Author Lucie Whitehouse talks to us about regeneration, homecoming and the Midlands ahead of the paperback publication of Critical Incidents, the first book in her new crime thriller series.
What is Critical Incidents about?
Former DCI Robin Lyons, recently fired from a high-flying career in Homicide Command at the Met, is crawling back to Birmingham, the hometown she fled at nineteen, to share bunkbeds at her parents’ house with her own teenage daughter and work as a benefit-fraud investigator with her mum’s best friend. She’s been back only a matter of hours when her own best friend of twenty years, Corinna, is found murdered in her burned-out house. Of course, Robin can’t leave the investigation alone and while she thinks she’s already hit rock bottom, she discovers that there are whole other levels.
Why did you decide to set the book against the backdrop of a regenerating Birmingham?
I grew up in the Midlands and my Dad was born in Birmingham, where his family have run the same light-engineering business since Victorian times. When he died, I didn’t want to lose that connection to the city. I’m fascinated by the process of decline and regeneration, and the tension between the two. Birmingham has such a rich history industrially and politically, and its young, multicultural energy is really exciting. It reminds me a lot of Brooklyn, where I live now. But it also has big problems – poverty, racial tensions, a soaring murder rate and a police force under extreme pressure. It’s hard to think of a better location for a crime novel.
What was the inspiration for your protagonist DCI Robin Lyons?
Robin appeared in my mind almost fully formed. Homecoming and the reckoning involved are a big part of her story and they’re something I think about a lot these days, living overseas. She shared my urge at eighteen to get out and explore the world and I’m sure people who know me will recognise her bloody-mindedness, too. I wanted to write about a highly intelligent, funny woman who’s moral and loyal but damaged by fraught relationships with her mother and brother, as well as by her history with Samir Jafferi, now Head of Homicide with West Midlands Police, whose savage dumping of her twenty years earlier has cast a shadow over her life ever since.
This is the first book in a series – what sparked the idea for the story and the series as a whole?
I’ve been visiting our factory, now based in Redditch, since childhood and I’ve watched other businesses on the street come and go. As a child, I saw the effort involved in keeping a business going during major recessions. When Dad died, I started wondering what would happen if a business that had supported a family for generations suddenly went to the wall – and what that family might do to survive. In terms of the series, I wanted to write about issues that have become more and more pressing, especially the danger presented by disempowered angry white men and the rise in open racism. I’ve always been interested in charismatic, dangerous people.
What can readers expect from the rest of the series?
At the end of this book, Robin makes two discoveries that undermine her entire belief system of the past twenty years. The series will be shaped by how she decides to deal with one of them in particular. Her days as a private benefit-fraud investigator are (very) limited, too – she’ll soon be back in Homicide again.
Critical Incidents by Lucie Whitehouse is published in paperback by 4th Estate on 16th January.