When an eight year old girl called Daisy disappears from her family’s Oxford home during a summer BBQ, the investigating police officer, Detective Inspector Adam Fawley, is devastated by the case after experiencing the loss of a child himself. He also knows that in cases like this, nine times out of ten, the offender is someone close to home and Daisy’s family are acting suspiciously. Her mother Sharon is obsessed with keeping up appearances whilst her father Barry is cold and defensive when questioned. It’s up to DI Fawley to race against the clock to find any trace of Daisy but there is little to go by and it’s as if she has disappeared into thin air. No one supposedly saw anything and no one knows anything but everyone has something to hide.
An intriguing case with plenty of red herrings, Cara has crafted not only an entertaining story but one that’s believable and factually correct. She told us how important it was to her to get the facts right when it came to researching modern policing; “I read as widely as I can, and that feeds into my first draft. At that stage I give it to my police adviser to read and we go through it page by page. The devil really is in the detail with these things, so doing it then means he can spot where I’ve made a mistake or suggest another better way to do things (and that’s been invaluable at certain points). He’s a DI as well, so he really does know what he’s talking about. And I do exactly the same with a professional crime scene investigator, who’s been an absolute mine of information. The two of them have taught me so much about the practicalities of police work, and I know the books are better as a result. And as well as the two of them I now have a fabulous ‘team Fawley’ which also includes a QC, a doctor, and a forensic psychiatrist. I feel very privileged to be able to work with such impressive people.”
Cara takes a fresh look at the police procedural by including snippets of information like tweets, emails and police interviews to give her readers a unique insight into the case, allowing them to assess the evidence and piece it together themselves. The style of Close to Home is one of Cara’s favourite things about the book; “I wanted to find a way to tell the story that would give the reader an experience that was as close as possible to TV. Some of the sharpest crime writing around these days is written for TV – look at Mindhunter or Line of Duty – and I wanted that same pace and energy in the book. So there are lots of intercutting short scenes, and lots of dialogue. Using the different formats is part of that too, but it also allows me to make my readers into detectives too. They see a lot if the same material and documents my detectives do, so they can form their own conclusions and decide what they think really happened. And including the social media feeds is a way of bringing the ‘outside in’. It gives an external perspective which is often prejudiced, sometimes sympathetic, and occasionally very insightful. And of course, social media has changed the way we see and respond to crimes like this, both for casual observers, and for those who have to investigate them.”
Her protagonist DI Fawley has experienced tragedy in his personal life which, Cara notes was always her intention; “Fawley’s back-story was part of his character right from the start. My very first imaginings of him were anchored in that. I wanted him to be strong and compassionate, with a happy home life, but this one black thread that runs through everything he does. I also wanted him to develop a direct relationship with the reader, which is why his parts of the book are in the first person. I wanted him to ‘speak for himself’, and I worked very hard to create the voice I wanted for him. After three books I can hear him in my head!”
It’s the flaws in DI Fawley’s character which make him so relatable and Cara acknowledges how “for a writer, it’s the flaws that make the story. Look at Shakespeare’s tragic heroes – great men brought low by a single fatal weakness. In a crime novel it’s more extreme, of course – you’re dealing with people who have been pushed to the edge and broken through some of society’s most fundamental taboos. That’s always a rich seam to mine in fiction, and even more so when you’re dealing with shades of grey. Not the out-and-out psychopath but people who do the wrong thing for the right reason, or out of desperation, or even out of love.”
Daisy’s family are especially flawed and it’s easy for us to dislike them from the very beginning. Cara uses them to explore the perception of the “perfect” family and the idea that people’s personal lives are not always what they seem on the surface; “the one thing I’ve learned is that you never really know what goes on in families. People can look perfectly normal on the outside but it can be very different behind closed doors. This was one of the themes I wanted to explore in the novel, through the characters of Barry and Sharon. They’re like thousands of other people in a similar position. They think they’re doing the right thing – buying the right house, the right car, sending their kids to the right school. Working hard to ‘do well’ and ‘fit in’. It’s only when a catastrophe strikes that you realise how brittle all that stuff is. It’s only then that you see who people really are.”
As well as being a fast-paced page-turner from a fantastic new voice in crime fiction, Close to Home raises some deeper issues too, which Cara identifies as; “the power and terror of social media. The fact that people are so busy these days that terrible things can happen right under their noses and no-one even notices. And how little we can ever know about anyone, even those we trust. Or love.”
Culminating in a shocking, well-thought-out twist, it’s unsurprising to learn that Cara knew exactly how it would end before she started writing; “the ending came first! I think great crime fiction is all about the twist – finding a way to make the reader gasp. When I first got the idea I actually gasped myself, and I think a few other people have since as well!”
The ending most defiantly made us gasp and left us wanting more, so we were very excited to hear that there are already two more DI Fawley books set to be released within the next year! This certainly isn’t the last you’ll see from DI Fawley or indeed Cara Hunter. Watch this space!