‘Damaged’ cops, those with a psychological flaw, arriving with emotional baggage – they are almost two a penny, probably because they are more interesting than the PC Plod sort and because most people have something in their past or make-up which causes cracks in their efficient facade. Simon Serrailler is no exception and when I first thought about him, he came ‘fully formed’, a man from a family of doctors who couldn’t hack medicine, had always wanted to be a policeman and disappointed his parents by following his own path, not theirs.
In one sense he is a loner – nearly 40 and not married or otherwise settled. In another, he has very close family ties, especially to his sister Cat and her family, and no shortage of women who fall in love with him. He isn’t a philanderer, he really means to love and remain with most of his girlfriends but when push comes to shove, he cannot commit. Until he meets Rachel, he has never been seriously in love but she changes everything. If ever he marries, and assuming she is still available, it will be Rachel. But he is frightened of anyone muscling in on his territory, even her, so he pushes her away too. I do not like Simon for this. I am not sure I like him at all, though he is fun to be with. Lots of readers tell me they are in love with him. I never have been.
I knew his relationship with his father was difficult, and it has got worse over time. They are a little too alike though Simon is a fundamentally decent man. Richard is not.
Every time I start a new book, I ask myself first ‘Where is Simon now?’. He may be in a settled, calm place or a frightening one. His work always puts him in one sort of crisis or another and those take both mental and even physical toll. It is how he deals with the challenges, how they affect him, which is always interesting to work out. Simon Serrailler has changed, developed, grown, over ten books and will go on doing so. It’s what makes me start every new book in the series – finding out where he’s at right now.
But I did not begin to think about writing crime novels with Simon himself. It first came to mind when I, like so many others in the UK, was confronted every day in the media with the terrible story of the two young girls who disappeared one evening in Soham and whose bodies were later found in woodland a few miles away. The effect this case had on everyone was profound and made me realise that any murder can be like a stone thrown into a pool – the ripples have an impact that becomes wider and wider. But the immediate and greatest impact is on the families, close friends, the immediate community – and then on the police and emergency services, and so on outwards. From the beginning, I was interested not in the ‘how’ or even the ‘who’ so much as the ‘why’. Serrailler himself is affected by every case he works on and he too thinks long and hard, often for months or even years afterwards, on the ‘why’. He is a hard-working copper but he is also a sensitive and thoughtful man. I have always wanted to show just how much every murder he covers affects him, as well as how everyone who deals with it in the course of their working life has to accept the impact, because without it they would become robotic, but not let it harm them in the long term, or they could not continue doing their job. The terrible crimes I write about leave their mark in me too, just as the events in Soham have done. Those who commit them have no idea how far those ripples spread out or what profound wider damage they do.
The other important element in the series is the Serrailler family. Simon is close to his parents, his sister Cat, and the others, though he is not an easy person in this as in other contexts. He often needs to hold back something, even from them. I am interested in medical matters across the board, and so made this a medical family, from whom Simon broke away, after two years of reading medicine, to pursue his dream of becoming a cop. But both hospital medicine and General Practice are woven into each book, especially in the life and family of Dr Cat Deerbon, Simon’s sister, her first husband, and fellow GP, and other local GP practices, the hospital, and Imogen House Hospice. All of these are a second important aspect of the crime novels and Simon is involved in medical matters even though he chose not to take up the profession.
The younger members of the family have roles in many of the novels too, especially Sam, Cat’s eldest child, and Simon’s much-loved nephew. As he grows up, he too is attracted to medicine and the police and, by The Benefit of Hindsight, has finally made up his mind which career he will follow. Both his mother, the doctor, and uncle, the Detective Chief Superintendent, are affected by his decision. In the course of the series, every member of this family, including the youngest boy, Felix, is involved with the activities of the others – even in Simon and Sam’s beloved game of cricket.