I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog Tour for Caro Ramsay’s The Suffering of Strangers; re-published by Black Thorn Books. I loved this book when I first read it and the Anderson and Costello series is a brilliant and distinctive addition to the Scottish crime fiction canon. If you haven’t read it, you really should.
I’m so pleased that Caro has agreed to join my blog today to discuss some of the inspiration behind The Suffering of Strangers. But first, a little about the book:
DI Costello faces a disturbing child abduction case; a six-week-old has been stolen and replaced with another baby. The swap took cold and meticulous planning, so Costello treads the seedy, Glaswegian backstreets for answers. She’s convinced that more than one young life is at stake.
Promoted into the Cold Case Unit, Colin Anderson reviews the unsolved rape of a young mother, whose attacker is still out there. Each case pulls Anderson and Costello in the same direction and, as their paths keep crossing, they begin to suspect their separate cases are dangerously entwined.
Intriguing and attention grabbing, isn’t it? So without further ado, over to Caro Ramsay.
As a writer, I do not think I am alone when I say that I don’t think the entire plot of any novel through before I start writing (as much as my editor pleads with me to do so). So events occur in a book and a hundred pages later, I will discover why my subconscious made me write that.
It always sounds slightly weird when a writer says that on a panel, but it is genuinely true.
But the fiction writer must always exercise caution, as it is fiction!
I recall being on a panel at a crime writers’ conference where a writer said that her Scottish policemen never swear as she is a Christian and it would be unchristian of her to make her characters swear. I’ve been a vegetarian for forty years but DCI Colin Anderson will have a bacon butty if he so desires. And Costello eats a load of blueberry muffins and never puts on weight.
I do think an author should try to stay in a neutral mind state as the overall narrator of the book. A reader can sense that the author might be beating their own drum about a subject they feel very passionately about. It’s fine when a character does it, and so much better when another character has an opposite point of view.
And if the author can write it so that both points of view are understandable, and the reader has empathy with both, then the novel just feels so much more engaging. Good characterisation is always indicative of a struggle between good and good.
And so with regards to The Suffering of Strangers, I’m sure two things were flying around in the ideas cabinet that all writers have in the deep, creative part of the brain. One was a court case where a mother had neglected her two year old child to the point that the child passed away. One comment from a police officer investigating the case said that the only evidence he had found of a child being in the house at all, was a small sailor’s suit hanging in an empty wardrobe, with the label still on it.
Think of the average house. The
evidence of the inhabitants should be everywhere; kids toys, photographs, dog
beds, water bowls, cat trees and Lego.
The other case that caught my attention was one where a very intelligent couple were defrauded by the woman who had accepted money to act as a surrogate for them. Basically the surrogate pretended to be pregnant, and led them on for a very long time with feigned multiple miscarriages etc. The couple had remortgaged their house, had borrowed money and got hugely into debt such was their desperation.
And for me, out of that came the question ‘what happens to the baby of a surrogate when it is born less than perfect?’
What happens then? The couple who paid can’t exactly send it back, can they? But the couple may be a type of person who has paid for a perfect child. They may have chosen their surrogate as one who would produce the type of child they desired, and often, slightly in their own image. Maybe they took that route as they did not want a child that had been damaged years in social care? What if the child had to be perfect or nothing? That is a decision which is being made every day in society. But what would happen if a surrogate mother gave birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome?
So all of that started to ask a few very emotive questions, and questions that do not have a right or wrong answer. And how do we, as a society view these that we consider less than perfect. Because they have a chromosome too many or too few.
So it was interesting when Costello, the female career cop, unmarried and who views children as noisy and annoying gets drawn into this case that questions her values, and then Colin Anderson, who adores his children, finds his own beliefs being truly tested. Although the case is highly emotive for both of them, it is life changing for one.
Thanks so much Caro, for this. Makes me want to re-read The Suffering of Strangers which I found to be a heart stopper; a tear jerker with real emotional depth . I envy those reading it for the first time. You can buy it here:
Glaswegian author Caro Ramsay presents The Suffering of Strangers as the ninth book in her critically acclaimed DI Anderson and DS Costello series. Never fearful of facing sensitive or serious issues head on, Caro tackles topics ranging from violent child abuse, sexual assault to child trafficking. Her novels are informed by her diploma in Forensic Medical Science from Glasgow University and from her own involvement in healthcare as a successful osteopath.