Antonia Hawkins was never meant to make it this far.
She actually died halfway through the first draft of my debut novel, The Advent Killer, although this wasn’t revealed until the end. But revisions made in conjunction with my agent, to prepare the book for submission to publishers, saved her. And Hawkins has hung in there for three sequels so far, despite a few life and sanity-threatening moments along the way.
The Advent Killer was the first novel I’d ever written, so everything about producing feature-length crime was new to me then. As a result, Hawkins was created entirely for that book. But perhaps I got lucky with her, because she was the one thing that hardly changed over the course of many drafts on the road to publication. Or since.
The plot of The Advent Killer developed from an idea I’d had a few years earlier, a concept that relied on its two lead characters not meeting until the very end. After much deliberation, I decided the best way to achieve this was to make one a wanted criminal, and the other an investigator trying to track them down. Hawkins’ profile: the rough-diamond detective, brilliant but inexperienced and work-obsessed, simply fitted the bill. Even the choice to make her female was driven by the plot. It never crossed my mind how hard it would be, as a man, to write a convincing woman as my first protagonist, but thankfully I had the committed ear of my fiancée, Anna, who helped batter the very basics of the female psyche into me (an ongoing project).
Perhaps unusually for this type of fiction, Hawkins begins her journey relatively unscathed. She’s intelligent, discerning, attractive, and although her relationship with ex-fiancé Paul ended badly, thanks to Hawkins’ affair with a male colleague, her personal life is comparatively serene. Despite an overpowering moral compass that saw her negotiate adolescence with few close friends, Hawkins early career in the Met was driven by characteristic determination, and she rose quickly through the ranks. She’s reactive, sarcastic, and often frustratingly introverted, but she’s focused under fire, and nothing if not resilient.
We first meet her in late 2013, an ambitious mid-thirties DI, temporarily promoted to Detective Chief Inspector in lieu of her commanding officer having succumbed to a premature heart attack. Not that she was too upset; she’d removed his clammy little hands from various parts of her anatomy too many times for that. Hawkins had predicted a few altercations with degenerate males when she’d joined the force. She just hadn’t expected one of them to be her boss. But he still left the pub that night covered in Jack Daniels, nursing a very nearly broken wrist. Yet the summons from HR she’d anticipated never came. And after that, he’d kept his clammy hands to himself.
Then he was gone, and Hawkins found herself in the right place to benefit. Making DCI at 35 is no mean feat, but it came with more challenges than she had foreseen. In book one, errors of judgement leave Hawkins fighting for her career and her credibility, not to mention her life. The resulting psychological trauma plagues her throughout book two (My Bloody Valentine), and into book three (The Keeper). Forced by her boss, Chief Superintendent Tristan Vaughn, to attend regular counselling sessions, Hawkins pays begrudging lip service to the concept of emotional catharsis, intermittently tempted by thoughts of leaving the police force, yet her innate sense of duty, and a compulsion to see wrongs righted, keep hauling her back. Although just as she realises that she’s making progress in spite of herself, the traumatic events of book 4 (Cold Christmas) send her reeling anew.
Four books in, Antonia Hawkins is becoming more companion than character; the challenges of imagining what she’ll say or do replaced now by the challenge of finding new aspects of her character to explore. It’s a task I welcome, of course, and one that wouldn’t have been possible had she not sidestepped death in that first novel. But I’m very glad she did.
How many DCI Antonia Hawkins books have you read? Let us know in the comments below!