Rachel Sargeant on her gripping psychological thriller The Perfect Neighbours

Category: Author Post

Rising star Rachel Sargeant talks about her new novel, The Perfect Neighbours, a dark and twisty psychological thriller with an ending you won’t see coming…

When Helen moves abroad with her loving husband Gary, she can’t wait to meet her fellow expat teachers from the local International School. But her new start is about to become her worst nightmare…

As soon as the charming family across the way welcome Helen into their home, she begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. Then Gary starts to behave strangely and a child goes missing, vanished without a trace.When violence and tragedy strike, cracks appear in the community, and Helen realises her perfect neighbours are capable of almost anything…

 

What inspired you to write this book?

The Perfect Neighbours came out of two ideas. The first was to do with the setting. I lived for ten years in an expat community in Germany and always thought it would make a great setting for a book if I could find the right story. When I moved back to Britain I read in a newspaper about an audacious and outrageous crime. I did some research and discovered that many people every year fall victim to this type of crime. I wondered whether something similar could happen in a closed community where everyone knows everyone else’s business, or thinks they do. Bingo: I had my story.

 

What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about writing?

My least favourite thing is the blank sheet of paper at the start of a new project. It really is sheer panic that I might not be able to think of anything to write. But once I’ve got a draft down, I enjoy editing it.

My favourite thing about writing is being able to create my own world. People in it do and say exactly what I want them to. Sometimes real life can be so much harder to navigate. I also absolutely love it when people tell me they’ve read one of my books and liked it. That is a wonderful and humbling privilege.

 

What’s one book you wish you had written?

There are lots of great books that I admire for their ingenious plots, memorable characters and excellent technique, but I’ve just got to keep on being me and writing what I can, hoping that readers will like it.

 

Name your 5 favourite books

I’ve got about 30 favourites so I’m picking 5 at random here.

 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

We are shown (but never told) the brutality of a Stalinist labour camp. For me this is writing brilliance.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This was the first “grown-up” book I read. Until then I’d assumed I wouldn’t be able to understand anything classed as literary fiction. But this is written in plain English and packs a shattering punch. I got it. It opened a new genre to me.

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

Short and stark, this novel considers how ordinary men can commit unspeakable atrocities.

Love, Love Me Do by Mark Haysom

Told from five viewpoints over the course of one day and at times reminiscent of Brighton Rock, it explores loyalty, abandonment and post-war trauma. Serious but also nostalgic, gentle and funny.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson.

I love the Jackson Brodie detective stories and this one is superb. Thinking about the ending – which I didn’t see coming – always puts a big grin on my face.

 

If you weren’t writing, what other outlet would you be involved in?

School librarian is my day job. I spend my time encouraging children to love books and helping them make the reading choices that work for them. I read a lot of children’s and young adult books. It’s the best job ever.

 

What’s one thing your readers don’t know about you?

I can’t ride a bicycle.

 

What’s your next project?

I’ve just completed a crime thriller set at a school reunion. Ten years earlier a girl disappeared at the school leavers’ ball and has never been found. The girl’s father asks one of her school friends to attend the reunion and ask questions. But not all the guests are willing to give answers. It’s told partly in flashback to school days and descends into some dark places.

 

The novel I’m currently working on is set in a university during freshers’ week. Four girls from widely different backgrounds find themselves sharing a flat in a student hall. One girl leaves after two days, but one of the others, despite fighting her own demons, has a sixth sense that something sinister has happened. (Oh, and she can’t ride a bicycle either.)

 

I also return now and again to my draft of a gritty comedy set in Scunthorpe in 1983 when a serial killer is disposing of members of a dance troupe.

 

What’s another thing your readers don’t know about you?

I lived in Scunthorpe in 1983…

 

Name your 5 favourite movies. 

Despite writing dark crime novels, I like colourful films that make me smile. My all-time favourite is Grease. I also like Hairspray, St Trinian’s, High School Musical 3 (great set piece dances reminiscent of an MGM musical) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

 

What’s your favourite performance from any movie?

I often think the best performances are the ones that you don’t notice as performances; the actors make the characters seem believable and normal. However, one larger-than-life performance that sticks in my mind is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Although he wasn’t Roald Dahl’s choice for the part, I thought he brought a subtlety to the role with a quiet, intelligent menace behind the eyes.

