After having the absolute pleasure of meeting Chris Collett at a ‘Meet the Author‘ event at our local library in Tamworth (Staffordshire, UK) in October this year we have been excited about hosting her work for our readers to look at. Chris talked in depth about her journey as a writer and how she came to write a police procedural series based in the city of Birmingham. Just to listen to her, and for the audience to be invited to ask questions in-between her story was brilliant and led to some fantastic conversations. It was like meeting a friend. Tina and myself had a great night, and with my interest in crime novels I simply had to get hold of a copy of Chris’ latest release in the Tom Mariner series, Dead of Night. I am looking forward to reviewing this one in the New Year!
Please scroll down to see an Author Post from Chris on ‘Dead of Night’, an excerpt, Chris’ bio, author and buy links, as well as the blurbs for all first six books of the DI Tom Mariner series!
Blurb (Dead of Night #7): When a young woman disappears on her way home from work, Detective Inspector Tom Mariner tackles his most challenging investigation yet!
18-year-old Grace Clifton vanishes on her way home from work in the centre of Birmingham late at night, the case is remarkable in that not a single witness comes forward. The more he has to deal with Grace s wealthy and overbearing father, Council Leader Bob Clifton, the more Tom Mariner is inclined to believe that Grace left of her own accord.
Then the package arrives. It contains Grace s clothes, neatly pressed and laundered. A second woman disappears. And a disturbing pattern begins to emerge.
Still adapting to a new investigation team and struggling to pull its members together, Detective Inspector Mariner is about to tackle one of his strangest, most challenging cases to date.
AUTHOR POST ON ‘DEAD OF NIGHT’ (Chris Collett, Sept ’14, Severn House)
The inspiration for ‘Dead of Night’ came from a number of characters who ‘present themselves’, in the first instance, by air! The Queen Elizabeth, in south Birmingham, is one of the country’s leading military hospitals. For several years now this has meant the regular presence of Chinook helicopters, flying low over the city, bringing in wounded personnel from Afghanistan. Perhaps because of what the Chinooks represent, they seem somehow to be a much more imposing and sinister presence than the more familiar Police surveillance and Air Ambulances, and I quickly found myself very attuned to the distinctive engine sound, louder and deeper than the other aircraft and rather ominous. Each time a Chinook flew over, I couldn’t help imagining the people and drama surrounding its arrival; and from that curiosity emerged Private Craig Lomax and critical care nurse Dee Henderson. At around the same time another recurring scenario had taken up residence in my head; of a small girl waiting outside school at the end of the day for a mum who never appears. That child became Dominique. Finally, the confident and rebellious teenager, striding along Broad Street flicking a defiant cigarette, was Grace Clifton. As the characters emerged, the central narrative that would link them together also began to take shape. In Dead of Night I knew my perpetrator right from the start, but as always, had little idea about where the story would take me before the final revelation.
EXCERPT FROM ‘DEAD OF NIGHT’
Milton Tower was one of three angular blocks that sprouted out of the dingy grey spread of social housing that was the Fen Bridge estate. Bordered by a fringe of scrubby green grass and a collection of undernourished saplings, it was rendered no more attractive at this time of night by the harsh glare of sodium lighting. Mariner had decided long ago that the council planner who’d come up with name had a sense of the ironic. Paradise had been irretrievably lost in this neighbourhood, somewhere down the back of life’s sofa. Parking his car in the only bay that didn’t seem to excessively sparkle with broken glass, he double checked that it was locked before entering the bare, concrete lobby. In the last couple of years efforts had been made to make the flats more appealing. A jacket of insulation and double glazing had been added around the outside, and the lobby in an overly bright salmon pink, smelled primarily of fresh paint. A couple to one side seemed to be surreptitiously waiting for the lift, but then Mariner noticed the considerable age difference between them and the man’s good quality wool overcoat that seemed to indicate that these were not locals. He went over, already anticipating the negotiations for how the situation should be handled. ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘You’re the teachers from St Martin’s?’
