DEATHS & MARRIAGES (Lloyd and Hill #12)
My seventeenth novel, published Macmillan
2002/Fawcett (Ballantine) as Death in the Family 2003.
large print, Soundings Audio Books (unabridged).
In an isolated cottage a woman
has been bludgeoned to death; outside, a man has been
crushed by a car, uttering
the word ‘intruder’ before losing consciousness.
This, and a row overheard that morning, is all Detective
Chief Inspector Lloyd has to go on. Who is the dead woman?
Where’s her handbag? If it was a burglary, why
the extreme violence? Who was having the argument? If
it was a domestic, why is the handbag missing? Who was
the intruder? Was there an intruder?
Questions without answers, and
Lloyd is short-handed. A baby has disappeared from
Malworth, and Lloyd doesn’t
yet know how deeply involved in that enquiry Judy Hill
has become. Nor how profoundly it will affect both her
and his own murder investigation…
Why the change of title this time?
I don’t think ‘births, deaths and marriages’ trips
off the tongue in the US in the way it does here. I suggested
the alternative title, unlike Murder at the Old Vicarage
which was chosen by my then editor as an alternative
to Redemption. But the funny thing is that once again
it’s very nearly the same as a previous, well-known
book. I have to confess that I didn’t know it,
but there is a book, very well-known in America, called
A Death in the Family, by James Agee. The last time there
was a one-word difference between my book and a more
famous book it sold better than usual, and it’s
worked this time as well. I think my next one will be
called Gone With the West Wind – how does that
So this one sold better than usual, did it?
It only got into the New York Times hardback bestsellers
list! All right, it was at number 35 of 35 for one
week, but it was there. I don’t know if its overall
sales figures will be any better than usual, but for
that one week, it was a bestseller.
I’m not sure. Some people think it’s because
it appealed to women more than my books usually do. And
it is true that an unusually high proportion of my readers
are male, given that crime fiction is apparently mainly
read by women, and men traditionally read male writers,
so there could be something in that.
So will you work on that from now on?
No, because I can’t. I write what I write – it
might have woman appeal and it might not. I can only
write what appeals to me, and despite being a woman,
I think I have more in common with male tastes than female.
Shopping till you drop sounds like some kind of mediaeval
punishment to me. Shoes are for keeping your feet dry,
and, if at all possible, comfortable. I don’t know
what all that stuff in mysterious jars is, never mind
fork out £800 a year on it, or whatever it is that
the average woman is reckoned to spend on cosmetics.
Any unfair criticism?
The reader’s review, also on Amazon, where I was
accused of keeping something vital back from the reader.
I don’t do that – she just missed whatever
it was. You have to keep your brain engaged if you want
to read my books! Apart from that, no, I don’t
think people were unfair.
So this one pleased everyone, did it?
Well – what do you think? No, it didn’t.
A lot of people didn’t like the emphasis on domestic
issues – the very thing that other people think
made it popular! It’s a classic case of not being
able to please all of the people all of the time. As
far as I was concerned, it was natural for the novel
to explore Judy’s feelings about motherhood and
how these feelings were affected by the disappearance
of the baby born on the same day, and her involvement
was very much part of the plot. But I entirely understand
those who prefer the police officers’ private lives
to remain in the background; I just don’t think
it was possible in this book. And, of course, when I
do leave the Lloyd/Hill relationship in the background,
people complain about that…
A reader on Amazon (who did enjoy
the book) raised an issue that is faced by anyone who
writes series novels,
saying that it took her some time to sort out who the
recurring characters were, as opposed to the incidental
characters created for this novel, finding it difficult,
as she said, to sort out the good guys from the bad guys.
While I’m not convinced that it matters whether
or not you know which of the characters appear throughout
the series – that’s no guarantee in my books
that they are ‘good guys’ – it obviously
helps if you can get the back story and the relationships
straight at the start.
A lot of novelists – particularly American novelists – have
a standard way of indicating this, to the extent that
it looks rather as though they have cut and pasted
the information from previous books. This is a quick
and efficient way of solving this problem, but not
one that I could bring myself to use. I try to find
different ways of introducing new readers to the back
story without boring regular readers, and perhaps it
doesn’t always work as I hope it will. I will
try even harder in future. I think number thirteen’s
method works quite well, but that remains to be seen!
So what is the thirteenth Lloyd and Hill going to be
Ah…you’ll have to wait and see. But it is
finished, and with the publisher, so it shouldn’t
be too long before you find out.