 

What’s your favourite love story? (movie or book)

I’m not a huge fan of love stories but one of my favourite ever books is Precious Bane by Mary Webb, published in 1924. I picked it up when I moved to Shropshire, where Webb lived and set her novels. It’s written in a pretend dialect of nineteenth century country people which takes a bit of getting used to but ultimately works well. Prue is a clever, dutiful, hardworking girl with little prospect of marriage because of her hare lip.   Enter itinerant weaver Kester, a man who doesn’t run with the pack.  I loved the romance between Prue and Kester, two intelligent, compassionate people in a community which doesn’t value either of these qualities.

I’ve only read it once and daren’t return to it in case I ruin the magical memory I have of it.

www.rachelsargeant.co.uk/

Collins Crime Club February picks

Category: Uncategorized

The Detective Club returns this month with your February Crime Club picks, starting with Raymond Chandler’s favourite detective novel: Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henders. In this chilling novel, Mr Bowling buys the newspapers only to find out what the latest is on the murders he’s just committed…

Mr Bowling is getting away with murder. On each occasion, he buys a newspaper to see whether anyone suspects him. But there is a war on, and the clues he leaves are going unnoticed. Which is a shame, because Mr Bowling is not a conventional serial killer: he wants to get caught so that his torment can end. How many more newspapers must he buy before the police finally catch up with him?

This classic has been out of print for 60 years but returns with a new introduction by award-winning novelist Martin Edwards, author of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, who reveals new information about Donald Henderson’s often troubled life and writing career.

Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper is out now!

Our second February choice is Invisible Weapons by John Rhode

The murder of old Mr Fransham while washing his hands in his niece’s cloakroom was one of the most astounding problems that ever confronted Scotland Yard. Not only was there a policeman in the house at the time, but there was an ugly wound in the victim’s forehead and nothing in the locked room that could have inflicted it. Only after a second baffling murder is committed can Dr Lancelot Priestly start to piece together this extraordinary case. Sporting its original cover design (considered one of the best designs ever to grace a crime novel), Invisible Weapons is a classic by one of the most highly regarded crime authors of all time, and is now being brought back into print for the first time in 50 years.

Invisible Weapons was published on the 8th February!

Our final pick for this month is the first original novel by Francis Durbridge: Back Room Girl.

Retiring to No Man’s Cove in Cornwall to write his memoirs, crime reporter Roy Benton discovers that a disused tin mine has become a research station for a secret weapons project. Karen Silvers, in charge of operations, reluctantly accepts that Benton’s experience could help her fight a sinister organisation intent on stealing their plans.

Back Room Girl is an outlandish mixture of mystery, glamour and suspense. First published in 1950, it has never been reprinted and so has remained an enigma to Durbridge’s many fans… until now!

Back Room Girl is out now!

Extract from A Known Evil by Aidan Conway

Category: Extract

In anticipation of the release of Aidan Conway’s gripping debut crime novel A Known Evil on the 5th April, we have an exclusive extract for you! Get ready for the first book in a groundbreaking new series from the newest star in British crime fiction…

 

One

They’d found the body in the entrance to their block of flats where, sometimes, bleary-eyed, they would avoid treading on the dog shit some neighbour couldn’t care less about cleaning up – teenagers on the way to school at eight in the morning. They’d been the first to leave the building, apparently, although it was now known the victim didn’t live in the same complex. Paola Gentili, mother of three, a cleaner, on her way to work. Multiple blows to the cranium. No sign of sexual assault. No attempt to appropriate money or valuables. No sign of a struggle.

So, it seemed she had been taken completely unawares. Better for her. Husband had been informed. Distraught. Had given them the few preliminary details they required without the need for any formal interview. That would have to wait until they got the go-ahead from the presiding magistrate. But the guy seemed clean enough going by the checks the new ‘privatized’ IT system had given them in record time. What social media access she had was regular and only moderately used. Meanwhile, they’d started looking into the other stuff. No particular leads. No affairs. No money issues. No links to known families in the organized sector. Worked in a ministry in the centre of the city. No unexplained calls. Just waiting now on the forensics guys to come up with something more concrete to work with.

Inspector Michael Rossi had only just driven through the gates in the Alfa Romeo. He had known immediately that something big was coming by the urgency of Carrara’s steps as he’d emerged from the baroque archway leading from the Questura’s offices to the car park. If Rossi had bothered to switch his phone on before it would have got him out of bed, what? Twenty minutes earlier? But that wouldn’t have saved anyone’s life. Now, the debris of takeaway espressos and sugar sachets violated the bare desk space separating them in his office. Their own cleaner had just been in, chatty as ever, oblivious as yet to the news.

