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Tuesday 6 January 2015
‘Letters to my Daughter’s Killer’ by Cath Staincliffe
How do you go on with anything resembling normal life when your only child has been brutally murdered? Is it even possible? Will anything ever be normal again?
In Letters to My Daughter’s Killer, Ruth Sutton’s way of attempting to come to terms with the death of her daughter Lizzie is to write to the murderer, and tell him exactly how it was for her.
Her memories of the night it happened, the police investigation and identification of the murderer, the trial and its aftermath, coping with her four-year-old granddaughter Florence’s shock and grief as well as her own: all this and more is set out piece by harrowing piece, in an attempt to wring some remorse out of the killer and gain a little peace of mind for herself.
In terms of writing style, Staincliffe sets herself several challenges which would faze far more heavyweight authors. Not only does she write in the first person, and succeed in getting right under Ruth Sutton’s skin; she also moves deftly from present to past tense without missing a beat. And as if that wasn’t enough, the entire book is addressed to the killer in a way which ensures the reader never loses sight of him.
It’s not only Ruth who comes vividly to life; the whole cast of characters including the murderer could step out of the pages and continue to exist outside the story. Ruth’s own family and friends and the killer’s, the police and court officials, even the teacher at little Florence’s school: scratch any of them and they would bleed.
Staincliffe handles the police and courtroom procedures and forensic details with the sure hand you’d expect from the author of more than twenty workmanlike crime novels. But this one takes her to a whole new level. I don’t often have difficulty stepping back and seeing fiction for what it is, but I became so immersed in Ruth’s life and feelings that several times I protested out loud when she described a particularly clumsy bit of policing, or a barrister’s blatant attempt to twist the facts.
It’s not a murder mystery. The murder is centre-stage from the start, and the mystery of who did it doesn’t last long. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a book which will keep you riveted simply because Ruth Sutton is so real and you suffer right along with her.
Publishers talk about the ‘breakthrough’ novel which turns a better-than-competent midlist author into a bestseller. If there’s any justice, this is Cath Staincliffe’s.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Cath Staincliffe was brought up in Bradford and hoped to become an entomologist (insects) then a trapeze artist before settling on acting at the age of eight. She graduated from Birmingham University with a Drama and Theatre Arts degree and moved to work as a community artist in Manchester where she now lives with her family. Looking for Trouble, published in 1994, launched private eye Sal, a single parent struggling to juggle work and home, onto Manchester’s mean streets. It was short listed for the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey best first novel award, serialised on BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour and awarded Le Masque de l’Année in France. Cath has published a further seven Sal Kilkenny mysteries. Cath is also a scriptwriter, creator of ITV’s hit police series, Blue Murder, which ran for five series from 2003 – 2009 starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. Cath writes for radio and created the Legacy drama series which features a chalk-and-cheese, brother and sister duo of heir hunters whose searches take them into the past lives of families torn apart by events.Trio, a stand-alone novel, moved away from crime to explore adoption and growing up in the 1960s. Cath’s own story, of tracing and being re-united with her Irish birth family and her seven brothers and sisters, featured in the television documentary Finding Cath from RTE.Split Second, Cath’s latest novel in her stand-alone series about ethical dilemmas, explores the question of whether to intervene or not when violence erupts in a public place – and what the consequences might be. Dead To Me, a prequel to the popular Scott & Bailey TV show, sees the two women detectives thrown together for the very first time as they investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl.
Cath is a founder member of Murder Squad, a virtual collective of northern crime writers.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.