The snow detective

Snow is the crime writer’s best friend. A single blizzard creates a virtual ‘locked room’ – for no killer can enter or leave without leaving footsteps. And there is something about a white landscape which conjurs up the blank page, the perfect setting for a story to begin. When writing the Philip Dryden books I chose to let it snow in almost every story – so much so that one editor mentioned that this had become a ‘tic’ and I should perhaps choose sunshine for the next book. After all, it hardly snows at all now, and this year has been mildly disappointing despite being Arctic – or Antarctic. But that wasn’t really the point – if a writer can make up characters and plot why not landscape and weather. Why can’t it always snow in my world?

At one point I tried to develop a new series of books with the over-arching name of The Snow Detective. He – or she – would be an expert in interpreting the frozen crime scene, and tracking down the killer in a winter landscape. They would travel the world assisting local police forces solve baffling murders. (I envisaged exotic travel in the interests of research: Norway, New Zealand, Chile, Alaska.) Speed would be of the essence – to get to the crime scene before the sun does its worst. There would be a side-kick of course, preferably a heliophile who would find each frigid assignment a torture. Our hero would take midnight plunges through the ice while the sidekick wrapped themselves around a radiator indoors.

The idea was shelved – but nothing is ever lost. My next book – The White Lie – is set in Antarctica and tells the ‘true’ story of Scott’s Last Expedition. I was overjoyed: now I had an entire continent of snow and ice to play with. The main character is a young man called Falcon Grey – Falcon being Scott’s middle name, after his God Father. But his assistant – out on the ice – is an American called Frank Maze who is half Inuit. This man lives and breathes snow, knows its every mood and form. With Maze’s help Falcon finds the truth about Scott – and himself. At the moment I am preparing maps for the book – which comes out later this year. I couldn’t be happier. It’s a make-believe world made entirely of the white stuff. And the white icescape is a living map, the explorers leaving their own inky trails across the snow, perfectly captured on the page of a book.