the last fifteen years tracing my family
tree and getting back to the early 1600s, I know just how compelling
genealogy game is. You’ve got to do a lot of detective work;
sorting out rumours from the truth, and so forth. So for a crime book
a genealogist is quite a logical step. When
I saw Dan Waddell on a panel at Crime
Fest 2008, and heard of his involvement with the BBC TV series Who
Think You Are? I was impressed.
it seems are Mark Billingham (“Expertly plotted”),
Reginald Hill (“elegant
writing, engaging characters a cracking climax”) and Judith Cutler
“(“an unerring sense of time
and place”) on Dan’s debut novel, The
Blood Detective. Naturally,
I thought Dan could be persuaded to
write a feature on how the book came about and a brief introduction to
chap that he is, he agreed
and here it is:
I never used
to care about family history. I suspect
most people under 30 or so don't. You still think you're immortal, even
know the odds are against it. I believed that. I dismissed genealogy.
cares? Like my detective, DCI Grant Foster, my view was that all you
know about your great-great-great grandfather was that he had funny
and he wasn't firing blanks.
It takes a
death or a birth usually, something taken
away or added, to make people think about the past and their roots. For
was the birth of my son. I was 32 and it suddenly occurred to me that
Waddell name would continue because I'd had a boy. I got a real thrill
this. The line would continue.
thought: what line?
nothing about my past. Nothing about where
this Waddell name, of which I was so proud, derived. So I started to
asked my father when he my grandparents were married so I could get
their wedding certificate and use that as a starting point. He said
years before he was born. I went to the Family Records Centre in
London and began scouring the birth, marriage and death indexes,
seeing what in essence was a list of all those who have lived since
1837 - a
catalogue of the dead. No one else in my family had done this research.
treading virgin snow. I was beginning to understand why this hobby was
a national obsession.
out my grandparents didn't marry four years
before my dad was born. They married four months before he was born. My
grandmother liked a
stiff gin and a cig or twenty, but she was a good Catholic woman. So we
thought. It was the same story for her mother, an even stricter
married while pregnant. No one thought less of these women. In fact,
of information brought them to life, made them seem real, three
rather than the sepia-toned depictions of them on photographs. I always
granny liked a bit of fun. This seemed to confirm it. As a reformed
hack,I found this sort of secret was intriguing.
I wrote the
book that accompanied the first series of
Who Do You Think You Are? on the BBC. My amateurish attempts to trace
history stood me in good stead. It meant I could take people through
building blocks of family history with genuine enthusiasm rather than
been-there-done-it-got-the-ornate-family-tree-on-the-wall tone of many
'How to's'. The series was a huge success and the book rode the
the top of the bestseller lists. However, my mind was already elsewhere.
Since a kid,
ever since I read Emil and the
Detectives, I've loved crime fiction. I'd tried to write two or three
novels but the right idea and the right characters proved elusive. One
the pub, after a hard day at the Family Records Centre researching the
the idea came to me. What if a body was found in the present day with a
reference carved on him that led the police to a death certificate of a
murdered in the same place, on the same day but 125 years before. What
police needed the help of a young genealogist to help solve the murder?
I was a
wee bit drunk so I texted the premise to myself. The next morning,
for flashes of drunken inspiration, it still seemed like a good idea.
hear me bemoaning the ubiquity of mobile phones.
It all came
together and THE BLOOD DETECTIVE was
born. I was wary at first. Surely someone else had come up with an
idea? Genealogy and detective work are very similar. In fact
family history is as close as many of us will get to doing the work of
detective. Following leads, overcoming obstacles, listening to hunches,
checking and checking again, lots of hard work and head-scratching,
thrill of finally the jigsaw falling into place. It is compulsive and
rewarding, which is why it's the third most popular pursuit on the
(personal finance and porn are second and first respectively, in case
characters came easy: Nigel Barnes, a young
family historian who's disenchanted with his job researching family
maiden aunts in Kent, who craves excitement, a man for whom the present
jarring and painful and who loves to escape into the past. Contrasted
is DCI Grant Foster, who lives in the present because the past is too
and haunting. The rest of the plot flowed. I tried to make the
compulsive as it is when you're the person poring over your ancestor's
signature, or their cause of death, or their description on a census
their army record, or even their grave. The past falls away, the years
and you are faced with another human being like you, one that lived and
and aspired. Who, just like you will, ended up six feet under. Tracing
roots is a humbling experience, to say the least.
I'm one of
those who's more interested in the dark
aside of our family trees. The skeletons, the rogues, the criminals,
sheep. I didn't find any in my family tree, sadly. Just a few
peasants. But finding out about them has made me realise how I got to
i am today. I know more about the Waddell line and my place in it. I
how the past can impinge on the present, even if it’s laid
dormant for years, a
theme of my book.
always my mother's line to do. Maybe
there's a convict or a fraudster or a shyster in there somewhere. I
DETECTIVE published by Peguin Books
2008 pbk £6.99
breaks over London, the body
of a young man is discovered in
a windswept Notting Hill churchyard...And the killer has left DCI Grant
a cryptic clue.
it’s not until the clue is handed to Nigel
Barnes, a specialist in compiling family trees, that the message
spine-chillingly clear. It leads Barnes back to
1879 – and the victim
of an infamous Victorian serial killer.
second body is discovered, Foster needs
Barnes’s skills more than ever. The murderer’s
clues run along the tangled
bloodlines that lie between 1879 and now. And if Barnes is right about
blood-history, the killing spree has only just begun...
to read an extract of THE
to read Judith Cutlers review
Visit Dan’s website