We are absolutely delighted to host a Q&A with Sarah Ward, talking about her stunning thriller, A Deadly Thaw. Sarah was already on our radar, and we were privileged to interview her when her debut, In Bitter Chill was published (you can read it here: click). There is always a worry that a second book will not live up to the first, but we are in safe hands with Sarah. A Deadly Thaw is not just an exceptional crime thriller, but a confident and thrilling sequel that addresses some important social issues, while offering a truly captivating read. Sarah plays fair with the reader. Her narrators are reliable, with the story of missing Lena being slowly played out to drive the tension. Multiple characters, including DCI Francis Sadler, DS Damien Palmer and the series favourite, DC Connie Childs, are involved in searching not just for the killer of a man who is, apparently, already dead, but linking together multitudinous threads that involve cold cases, new discoveries and some shocking events from the past. This an accomplished and riveting book; once again, the Scandinavian influence is evident, with stark and stunning descriptions of Derbyshire casting darkness over the narrative. Literary merits aside, this is truly compelling, with an unusual and exciting plot, constantly changing points of view, and some terrifying, action-packed moments. In some places our heartstrings are pulled; in others we feel angry, fearful, and even bereft; either way, this a book with a slow, well-paced, yet somehow relentless energy. I defy you to put it down. Unforgettable.
Every secret has consequences.
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.
Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .
A Deadly Thaw confirms Sarah Ward’s place as one of the most exciting new crime writers.
Q&A with Sarah Ward:
1. The premise behind this book is immediately intriguing. How can a man die twice? What inspired this?
A friend who used to work in the CSI team in Manchester Police was telling me about mistakes that had been made. Not all were serious, most were down to simple human error, but it got me thinking about how a body might be misidentified. That led me on to the idea that a man who is assumed to be already dead is subsequently discovered to be the victim in a new murder.
2. There are a number of social issues at the heart of the book, not least of which is the response of the police to crimes committed against women. First of all, do you think this was, in fact, a problem? And two, if so, does it continue today?
I know that it was an issue in the 1980s as a result of friends’ experiences and I felt strongly that this was an issue worth addressing. I read a lot of transcripts of interviews with women who had had disastrous experiences when trying to report sex crimes. It was clear that there were rules on place but procedure wasn’t followed. It’s much better now but, while I was doing my research, I did find recent complaints about the treatment of victims but I think it’s much less prevalent.
3. Similarly, there are numerous police failings and mistakes in the original case, which were covered up. While errors obviously happen, did any incident in particular encourage you to draw light to this?
I understand that it can be difficult to build a case against someone who is accused of rape. I drew on a real life case of someone I went to university with who was later convicted of raping women he’d met through internet dating websites. When his story appeared in the national newspapers, more of his victims came forward. Some of his victims had gone to the police but they struggled to gather enough evidence. It was by bringing together victims testimonies that resulted in a successful prosecution.
4. You’ve told this story from two viewpoints, the police (Connie) and Lena’s sister Kat, and yet so much of the unfurling of the plot relies on Lena herself. Not only does she lie (or stay silent) and ultimately disappear, but she becomes a strategically unreliable witness. Did anything inspire this clever device?
As Lena clearly has the answers to the big deception that she’s been involved in, she needed to disappear fairly early on in the narrative. All my books have a dual narrative – I like following the police investigation but also having the narrative told by an ‘outsider’. Given that the origins of the case hark back to Lena’s teenage years, I thought her sister was an ideal voice for the other narrator.
5. Characterisation has always been one of your strong points, and a number of reviewers have commented upon their believability. Are you one of those writers who is always watching interactions, writing down bits of dialogue or encounters you see/overhear?
I write very little down but I’m definitely a people watcher!
6. There is undoubtedly at least one character who is dislikeable in this book. Do you think it matters whether readers like your characters, or do you think it’s good to have a mix?
Every book I write has a character that people don’t like. It doesn’t bother me as a reader, I just hope they’re believable. People do write to me though and tell me how much they hate a particular character.
7. You’ve introduced a hint of romance or at least sexual tension between Damien and Connie … can we expect more in the remaining two books in the series?
Romance definitely but with Connie I suspect the course of true love won’t run smooth!
8. You avoid describing any graphic or gratuitous violence, which is somewhat refreshing in a crime novel. Is that something that is important to you?
To be honest, I skip violent passages in the crime novels I read so I’m never going to write about them although graphic acts occur off the page. Readers have great imaginations and I think you can tap into them.
9. As a judge of the Petrona Award, you read a great deal of Scandinavian/Nordic crime. Are you influenced by any particular writers or elements of this genre?
I try to integrate setting and plot which is a feature of Nordic Noir but I do feel I’m writing in the British crime fiction genre.
10. Your debut was remarkably assured, but there is a new confidence and maturity in your writing. Do you feel that the success of In Bitter Chill helped?
That’s really kind of you to say so. I finished A Deadly Thaw before In Bitter Chill was published so I didn’t know what the reception would be to my writing. I just found writing the second book slightly easier than the first. And the third, which I’ve just finished, slightly easier again.
11. Tell us about the editing process and how easy you find it.
I love editing. I simply start at the beginning and re-write my first draft. Then, for my third draft, I edit backwards so the book isn’t too front heavy. You need to keep the reader’s attention right to the end. For me, editing is where the magic happens.
12. You do a lot of travelling to events and speaking engagements to promote your books. How important do you think that is to your success?
Books are a passion of mine so when I give talks I spend half of the time talking about other people’s books. It’s great because it means people com back to hear me again, sometimes a few weeks later, as I’m talking about different things. I love meeting readers and it makes me feel very privileged.
13. Do you think social media is an important tool for reaching readers and promoting your work? If so, what advice would you give an aspiring author, in terms of using it successfully?
I think you’re the expert in social media, Karen. You’re tireless in your work for your authors and it’s an inspiration. I use it a lot but I try to remind myself that I’m judged by my writing. I worry my Facebook friends get sick of me promoting myself!
14. What are you reading now and what would you recommend?
I’ve just read Sheena Kamal’s debut Eyes Like Mine which I loved. It has the feel of early Sara Paretskys. I’m also looking forward to reading Roz Watkins debut published by HQ next year. She lives near me and it’s great to see Derbyshire on the crime fiction map.
15. What’s next?
My third book, A Patient Fury, is out in September. I know all writers say this but its my favourite book yet. A family is killed in a house fire. Did the mother deliberately murder all her family?
Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces (www.crimepieces.com), reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Her first novel, In Bitter Chill, was an international bestseller. Sarah lives in Derbyshire.
You can find Sarah on Twitter: @sarahrward1
Or visit her website: https://crimepieces.com
A Deadly Thaw
Faber & Faber
Published: 2 February 2017