MURDER – A FAMILY BUSINESS
Isabelle Grey's brother, the forensic pathologist.
Isabelle Grey, author of the DI Grace Fisher series, has never had to go far to find expert advice on a murder investigation.
Her older brother Allen is a recently retired forensic pathologist; so Isabelle caught up with her brother to ask why he thinks they have both, in different ways, been drawn to investigate murder.
Posted on September 21, 2016 in Behind the Scenes
Tags: Crime, DI Grace Fisher, Isabelle Grey, Murder, Shot Through the Heart, forensic pathologist, investigative, novel, siblings, thriller
Coming from a family of medics, Isabelle Grey became used to Sunday lunch chat being about stuff like the significance of petechial haemorrhage in Shaken Baby Syndrome. She’s often been to watch her brother, Allen, give evidence in murder trials, especially at the Old Bailey, and was a guest at one of the annual meetings of the British Association in Forensic Medicine. Once, for ‘research’, the ever-gullible kid sister was even persuaded to taste a poisoned curry.
In the early planning stages of Shot Through The Heart – out in paperback this week – it was Allen who, when she asked about his experience of gun crime, altered the direction of her story with his intriguing comment that bullets are far more interesting than guns.
Here Isabelle and Allen discuss why it is that they’ve both been drawn, in different ways, to investigate murder:
Allen: Not having been provided with a substantial income, it was my misfortune to have to earn a living at something, and forensic pathology offered the most interesting career I could come up with. How about you? Writing for a living is an uncertain way of life.
What tempted you to follow this path rather than taking a steady job?
Isabelle: I began with the usual romantic notions about being a writer, but once I started to write for television I was simply hooked by the complexity and process of writing itself and of writing about murder. I was always hopeless at science, but I do think our minds work the same way – we both like to feel we’ve got to the bottom of things. Plus my work gives me a wonderful excuse to delve into all kinds of other professional worlds – such as yours. So how do you feel about crime writers like me turning murder into entertainment?
Allen: Go for it! I don’t think people have any difficulty telling the difference between a fictional dramatisation and real events. Having been consulted by a variety of writers over the years, it’s apparent that each has their own way of doing what they do, and I have no problem with however they choose to portray things.
Isabelle: Well, except I remember when, having generously talked me through one of the crime scenes in Good Girls Don’t Die, you did object to the forensic pathologist driving a Volvo, which is why Dr Samit Tripathi has a Porsche instead.
Allen: True! We were students at Cambridge together when women were very much a minority. I’m interested to know what part feminism plays in your writing.
Isabelle: The first ever female police detective was appointed the year I followed you to university, when female officers did not get equal pay, so, although Grace Fisher has gone into a modern police force as a fast-track graduate, I’m curious about what it’s like for her to succeed within an institution that’s always had such a powerful male culture. Tell me what has been most important to you about your work.
Allen: Getting it right, at least so far as one could. Perhaps the biggest difference between real and fictional crime investigation is that in real life there is no last page where the ‘truth’ is revealed, so one was usually working with no absolute reference point. In a real crime, only one person knows what really happened, and often he or she ain’t telling. Do you know your ending before you start? Is the detail already worked out or does the story emerge during the writing process?
Isabelle: I know roughly what happens, but not how. A screenwriter has to work it all out in advance, so, for fiction, I’ve had to unlearn that. A novel seems to work much better if I leave the narrative free to offer unexpected opportunities. It’s scary to write that way, but fun. Tell me what crime fiction you enjoy reading.
Allen: Your publishers will be horrified to learn that I am a lifelong browser in second hand bookshops and enjoy nothing so much as a good 1920s or 1930s thriller or mystery. I regularly re-read Dornford Yates; his gentlemen heroes will readily murder a villain in cold blood, always comforted by the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. I do also read some contemporary fiction, and particularly enjoy Elmore Leonard whose laconic style and humour always entertain.
Isabelle: Professor Bernard Knight went on to turn his experience into crime fiction. Have you ever been tempted to write?
Allen: Everybody believes they have at least one novel in them just waiting to come out, and I suppose I’m no different – it is just the small matter of getting around to it … With both a brother (Roderick Anscombe – a former forensic psychiatrist who writes thrillers) and a sister who are writers, I have no illusions about just how much hard work is involved.
Isabelle: Nothing compared to the hours you used to work! And writing about murder carries no real responsibility, whereas watching you give evidence at the Old Bailey, for example, always made me very conscious of what’s at stake for real-life investigators. Seeing the human cost for everyone involved is where your career has probably had a greatest influence on mine – that plus sleek cars and interesting bullets.
Find out more about Isabelle Grey and her latest thriller Shot Through the Heart here.
Isabelle Grey is a novelist and television screenwriter who has contributed to numerous crime drama series including The Bill, Wycliffe, and Midsomer Murders. She was previously a freelance journalist, and is the author of Out of Sight, The Bad Mother, Good Girls Don’t Die and most recently Shot Through the Heart. The third book in the DI Grace Fisher series The Special Girls is coming out in April 2017. Isabelle lives in North London.
Dr Allen Anscombe was born in the London smog of 1952. He studied medicine at Cambridge and St George’s Hospital, London, and was appointed a Home Office pathologist in 1989. Although mostly engaged in UK-based homicide investigation, his work has taken him to many other places, including Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Falkland Islands. Now retired from pathology, he struggles to find enough time for walking, fishing, wine drinking and seeing friends and family.