Fresh Blood

Name: Eva Dolan

Title of Book: Long Way Home

'With Eva Dolan’s sparkling debut, I have definitely found a new favourite.'

Peterborough is changing. Migrant workers, both legal and illegal are working in factories, fields and the town’s pubs. Most keep their heads down, eager to avoid trouble. DI Zigic and DS Ferreira from Peterborough’s Hate Crime Unit know all too well the issues that can arise from having a foreign name, no matter how long you’ve lived here.

But when a man is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed, it brings an unwelcome spotlight onto that world. The two detectives have to investigate a murder in a community which has more reason than most to distrust the police.

One of the best things about being a reviewer for is discovering new authors to enjoy. With Eva Dolan’s sparkling debut, I have definitely found a new favourite.

All the little things which combine to make a great novel are present in abundance. Normally debut authors have great characters, strong plots or a poignant theme. ‘Long Way Home’ ticks every box there is and shows no weak spots whatsoever. The lead characters Zigic and Ferreira are drawn with an expertise unbecoming of a debut author. Each has flaws and weaknesses which created empathy from me. Other characters such as the Barlows and Emilia were all intriguing in their depiction.

The strong plotting drew my suspicions back and forth, tying me in mental knots as I pitted my wits against the author. I’m delighted to say that I guessed the killer about ten pages before the reveal which for me is about the perfect time. The prose is subtle and unassuming as it carries the story and then Dolan delivers a beautifully crafted description that paints pictures in the mind’s eye.

One particularly satisfying aspect of ‘Long Way Home’ is the subtle way it draws you in and holds your attention. The word “unputdownable” is used far too often when describing books, but for me it is the only word which does the book justice. Another high point was the underlying message. Namely that the many foreign workers who come to this country live in appalling conditions and only find employment through gangmasters and intermediaries who fleece or even enslave the workers.

To sum up, ‘Long Way Home’ is one of the best novels I’ve read for a long time and Eva Dolan has announced herself onto the crime fiction scene with a thought-provoking, page turner of the highest order. Her writing is dark, delicious and deadly.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What compelled you to write a crime fiction story?
The inspiration behind ‘Long Way Home’ was a very specific moment, hearing about a terrible injustice, but what makes the genre so appealing is the potential to explore situations which most people will never experience. For me, the best crime fiction is part entertainment, part exposé.
2) Zigic and Ferreira work hard to investigate the murder of an immigrant. Why did you choose to have them in a Hate Crimes Unit rather than an ordinary detective team?
Once I knew that the story was going to be centred on violence against migrant workers a Hate Crimes Unit felt like the natural home for Zigic and Ferreira. I liked the idea of doing something slightly different too, having them as specialists who were deeply involved in those communities already, aware of the crimes which were specific to them and the particular challenges they'd face as they investigated. Also, on some level, I was considering future books and realised that the things I discovered during research would mean staying in that world for a while.
3) How did you research the working and living conditions of the immigrants which you depicted so well?
I was fortunate enough to know people who were prepared to talk about the situation; a rare, respectable employment agency whose business is being gradually eroded by less scrupulous outfits, migrant workers who'd been ripped off and threatened by gangmasters, a landlord who found one of his houses illegally sublet by the room, with the garden shed rented out to a Latvian man in the dead of winter. That was something I wouldn't have dreamed possible in 21st century Britain if I hadn't had it from a reliable source.

It felt important that I knew the streets the book takes place on and since I'm not local to Peterborough I spent some time there, going into the shops and cafes around New England, soaking up the atmosphere, then driving out onto the fens to get a feel for the scale of the landscape. I hope I've managed to get the sheer bleakness across, it really is an unnerving terrain, you get the sense anything could happen there and the world wouldn't notice.
4) There are so many facets and strengths to your writing. What element do you consider to be your weak spot? (I only ask because I looked for it and couldn’t find one)
That's very kind of you. There were several weak spots in the early drafts but thanks to some clear-eyed editorial input from my agent and later my fabulous editor Alison Hennessey they've been fixed.