The man, as tall and lean as Mariner and with a fulsome head of grey hair, swept back from his forehead, stood straighter, bridling a little. ‘I’m the head teacher, Gordon Rhys,’ he corrected Mariner, keeping his hands firmly in his pockets. ‘And this is my Year Two teacher Sam McBride.’
‘DI Tom Mariner.’ Mariner held up his warrant card for them to see. He couldn’t help noticing the proprietorial ‘my’ and raised an eyebrow at McBride as they shook hands. Blonde and petite with a shapely figure under her parka, Mariner could imagine that the young teacher had to work hard to be taken seriously.
‘I feel terrible,’ she said. ‘I knew there was something not quite right with Dominique, but I just never guessed that this was what it could be.’
‘We don’t know what it is yet.’ Rhys was impatient. ‘The mother could be anywhere. Might be on the Costa del Sol for all we know.’ He was distracted, keeping an anxious eye on his surroundings, and Mariner realised he was nervous about being here.
‘With respect Gordon, I don’t think that’s very likely,’ Sam said. ‘Mrs Batista isn’t like that.’
‘How would we know, Sam? We know hardly anything about her.’
‘I know enough to understand that she’s a committed parent,’ Sam said, firmly.
‘Have you any idea where she works?’ Mariner asked, partly to diffuse what he sensed was a growing tension.
Sam frowned. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever really known, although for some reason I’ve had an impression that it’s somewhere in the city centre. On the odd occasions I’ve tried to talk to Dominique about her mum’s work, she’s completely clammed up. The contact number we have on file is a personal mobile number, but that’s nothing unusual.’
‘Have you tried calling it?’
‘Yes, about half a dozen times,’ said McBride. ‘It just goes straight to voice mail.’
‘It’s probably because the job is cash-in-hand and she’s claiming benefits as well,’ said Rhys. ‘It happens you know,’ he added, as if it were proof.
‘Actually, I don’t think that has anything to do with it.’ McBride said, flushing deeply. ‘When we’ve had school trips Mrs Batista has always paid her contribution, and she’s never asked for-’
Rhys effectively cut her off by ostentatiously checking his watch. ‘Now that you’re here Inspector, do you actually still need me? We’ve contacted social services, and Sam here is the one who knows Dominique. This has take me away from a meeting that’s been in the diary for some months-,‘
‘That’s fine,’ Mariner cut in, annoyed by the skewed priorities. ‘I’m sure we can take it from here.’ He sought confirmation from Sam McBride.
‘All right with me,’ she said.
‘Good, well, I’ll leave you to it. Best of luck,’ said Rhys, with obvious relief, and hurried towards the main door. As an afterthought he turned back from the doorway. ‘You’ll keep me informed Sam?’
‘He’s a charmer,’ said Mariner, when Rhys had gone.
‘Sorry about that,’ said Sam. ‘Gordon’s all right really, but he does seem to have a particular down on single parents, and it makes me a bit defensive. My mum raised me as a single parent and it hasn’t done me any harm.’
‘Nor me,’ said Mariner.
‘Oh.’ She looked at him anew.
‘Just because I look old enough to have grown up in black and white, it wasn’t all Kelloggs cornflake families back then.’ She waited for further elaboration. ‘You haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, have you?’
‘Not really,’ she smiled. It was a sweet smile and Mariner could imagine any child warming to her instantly.
Right,’ he said. ‘Let’s crack on, shall we? I don’t think social services are going to show up any time soon, so if we do find that Dominique’s at home alone we’ll need to take her to Granville Lane police station to wait for them there. How does that sound?’
‘Good,’ said Sam. ‘I only hope she doesn’t freak out when she sees me at this time of night.’
‘I can’t imagine she will,’ said Mariner. ‘Okay, let’s get this done. What’s the flat number?’
Neither of them was inclined to trust the lifts, so Sam led the way up the concrete stairwell, to a flat on the fourth floor, their footsteps echoing as they climbed.
‘I’ll be better if you make the first approach,’ Mariner said to Sam as they climbed the stairs, ‘are you okay to do that?’