“Other than that,” said Carrara, “we’re totally in the dark on this one. But it does look like there’s a possible pattern emerging.”

“You’ve been busy,” said Rossi.

The second such killing in as many weeks. The modus operandi and the victim profile bore distinct similarities but no one had dared yet to use the term. Serial? Was it possible? In Rome?

Detective Inspector Luigi Carrara. Five years Rossi’s junior, several years under his belt in anti-mafia, undercover, eco-crime, narcotics, now on the Rome Serious Crime Squad. Recently married, he had the air of one of those men who never seem to have overdone anything in their lives: hardly a wrinkle, haircut every month, bright, fluid in his movements. Just the man Rossi needed on a Monday morning like this one.

“How similar?” said Rossi, still struggling to form what he considered decent sentences, though his mind was already whirring into action. “The weapon, for instance?”

“Blunt instrument. Iron bar or hammer, probably.”

“Who’s on the scene?”

“A few boys from the local station. They got the magistrate there sharpish though. Hopefully they’ll have disturbed as little as possible. She was carrying ID, so we got to work with that straight off, once the news came in on the police channel.”

“Press know?”

“Not officially. But they will.”

“Silvestre?”

“Out of town, I think.”

“Good. Let’s go,” said Rossi grabbing his battered North Face from the coat stand, feeling more vigorous and even a little bit up for it. “I want to see this one for myself.”

Two

The press had got their picture. As usual, in the confusion between traffic police, municipal police, carabinieri, and the state police, someone had left the poor woman’s feet sticking out from under the blood-soaked tarp, like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. A final ignominy to grace some of the seedier papers’ inside spreads. They had only partially succeeded in keeping the crowds back and sealing off the street, but the citizenry was beginning to grow impatient. Close off a road in Rome and the already mad traffic goes berserk with all those narrow cobbled streets peppered with potholes, the ancient city walls’ archways forming designer bottlenecks, not to mention the one-way systems and the curse of double parking. It didn’t take much to tip the balance. So, the quicker you got everything back to normal the better for everyone.

“Remember, it all starts with good forensics guys,” said Rossi ambling onto the crime scene. The “guys” in white gave him minimal glances of assent from under their cagoule-like hoods while snapping and sampling and moving in to examine the body in greater detail. Rossi was the most senior officer on the scene and he and they knew it. He turned to Carrara, who was flicking through his mobile for news.

“Got anything more on her old man, officially or unofficially?”

“Still in shock, but according to the ‘reports’ he’s clean. No apparent motives. Family man. Besides, he was still in bed. His own bed. And alone. Shift-worker apparently. And no strange cash movements, no dodgy mates we know of. Nothing, as yet.”

“No links with the Colombo case? Anything in common? Friends, work, family, schools, anything?”

Carrara shook his head.

“Nothing. Just similar methods, married woman but different workplace.”

“And the kids?” said Rossi, finally allowing a dark sliver of the human reality to sink in.

“With their grandparents. We’ve got counselling on to that too.”

Rossi tried to put it to the back of his mind. Remain objective. He was a policeman. This was his job. Find the evidence. Find the killer. Stop the murders. Limit the murders. More than this he couldn’t do, and God knows that was what it was all about. But it didn’t get any easier. So much for an experience-hardened cop.

He glimpsed that one of the white-hooded moon-men, as if in contemplative genuflection next to the victim, had changed rhythm and was getting to his feet.

“What is it?” said Rossi, sensing its importance.

“Paper, sir. Note or list by the looks of it. Nailed to the sternum.”

“Not shopping, I trust.”

Blood-soaked but legible and left visible enough inside her blouse to be discovered quickly, it was in block capitals and written in English.

LOOK INTO THE BLACK HOLE FOR WHAT YOU WANT.

Was he growing in confidence? Already? Toying with them maybe? Now I do, now I don’t. Work it out. Want another clue? You’ll have to wait. And there’s only one way you’re going to get it. Special delivery. They might be able to find what model of printer or machine had been used, the make of paper, but more than that? It was hardly going to narrow the field. There’d be no prints.

Rossi looked at Carrara. “Any good at riddles, Gigi? Or are you still more of a sudoku man?”

“Looks like your area, Mick,” replied Carrara. “A late Christmas present.”

Rossi looked up to where the magistrate Cannavaro was skirting around the crime scene.

“And how would you say our magistrate’s doing?” said Rossi. “Ready to refer all this to the professionals now?”