin has seven stolen days of clarity in which to solve the crime – and find a new supplier.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb– Everyone is hooked on something.
It’s not that easy to kick the money habit. After the world meltdown forces London’s bankers to go cold turkey, people look elsewhere for a quick quid: the old fashioned East End.
So when investigator Catherine Berlin gets an anonymous tip-off about a local loan shark, the case seems straightforward – until her informant is found floating in the Limehouse Basin.
In another part of town, a notorious doctor is murdered in his surgery, and his entire stock of pharmaceutical heroin stolen. An unorthodox copper is assigned to the case, and Berlin finds herself a reluctant collaborator in a murder investigation.
Now Berlin has seven days to find out who killed her informant, why the police are hounding her and, most urgently of all, where to find a new – and legal – supply of the drug she can’t survive without.
Smart, stylish and fast-paced, In Her Blood heralds the arrival of a remarkable new talent in crime fiction.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A determination to read another novel in the Berlin series.
Dickens, because he’s a fantastic storyteller and he endures. Patrick White, because he changes the way you think about Australia as a place in the imagination. Virginia Woolf, because she changed writing.
I also really admire authors who can produce a well-written ‘series’, consistently providing an engaging plot, a strong sense of place and an evolving protagonist: people like James Lee Burke, Donna Leon, Patricia Highsmith, Philip Kerr and Peter Temple.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Sell a book. Sell another book.
Annie, thank you for playing.
Catherine Berlin gazed down at the blue flesh swaying in the grey water, the outline of the woman’s remains softened by a bone- chilling February mist. The backwash from a water taxi on the river rippled into the lock. Berlin felt her own body rock gently with the swell that roiled the corpse, exposing a deep, serrated gash at the throat, as if someone had taken a bite. With faint bewilderment, she recognised a quickening of her heart. So this is what it took to move her. Someone would pay.
The case conference with the Murder and Serious Crime Squad was perfunctory. The men at the table regarded Berlin with indifference. She was just a civilian investigator with a regulatory agency. At fifty-five her lean frame was tending to look wasted. Her hair, once blonde, was now a dirty melange of grey, streaked with tarnished gold.
The squad boss, Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, was about her age and seemed long past throwing his not inconsiderable weight around. He put down his bacon roll, slipped on his glasses and read from a notebook: ‘ ’A bite or a tear. A wound from some kind of serrated edge or teeth, anyway, which perforated the neck, almost severing the head.’ We’re waiting on forensics. In the meantime, Ms Berlin, are you able to provide us with any more intelligence about this source of yours?’
He didn’t look at her as he spoke, but his tone was mild and she sensed his apparent indifference towards her arose from professional disinterest rather than arrogance.
Berlin went through it again as the others shuffled their papers. ‘She called the hotline and identified Archie Doyle as an illegal moneylender. Our first meeting was at Starbucks about four months ago. The date’s in the file. She was well spoken, plausible, but nervous. I needed to win her confidence. We arranged another meeting. In the meantime further inquiries were made, approval was obtained for surveillance, and observation commenced.’
A cocky young officer spoke up. Berlin had seen him before, but couldn’t recall where. She knew he recognised her too, but simply as a soft target. He wasn’t going to waste the opportunity.
‘So was she a concerned citizen, a disgruntled girlfriend or a victim? I mean, as I understand it, if the moneylender hasn’t got a licence and is arrested, the debt is wiped, yeah? Big incentive.’
‘That’s correct,’ said Berlin. She held his gaze, barely able to summon the energy to play this game. She remembered his name was Flint. The little weasel was a detective constable.
‘So which was she? Citizen, squeeze or vic?’ asked Flint.
‘She didn’t say.’
‘No name, no address,’ said Flint.
‘She wanted to use an alias. Juliet Bravo.’
Flint looked blank. Clearly it didn’t ring a bell.
‘On the telly. Before your time,’ murmured Thompson.
