Lucie Whitehouse is the author of Before We Met, The Bed I Made, The House at Midnight and Keep Me Close. Her latest novel, Critical Incidents, was published by 4th Estate on 26 December 2019.
Lucie kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Critical Incidents.
Critical Incidents begins a new crime series featuring DCI Robin Lyons, fired in disgrace from Homicide Command at the Met and now – 35, broke and single – limping home to share bunkbeds at her parents’ house with her teenage daughter, Lennie. She thinks she’s hit rock-bottom but within 24 hours, her best friend, Corinna, the only good thing about being back, is found dead in her burned-out house. Of course, Robin can’t leave the case to the West Midlands police, especially when Force Homicide is headed by Samir Jafferi, whose savage dumping of her at 19 has cast a shadow over her life ever since.
2. What inspired the book?
The book had an unusual beginning – it seemed to come from nowhere. I was at work on my previous book one morning when a TV producer emailed to ask if I had an idea for a female series character. Without hesitating, I wrote back that yes, I wanted to write about a high-flying murder detective thrown out of the Met and forced to return to her hometown, Birmingham. Before I wrote the words, I’d never had the thought but Robin arrived fully formed so my subconscious had clearly been at work for some time.
I live in Brooklyn these days but I’m a Midlander by birth and upbringing and the Whitehouse side of my family goes back generations in Birmingham. About a year before that email, my Dad died. I loved him a lot and wanted to hang on to him, and I’m sure writing a Birmingham book was a way of doing that.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
My method’s changed, interestingly. With my first two novels, I sat down and saw where the story took me but since Before We Met, whose many shifting truths and untruths demanded it, I’ve been a planner. To manage the kind of plots I want to write now I need an outline. They usually take me three or four months to work out and run to between 14 and 18 pages. Knowing you have a solid framework sets you free to be creative without worrying you’re writing yourself into a corner.
4. Having been through the publishing process several times, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
Yes! I’ve had a different experience with every book – each one has presented a different challenge. With Critical Incidents, it was laying the groundwork for a whole series of books rather than a stand-alone, which my first four were. With Robin no 2, I’m navigating the challenges of continuity. And with every new book, you set out with the goal of writing your best yet. The challenge keeps it fresh.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Unsurprisingly, my favourite way to relax is reading. My husband is a screenwriter so my film-watching has increased but for me, nothing competes with books. I’m an increasingly keen cook – a true expat, I listen to Radio 4 while I do it – and in the summer, when we visit friends in Maine, I’ve become a dedicated blueberry-picker. Hunting and gathering is very restorative.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
This question might give me nightmares! One book for the rest of my life? It would have to be something really long so I’m going to say Bleak House but if you ask me again tomorrow, the answer will be different. The idea of never reading Graham Greene again or Ian Rankin or Denise Mina is very upsetting.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I’ve never been asked who I’d like to thank, and my answer is, some of my teachers. First, Miss Fox, headmistress of my junior school who told my mother in my hearing that she thought I could write a book when I grew up, putting the idea in my head, then later my classics teachers, Angela Ingham (herself now a novelist), Mr Dean and Mrs Bowen, whose sixth-form classics teaching has had such a major influence on my imagination and my life.
About the book
Detective Inspector Robin Osborne is going home.
Dismissed for misconduct from the Met’s Homicide Command after refusing to follow orders, unable to pay her bills (or hold down a relationship), she has no choice but to take her teenage daughter Lennie and move back in with her parents in the city she thought she’d escaped forever at 18.
In Birmingham, sharing a bunkbed with Lennie, and working as a benefit-fraud investigator, Robin is caught once again in the cat’s cradle of misunderstanding and resentment that is her relationship with her mother, and the delight of those wanting to see her cut down to size.
Only Corinna, her best friend of 20 years seems happy to have Robin back. But when Corinna’s family is engulfed by violence and her missing husband becomes a murder suspect, Robin can’t bear to stand idly by as the police investigate. Can she trust them to find the truth of what happened? And why does it bother her so much that the officer in charge is her ex-boyfriend – the love of her teenage life?
As Robin launches her own unofficial investigation and realises there may be a link to the disappearance of a young woman, she starts to wonder how well we can really know the people we love – and how far any of us will go to protect our own.