Sam indicated that she was. They emerged half way along a narrow landing that had two, equally spaced doors on either side. The lighting was dim, and up here the smell of urine had not been entirely successfully glossed over. Flat forty-one was at the end. The small rectangular reinforced glass window in the top half of the door reminded Mariner of the observation panel in the custody cell doors. It had no light behind it. He knocked hard on the wood and they waited, but there was no response. Squatting down, Sam lifted the letterbox flap and peered in, before calling: ‘Dominique, are you in there? It’s Miss McBride. I’ve just come to see if you’re all right.’
‘Can you see anything?’ Mariner asked.
MacBride straightened up again. ‘No, it’s pitch dark. Maybe I’ve got this completely wrong and she isn’t there. Oh God, what if I’ve got you out here for nothing.’
‘It’s fine,’ said Mariner. ‘Better that than she really is in trouble and we do nothing. Why don’t you try again?’
McBride crouched by the letterbox, pushed up the flap and called again. This time, as she did so, her fingers brushed the rough string. ‘Oh, there’s something here.’ Bit by bit she pulled through the string with its key tied to the end.
‘Christ,’ said Mariner. ‘I hope no one else knows about this.’
‘Do we use it?’ said McBride.
‘It saves me having to demonstrate my manliness by breaking down the door,’ Mariner said. ‘You go first and I’ll follow, just in case she’s in there.’
Opening the door they entered the darkened flat, which felt no warmer on the inside than it had been on the outside landing. McBride flicked the light switch but nothing happened.
‘The meter’s run out,’ said Mariner. He took a torch from his inside coat pocket and switched it on, directing it down at the floor to light the way.
‘Dominique?’ Sam called, softly. They progressed carefully along a short hallway, and McBride pushed open the first door they came to on the left. The torch beam bounced around an empty bedroom. A second door, on the right, was a small bathroom, but as she pushed open the door at the head of the passageway, Mariner saw instantly from McBride’s body language that they had found the little girl.
‘Hi Dominique,’ Sam said brightly. ‘It’s Miss McBride. We were a bit worried about you, so I just came to see if you were all right. I’ve brought my friend Tom.’ As Mariner came into the room, his eyes adjusting to the darkness and keeping the torch beam directed away from Dominique, he was in time to see McBride slowly advancing on the little girl who seemed to be frozen to the spot sitting at the end of a sofa. But as McBride cautiously sat down beside her, Dominique flung herself into her teacher’s arms and McBride hugged her close. ‘It’s all right sweetie, you’re safe now,’ she soothed, a crack in her voice. After a moment she said, ‘We came to see mummy too. Is she here?’
And Mariner could just make out the little girl’s whispered reply. ‘I don’t know where she’s gone.’
Chris Collett grew up in a Norfolk seaside town, before moving to the other side of the country, Liverpool, to train as a teacher for children with learning difficulties. The journey from east to west often involved a stop-off in Birmingham, a place she quickly decided she would never want to live. After graduating the first job she was offered was naturally, in Birmingham. Within a few months she met her husband-to-be, moved to the Bournville Village Trust, within inhaling distance of the Cadbury’s chocolate factory, and she has remained in the city ever since.
Alongside raising two children, Chris has worked for a number of years in schools and local authority services, supporting variously children, young people and adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues. Now a lecturer at a midlands university, Chris teaches undergraduate students on a range of subjects around disability and inclusion, and equality and human rights. The DI Tom Mariner series evolved from a single idea: what would happen if the sole witness to a serious crime had an autism spectrum disorder and was unable to communicate what he had seen? The idea became ‘Worm in the Bud’.
Alongside publishing seven crime novels featuring DI Tom Mariner and several short stories, Chris has taught short courses on crime fiction and is an manuscript assessor for the Crime Writers association.
When not teaching or writing, Chris enjoys walking, racket sports, photography, reading, cinema, theatre and comedy. When asked about her thoughts on her adopted city now, Chris has said: ‘Someone, somewhere, must have had a plan. What better location could there be for a crime detective?’
