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Cara Hunter on writing crime in the shadow of Morse

12th July 2018 - Cara Hunter

Cara Hunter on writing crime in the shadow of Morse

In the Dark by Cara Hunter

In the Dark is Cara Hunter's second book in her D.I. Fawley series. Set in Oxford and incorporating social media snippets, newspaper articles and crime reports, the books are full of suspense and twists that keep you guessing until the very end. Below, Cara talks to us about the pros and cons of writing crime novels set in the city so closely associated with Inspector Morse, and how her detective is a very different type of person. 



In Morse’s footsteps


In the very first draft of Close to Home Oxford doesn’t feature at all. Well, that’s not quite true. There’s a beautiful university city which is pretty easily recognisable as Oxford, but I deliberately didn’t call it that. I called it Kingstead, as a nod to the fact that it was the base for Charles I’s court during the Civil War (‘stead’ derives from the Old English stede, or place, so hence ‘King’s place’). And why did I invent another name? Because I was convinced that, after Morse and Lewis and Endeavour, people would simply have had enough of Oxford. Or at least that’s what I thought. Until I met my (now) editor Katy Loftus at Penguin and almost the first thing she said was, “This is Oxford, right? Then it has to be Oxford.”


And she’s been proved absolutely right. I’m sure that one of the reasons the book has sold around the world is because crime fans from China to Croatia know and love this city, and can picture it in their minds as they read. And because it’s where I live myself I can - I hope – bring to life some of the other parts of the city, which have their own distinctive characters, and are worlds away from the ivy-clad quads. Or, at least, appear to be.


So far, so good. But setting a crime series in Oxford is about a lot more than just setting. To paraphrase the song, ‘How do you solve a problem like E Morse?” Colin Dexter’s brilliant invention casts such a long shadow over this city that it was daunting to even presume to have someone else walk the same streets. And I am – like so many other people – an absolute devotee myself, so the challenge felt doubly difficult. Bizarre though it sounds, there was a sense of not wanting to ‘mess it up’ – of wanting to write something that would celebrate the legacy in my own small way, rather than contest with it. (And in case you haven’t spotted it already, my bright and sassy female police officer, Erica Somer, was named in homage to Morse, as her surname is an anagram of his).


One thing that was obvious right from the start, was that my detective had to be different from Morse. He had to be his own man. Not disappointed in love, not childless, not an old curmudgeon, not an intellectual. In fact, Adam Fawley himself has a bit of fun with all the ways he is ‘not Morse’. As he says in Close to Home: “While I’m at it, the car is a Ford. In case you’re wondering. And I don’t do bloody crosswords either.”


So Adam Fawley is not a bachelor but very much in love with his beautiful wife. He’s not childless, or at least he wasn’t, until he lost his only son, Jake, in a tragedy that is only fully revealed towards the end of Close to Home. He’s not bad-tempered, or at least not most of the time, though he does have a short fuse on occasion and a very dry sense of humour. And he’s not an intellectual, though he is clever. Very clever. Which is just as well, because the case he encounters as In The Dark opens is going to be one of the most gruelling and complex of his entire career….


Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Close to Home, the first D.I. Fawley novel, was a Sunday Times bestseller and a Richard and Judy book club choice.



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