Ironically I always considered myself to be a perfectionist when it comes to writing but there's no substitute for tough and meticulous outside opinions. I learnt a lot about where I need to be more strict with myself during the process and am editing as I go along with book two, which is actually a much better way to work because you don't have that daunting clean-up job to face when you're finished. That's the plan anyway.
5) Will we see more of Zigic and Ferreira and if not, what are you currently writing?
Definitely. I'm just finishing the first draft of the next Zigic and Ferreira book - as yet untitled. I'm hugely superstitious about discussing work in progress so I can't say too much about it I'm afraid.

This one opens with a bang though and delves deeper into the political reaction to immigration in the wider community; who benefits, who suffers. It's a much darker, more violent, book than I initially planned but sometimes you have to disregard the outline and go where the story takes you.
6) You are a fellow reviewer, albeit for a different website. When reviewing which elements of a book are most important to you?
When I think about my favourite crime novels the thing which links them is a strong, individual voice. The Talented Mr Ripley, The Last Good Kiss, any Chandler, Leonard or even Boris Akunin. These writers have voices you couldn't mistake for anyone else, even though they have spawned plenty of imitators. Recently Kevin Sampson's ‘The Killing Pool’ floored me with its distinctiveness, his prose has such an amazing rhythm and brio, that's what I want in a book.
7) How much support and help have you had from the online writing community?
The online community has been hugely supportive and very welcoming. I started blogging about two years ago, reviewing books and doing interviews with authors who were without exception incredibly generous with their time and insights. It was thrilling to have the opportunity to discuss works I'd enjoyed, trying to understand the inspiration and the method behind them. I was writing away quietly at the time, posting the odd short story, but with no expectation of ever being published, and knowing what an uphill slog it could be, even for experienced authors, made sticking at it that bit easier.

Writing can be a very lonely business and non-writers can be short on sympathy for the up and downs of it, so having people to discuss the never ending edits or misbehaving characters is a great help. Crime folks are pretty good company in the bar too.
8) You were shortlisted for a CWA Debut Dagger at a very early age. Can you tell us more about it?
To my eternal embarrassment I just didn't realise how significant getting shortlisted was when it happened. I saw the competition advertised somewhere and decided to knock out an entry - I wasn't writing crime fiction at the time so I didn't expect anything to come of it. When I was contacted about making the shortlist I thought, 'Oh, that's nice' and got on with what I was doing. Maybe if I'd won I would have pursued it but I didn't even think about it until I started the submission process.

In retrospect I probably should have explored the possibilities, but I was nineteen years old and I just don't think I was a very good writer back then. Looking at what I was producing at the time it has a degree of style - maybe - but absolutely no substance. That Eva couldn't have written ‘Long Way Home’ and on balance I'm glad I waited until I had something worth saying.
9) You have appeared in numerous short story anthologies. Which medium do you find most satisfying to write?
Short stories don't come easily but I enjoy the challenge of crafting a small and (hopefully) perfectly formed narrative across 700 or a 1000 words. They're great training for novel writing because a successful short forces you to set the scene quickly and efficiently, nail the characters in a line or two, and most importantly create a voice which will draw the reader in. Novels are ultimately more satisfying to write though, simply because there's so much more space to play with.
10) Do you have a writing routine or any superstitions about writing?
My routine is largely dependent on how busy I am on the day job, so during a quiet period I'll do a regular nine to five on the book, but if it's busy I try to get in three or four hours very late at night - after a few hands of online poker to clear my mind. That part of the process is crucial.

The only thing I'm hugely superstitious about is not discussing the book until I've finished it. It's stupid, I know that, but I'm convinced it kills the energy somehow. Other than that I'm not too finicky. I have a special writing mug and a special, moth-eaten, dun-coloured writing cardigan which went missing in the middle of book two and set me back by a couple of weeks.
11) Which three crime novels made a lasting impression on you?
‘Black and Blue’ by Ian Rankin, ‘Flesh and Blood’ by John Harvey, and ‘Sidetracked’ by Henning Mankell. Although these authors' series were influential in their entirety, I have chosen these titles mainly because they tend to deal with social and political issues so effectively within the crime genre.

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