BUY LINKS (DEAD OF NIGHT)
As ‘Dead of Night’ is the seventh book of the DI Tom Mariner series we thought it only best to give you the blurbs of the previous six novels of the series. Here they are in chronological order:-
Worm in the Bud (DI Tom Mariner #1): A puncture wound in the arm of a local journalist found dead in his home gives testimony to his death by lethal injection, and the cryptic note by his side—“no more”—suggests suicide. To DI Tom Mariner, however, there is something a little too staged about events, especially given that just that evening Mariner had witnessed the journalist—Edward Barham—pick up a prostitute in a bar. As the police investigate the house further, they discover another witness to the events: Barham’s younger brother, Jamie, is found in a cupboard under the stairs. It seems likely that Jamie witnessed his brother’s death, but his severe autism has left him without the means to communicate. Mariner is determined to build enough of a relationship with Jamie to get to the truth. He supposes that Barham’s death is related to his recent investigations into a local crime lord, but there may also be a hidden factor that only Jamie can reveal.
Blood of the Innocents (DI Tom Mariner #2): When two teenagers go missing on the same day, it appears to be nothing more than a coincidence. Leaving aside their age and disappearance, the two have little in common: Yasmin Akram is the talented, grammar-school-educated daughter of devout Muslim professionals, while Ricky Skeet disappeared after storming out of his tenement following a dispute with his mother’s latest boyfriend. Mariner knows Ricky’s mother from his days in uniform, so he is less than happy when his superiors take him off the Skeet case and reassign him to the more politically sensitive investigation. The press—and his bosses—are convinced that Yasmin’s disappearance is a racially motivated abduction, especially since the Akrams had previously been the target of the far right and a prominent white supremacist group. But Mariner soon discovers that Yasmin is far from the innocent victim her parents paint her to be.
Written in Blood (DI Tom Mariner #3): For the first time in his life, DI Tom Mariner’s home life is beginning to look settled. There’s talk of a move to the country and even kids, and while Anna is doing the talking, for once Mariner isn’t trying to evade commitment. The couple’s quiet holiday season is shattered, though, when an explosion rocks the day of a community carol concert. Tom and Anna are caught up in the aftermath of the event, and it remains unclear if the tragedy is accidental or an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, an unexpected reunion with an old friend thrusts Mariner into the unofficial investigation of a violent double murder to which he is inextricably linked. Mariner finds himself amidst a world of corruption where the boundaries between friend and foe are blurred.
Blood Money (DI Tom Mariner #4): Just when he is prepared to take a well-earned leave of absence, DI Tom Mariner is called back to the case when six-week-old Jessica Klinnemann is abducted from a local day nursery. What at first appears to be a random kidnapping gradually reveals itself to be a meticulously planned operation. The motive remains unclear until Mariner discovers that the baby’s father works for a scientific research company that has long been the target of animal rights activists. A crude note seems to confirm that animal rights protesters were behind the scare, but just when Mariner thinks he’s solved the crime, one of the nursery workers is killed in a hit and run, and the case is blown wide open.
Stalked by Shadows (DI Tom Mariner #5): Lucy Jarrett is terrified. She’s convinced that somebody is watching her, following her home from work, and lurking in shadows. But when she looks, there’s nobody there. The phone calls are real enough, even if the caller never speaks, although they never seem to happen when her husband is at home. She’s struggling to make anybody believe her, but with the recent murder of another young woman, DI Tom Mariner must take Lucy’s fears seriously. However, that’s not all that DI Mariner has to contend with. His team is stretched to the limits when the widow of a former police officer is found brutally murdered in an attack that could hark back to her husband’s past misdemeanors. Someone, it seems, is out for revenge.
Blood and Stone (DI Tom Mariner #6): Grieving the death of his ex-lover Anna Barham, Detective Inspector Tom Mariner has taken two weeks’ leave to recuperate, seeking peace and solitude in a remote corner of Wales. The last thing he imagined was being caught up in a murder investigation – with himself as the prime suspect. But when his walking holiday is interrupted by the discovery of a dead body in the woods, Tom finds the local police taking an inordinate interest in him and the reasons for his presence in the area.
As the body count rises, it becomes clear that there are a number of disturbing secrets being kept behind the closed doors of the ancient stone farmhouses that populate the region – and as those secrets gradually unravel, it turns out that Mariner isn’t the only one to have come to the picturesque Caranwy valley to escape a troubled past.