Dead to Me, by Cath Staincliffe
I read this book having never seen the television crime drama Scott and Bailey. This novel being the prequel to the successful ITV1 drama, which I note is now in its second series. This I was glad of , as I rather read a book ahead of seeing the televised production, so that I can digest the characters, establish what I think they look like without this being predetermined by the casting team. Also to establish what makes the characters tick . Something which can be hard to do in as much detail and clarity through the media of film and television.
The author, Cath Staincliffe has an impressive crime pedigree, having been the creator and scriptwriter of the TV show Blue Murder, as well as author of the Sal Kilkenny crime series and bestselling psychological thrillers, The Kindest Thing and Witness. In this case however the original script had been written by Sally Wainright and Staincliffe commissioned to create the prequel to provide background to the characters, their careers and personal lives.
Set in Manchester, with 3 central characters: DCI Gill Murray, a formidable, yet supportive and career driven individual, also managing her role as a single mother, which entails some compromise; Detective Constable Janet Scott, a talented but grounded DC, who enjoys the front line, has a family with teenagers and a dull marriage; the very main character Rachel Bailey is a young, highly ambitious yet inexperienced DC, who wants to forget her family and run before she can walk.
By sticking strictly to protocol and not permitting DCI Murray to enter a crime scene without ID, Rachel thinks she may have rattled her cage. However her manner and ambition permeate and Murray gives Rachel a chance to work with the Major Incident Team – a perfect opportunity.
The first case Rachel gets involved with is the murder and possible rape of Lisa Finn; a drug user, living with her boyfriend. Rachel shows potential, but take risks that threaten her place on the team. However her knowledge about a previous rape enables the team to realise that there is a link between the cases, which may help them ultimately solve it.
Learning that Scott and Bailey received the biggest audience for a début drama in years, (with an average 7.7 million views) is not surprising. The characters are incredibly well crafted and robust, the difficulties balancing a functional home life with the emotional demands of the job are very well portrayed. There is a lot to consider and reflect about the relationships within the team, particularly how the women relate to each other, and how seniority affects the depth of friendship.
What I consider to be so refreshing is the detail and manner in which police procedures and professional terminology is imparted. Much dialogue and description about the approach and interface with the public, be it family or perpetrators is conveyed in a compelling and gripping manner. The different styles adopted to deal with suspects in a professional yet suitably interrogative style, to elicit key, relevant, information is fascinating also. Janet by default becomes Rachel’s mentor, which enables key nuggets of advice and fundamental method to be conveyed, which the reader benefits from learning too. It dispenses of the now almost stereotypical male detective main character and injects more credible personal dilemmas. The characters have such rich personal backgrounds with undulating dynamics that there is a very broad canvas begging for further development and growth.
In all it is a very clever and gratifying read that is difficult to fault, and which to do so would be petty. Enthused by this book, I admit I have since watched one of the shows and really enjoyed it. I thought both Janet and Rachel were depicted exactly as I had imagined, but felt that Gill didn’t quite have the presence and fortitude as in the book. Something that I consider was done better in the book, being more reflective of the position Gill holds in such an organisation. Overall though, I would highly recommend this book, it’s one of the best ones in a while.