Flint’s nod was curt. He was on a roll now. ‘You had a mobile number for her, and that was it? I take it she was registered as a CHIS. You know what that is, don’t you? A Covert Human Intelligence Source.’ He said it very slowly.
‘No,’ said Berlin.
‘No, you don’t know, or no, she wasn’t registered?’ asked Flint. Berlin caught Flint’s quick scan of his colleagues, to make sure they were picking up on his clever sarcasm.
‘She wasn’t registered,’ she said.
Flint shook his head and threw down his pen, a pantomime of incredulity. Berlin cleared her throat.
‘If I may explain, Detective Constable —’
‘Acting Detective Sergeant,’ snapped Flint.
Berlin decided not to bother. ‘Look, I was waiting for her at the lock at the Limehouse Basin this morning. It was very cold, so I kept moving.’
‘It was a bloody early meeting,’ remarked one of the officers.
‘A late night,’ said Berlin.
‘Party girl,’ sneered Flint. Was he referring to her or the dead woman?
‘Insomniac,’ said Berlin, similarly ambiguous. In fact insomnia was a trait she had shared with Juliet Bravo.
She waited until Thompson nodded that she should continue.
‘I walked around to the other side of the lock and something caught my eye. When I took a closer look I could see it was a body. At first I didn’t even realise it was her,’ she said.
Thompson sat back in his chair and Flint appeared to take this as a signal he could have free rein.
‘Which of you wanted to meet at the lock?’
‘She did. I —’
‘Preferred Starbucks. Yes, we know. Who else knew about this meeting?’
Berlin let his question hang out there. Like she would be, soon enough. Taken in an open cart from Newgate to Tyburn, hung for public amusement, cut down while still alive, then torn limb from limb. Quartered. Her daydreams echoed her nocturnal wanderings. Sometimes she couldn’t distinguish.
‘Why did you go alone?’ demanded Flint.
She didn’t answer.
‘Surely you people have standard operating procedures which you ignored by meeting her alone. Am I correct?’ he tried again.
It was purely rhetorical. She remained silent.
He delivered the final blow. ‘Where is this shark Doyle now?’
He knew, but he was going to make her say it. Now she remembered where she’d seen him before. And who he’d been with.
‘The surveillance was withdrawn,’ she said.
The collective groan wasn’t even muted.
Someone would pay.
Making people pay was Doyle’s business. He had never believed in light-touch regulation. An undisciplined system gave weak characters the opportunity to get weaker. He’d learnt that from Frank.
Doyle was a short, solid man with squirrel cheeks and a pale complexion. His eyes held a permanently hurt expression, as if he couldn’t believe you were doing this to him, again. He stared into the lock and fiddled with his heavy gold rings. Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes. Concrete boots. On the other side the police were still working under floodlights. He stayed well back in the shadows. Word had reached him that the grass had been fished out. He thought it a pity they hadn’t taken the opportunity to remove the rest of the rubbish. The canal was a disgrace.
The tidal stain on the massive timbers of the lock bore testimony to the effort required to tame the sullen river and render it fit for trade. Doyle gazed into the dark eddies and saw the silent plea in the eyes of so many victims as they were consumed in the rush of water. It was a hard city and an unforgiving current that ran through it. He should know.
When Doyle was a kid, Frank would announce that he was going to see a man about a dog. Sometimes he would take Doyle with him. His mum didn’t like it, but she daren’t make a fuss once Frank had his mind made up. At the age of eight Doyle had stood here and watched Frank dangle a bloke between the huge lock gates, limbs inches from the crushing pressure. He would never forget the screams.
Doyle thought about the dead girl and sighed. No doubt she’d been badly brought up. Spoilt. No values. Learning the hard way hadn’t done him any harm. He spat into the filthy water. The sky was lightening and the police were switching off their floodlights and packing up their stuff. He should make himself scarce. He checked his watch. Time to go and see a man about a dog.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.