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Fresh Blood

Name: Michael Wood

Title of Book: For Reasons Unknown

'I expect great things from the dark imagination of Michael Wood.'

Twenty years ago in 1994 a couple were savagely killed in their own home. The only possible witness to these murders was their eleven year-old son, Jonathan who was found sitting at the top of the stairs, his hands covered in their blood. The boy could not give a statement as the shock of the horror was to strike him dumb for eighteen months after the tragedy. With their key witness in a mental shutdown and his elder brother missing for three days, the trail went cold very quickly. These two professionals were pillars of their community – who could ever wish to harm them in such a violent manner?

Twenty years later and after a long leave of absence, DCI Matilda Darke is back at work, but she has to earn her spurs and isn’t going to be given her old role of head of M.I.T. (Murder Investigation Team) the moment she steps through the door. Oh no. Matilda finds herself in an office the size of a broom cupboard looking in to a case that is so cold you could freeze a body in it. The reason for re-investigating the case is because the scene of crime is due to be demolished within days. Feeling brittle and lacklustre at her treatment, Matilda goes through the motions. Then a body is found dead in an alley in the city centre and quickly the case goes from freezing cold to boiling hot and Matilda is determined to break the case – but Matilda has her own personal demons to deal with before she can deal with anybody else’s…

I admit now that the very first sentence of Wood’s grim beginning pulled me in and gripped me. From there, I simply fell into Wood’s story.

Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, Wood entices us with a number of false leads and blind alleyways. What I loved here was Wood’s characterisation. His main protagonist, DCI Matilda Darke felt fully-formed from the start, but Wood brings fresh meat to her story so that she was three-dimensional by the end. I felt her pain brought on by a spectacular fall from grace which coincided with the death of a loved one. Her life had been turned inside-out as well as upside-down – but you could feel that despite her defeatist attitude, Matilda was a fighter.

But this is not only Matilda’s story. The investigation is shared with the murder team and we are introduced to some very interesting characters who I am sure are going to take their own place in the spotlight in future books.

Where Wood excels is with Jonathan Harkness, the man who was found in the house with his murdered parents. With great empathy, Wood describes the solitary life Jonathan leads. His books are his only solace as he cuts off any emotional ties from the outside world. Jonathan’s retreat from the world is brought into sharp focus by Wood’s sensitive prose. As with Matilda, Wood holds a mirror at two people who have been affected by tragedy and its aftermath – one recently and one in the past.

‘For Reasons Unknown’ is a stunningly strong debut. As Wood delves in to the depths of his characters psyche, such was his fine prose, I began to wonder if these people were in fact real, they were all so well-rounded. I read ‘For Reasons Unknown’ in two sittings, I was that entranced by his story. I am already looking forward to how Matilda Darke copes with her next case. I expect great things from the dark imagination of Michael Wood.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘For Reasons Unknown’ introduces the troubled DCI Matilda Darke who is assigned a cold case after a long absence. Why did you decide on a female detective and how was it writing from a female perspective?
I think strong female detectives are lacking in crime fiction at present. I wanted to create a character who can be liked as an independent career woman and also sympathised with for having flaws and imperfections. I know plenty of women who are incredibly strong having been through such personal tragedies so I drew on them to create Matilda. Also, a lot of female detectives are created by women. I wanted to see if I could come up with a strong female lead. It started out as an exercise at first and I wrote a couple of short stories featuring Matilda, but I really liked her. I came up with a back story and knew there was a novel waiting to be written about her.
2) You obviously enjoy reading crime fiction and Jonathan Harkness lists a number of current authors. How much of you as a crime fan is in Jonathan Harkness?
All of Jonathan’s books are on my shelves. I am a tad obsessive when it comes to crime fiction novels and my collection. I think Britain has a rich history of fantastic crime writers and I’m such a fan that they have obviously influenced my work. I wanted to include as many of my favourite authors in my book as possible, a bit like a thank you to them for their great work that has kept me hooked over the years.
3) Even with a lot of knowledge from reading crime fiction, what research did you need to do with regards to the police procedural part of ‘For Reasons Unknown’?
I used to work as a journalist and many of my stories were crime and police related. However, I only knew what happened at a crime scene from the public side of the crime scene tape. Fortunately, I know a few people in the police force who were happy to talk to me and help me with any information I needed.
4) ‘For Reasons Unknown’ is part police procedural and part psychological novel. Did you intend to entwine the two together?
Yes. I love police procedural novels, especially if they’re part of a series. I wanted to create a cast of characters that could survive past book one. However, I’m a huge fan of psychology. I’m more interested in why a person commits a crime rather than how they committed it. The human mind is absolutely fascinating and while we think we know how we’d react in any given situation, it’s interesting, and frightening, to know that we never know what we’d do when faced with the unthinkable.
5) There are a number of officers in the M.I.T. who are quite prominent in your book. Will they each be getting part of the spotlight in future novels?
Absolutely. I have my favourites, obviously, but they all have back stories written for them and I know exactly what is going to happen to them, personally, in the future. It’s not set in stone, and could change depending on what storylines I come up with, but I know how Scott’s life will pan out and Rory is in for a tough ride. DS Sian Mills is in the spotlight in the second book (I’m currently writing). Her family life is about to explode in the most shocking of ways imaginable. I almost feel guilty for putting her through it.
6) You are writing the next Matilda Darke novel. Will she still be battling with her personal demons?
Definitely. The second novel takes place a few months after ‘For Reasons Unknown’ and it is around the time of the first anniversary of her husband’s death and Carl Meagan going missing. All of this is playing on her mind and affects the way she handles her current case. She suffers with a lot of anxieties which don’t disappear overnight. She will always have stresses disturbing her.
7) What are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
This is a very easy question to answer.

The Sculptress by Minette Walters is a sublime novel. It was only her second novel but it was written with power and confidence. A true psychology thriller.

On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill is perhaps the perfect crime fiction novel. Dalziel and Pascoe are my favourite duo and this, the 17th in the series, is wonderfully written. Hill wasn’t just a writer; he was a wordsmith, every word lovingly chosen. I have read this so many times yet it never loses its impact.

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid. I love this woman’s work and her Tony Hill novels are chilling. However, ‘The Distant Echo’ is brilliant. I remember reading it over a bank holiday weekend and finding it very difficult to put down. Nobody creates characters quite like McDermid.