When I joined the police reading crime acquired a new dimension, and I found myself frustrated by procedural inaccuracies and by outdated, stereotypical portrayals of officers. I began reading more American crime; my lack of knowledge about US policing meaning I could enjoy a novel without being pulled away from the story by something I knew full well wouldn’t happen. I identified those British crime authors I knew I could rely on for procedural accuracy, such as Mark Billingham or Peter James, and read everything they wrote. At work I encountered criminals far more terrifying than their fictional counterparts, observed the way families behave under pressure, watched a lie fall apart in an interview room.
In 2011 I picked up a Sophie Hannah, and discovered an entire genre I didn’t know existed: the psychological thriller. I felt the same buzz of excitement as I had in my teens, reading And Then There Were None with a chill creeping up my spine. A crime to investigate, yes, but more than that: a cast of complex characters where no one was quite as they seemed. Not simply what happened, and who did it, but why they did it. I had found my literary home.
I have remained faithful to the genre ever since, reading any psychological thriller I can lay my hands on. The beautifully written Apple Tree Yard (Louise Doughty), the terrifying Close My Eyes (Sophie McKenzie), the utter perfection that is Before I Go to Sleep (S J Watson). My bookshelves groan with suspense novels and thrillers, and with such a wealth of new talent emerging every year I’m never short of something to read. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that when I started to write fiction it was within this genre that I felt most comfortable. My debut novel, I Let You Go, features a police investigation, but the focus of the story is Jenna Gray. I’d hesitate to call her a victim, yet that is precisely what she is: a victim of circumstance and of crime. I wrote what I love to read: a tense, twisty story that wrong-foots the reader and challenges preconceived ideas about what is right and what is wrong.
This year at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival I’ll be taking my place on stage with three other debut crime writers – Ben McPherson, Renee Knight and Lucy Ribchester – for Val McDermid’s celebrated New Blood panel. Last year I came to Harrogate as a punter, waiting in line with my ticket for what is for many of us the highlight of the programme. The debut authors, all hand-picked by Val, spoke with such passion and verve for the genre that I couldn’t help but buy all four books, enjoying them all very much. I am deeply honoured to find myself on this year’s New Blood panel, and look forward to it immensely.
I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh, is published by Sphere and available to buy online as a Paperback or eBook. Clare will be appearing at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate on Saturday 18th July. You can visit the official website for more information about the festival.