Author of the Month

Name: Graham Smith

First Novel: Snatched From Home

Most Recent Book: Death in The Lakes

'Bam! Right from the first page, Smith hits the ground running...'

Detective Beth Young has just joined the Cumbrian major crimes team when a body is found posed in a ritualistic manner – arms spread and graceful wings attached – at a crumbling castle in the hills of the Lake District.

The entire police force is on red alert. But Beth begins to feel she’s the only one who can follow the disturbing clues left by the twisted killer. Because she doesn’t think like everyone else. To Beth, crimes are puzzles she can solve. Even if real life is a little harder.

As more bodies are discovered in derelict stately homes across the Lake District, Beth knows she’s in a race against time.

Bam! Right from the first page, Smith hits the ground running with the discovery of the first victim. There is no dilly-dallying with Smith – he goes straight for the jugular and to be honest, he doesn’t ease off the pressure throughout the whole of this novel.

Smith gives all those in FMIT a back story and this makes them fully rounded and allows us to be more sympathetic to them and how they behave. My favourite is DI O’Dowd, a woman who appears hard as nails to her colleagues, but does have a soft centre. Beth is also a deliciously complicated woman and I hope that Smith will peel back more layers on his characters in his following books.

With precision, Smith weaves his tale of smoke and mirrors as he dangles red herrings and gladly sends you down the wrong path with his clever narrative. Added to the mix are the short, sharp chapters that are similar to a tube of Pringles, once you pop you can’t stop… or in this case, once you start reading you can’t stop!

I have read Smith’s books from the beginning with his e-book, ’11 – The Hard Way’ when he was finding his way as a writer and seeking what suited him best. It is wonderful to see a writer find his preferred patch – even if it takes him to dark and gruesome places – and flourish as he does with ‘Death in The Lakes’. If you want a stepping on platform for this writer, then this latest from his twisted imagination is the perfect introduction.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You already have two series characters in the shape of DI Harry Evans and Jake Boulder. What made you want to start a third series with DC Beth Young and set the series near where you live in Carlisle?
I have always had a hankering to write a series with a female lead and Cumbria and the Lake District is figuratively on my doorstep which means that I can easily travel to the locations used in the story for research trips. It also has a wonderful mix of towns, villages as well as the city of Carlisle, which gives me the scope to write a city or rural based story depending upon the type of story I’m writing. There are also loads of great places to hide/dump a body with all the lakes, fells and hundreds of miles of coastline. The region also attracts over 18 million tourists per year so there is an influx of strangers as well as locals to consider.
2) Beth once did some modelling before becoming a police officer. During her training she was disfigured during a bar brawl she was not involved in. Why did you scar Beth and what did you feel it brought to the story?
At the risk of sounding glib or trite, I wanted to make Beth interesting to both me and the reader. She’s too early in her career to have developed a cynical nature and I didn’t want to do the clichéd thing of giving her a drink problem. Likewise, I didn’t want her to have a sexual assault in her background, so I thought I’d give her a history which had left her both emotionally and physically scarred. That the scars are fully visible also lets me show Beth’s character as rather than trying to cover the scarring on her cheek up, she uses peoples’ reactions to them to assess those she encounters. She also classes herself as a survivor as opposed to a victim. Finally, the fact that both fighters got away means she has a personal quest to earn herself justice and it’s my intention that she will one day come face to face with Neck Kisses.
3) You say in your notes at the back of ‘Death in the Lakes’ you have always had a fascination for derelict buildings. What is this fascination and why did you decide to put your victims in them for this book?
The fascination comes from two areas, first would be the fact that I’m a joiner by trade and as such the construction of buildings is something I’ve worked on and studied and the fact I have a writer’s imagination. I love walking round derelict buildings and imagining them in their pomp, marvelling at the detailing and trying to work out how certain elements were constructed in a time long before cranes and hoists were easily available. My writer’s imagination has me making up stories about the houses’ occupants and those who worked on its construction.
4) I loved DI O’Dowd who tends to chew people up and spit them out! Alongside Beth Young, this series has some seriously strong female characters. What was it like writing from a female perspective?
Thank you for the compliment. DI O’Dowd was a joy to write, although if I’m honest with you, I really had to reign her in as she was threatening to steal the lead role from Beth on many occasions. As for Beth, I found it refreshing to write from a perspective different from my own. I’m a cynic by nature and as a middle-aged man, I’ve had a certain amount of life experiences that Beth has yet to endure. To write the story through the eyes of a young woman was exhilarating as it made me think about situations in a different way and consider different perspectives. I must also thank my editor Isobel Akenhead for keeping me on the right track with some of Beth’s thinking.
5) How do you approach your novel writing? Are you a plotter or do you see where your characters take you?
While I think of myself as someone who flies by the seat of my pants, the truth is that I have something of a hybrid method. I also spend a lot of time listening to what the characters tell me about the story. When I sit down to start a new novel I know the major crime, what the opening scene will be, one or two waypoints such as twists or reveals and what the resolution should be. The bits in between are free flowing and are subject to whatever ideas come to me in the writing.

I liken my process to driving a long way. Say you’re travelling from London to Glasgow, you know where your start and finish points are as well as some places you’ll pass along the way such as Birmingham, Manchester and Carlisle. You set off from London and go straight to Birmingham, but rather than proceed to Manchester in a straight line, the story may take me to Peterborough and Leeds before I get to Manchester and then it can be a trip through the Lakes before reaching Carlisle and making a beeline for Glasgow.

I also plan out the next few chapters with a few lines so I’m always looking ahead. I’ve included a couple of false ones below to show you what I mean.

Chapter 67 Tuesday 8.30am
Beth and the team in the office. O’Dowd giving orders and actions. Beth to accompany Unthank to interview Simpson.
POV Beth

Chapter 68 Tuesday 9.20am
Beth and Unthank interviewing Simpson. Learn he has cast iron alibi. Beth thinking about who else it could be.
POV Beth
6) What’s next up for Graham Smith?
I’m currently polishing Beth Young 3 before submission and am due back the proof edits on Beth Young 2 – A BODY IN THE LAKES. After that, I have an idea for a novel but I need to do a light spot of research on the idea before I start putting finger to keyboard.
7) As a fan of crime fiction, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
Ahhhhh, the most impossible of questions to answer. My top three crime fiction books have always been The Accident Man - Tom Cain, HMS Ulysses - Alistair MacLean and Relentless - Simon Kernick. However, I’m currently reading Criag Russell’s, The Devil Aspect (out the 7th of March) and it’s so captivating that it has to be in the top three, but I can’t work out which of the other three will get demoted!

Back to review archive