I DO THIS FOR A LIVING Lisa THE TRUTH ABOUT JOB Cutts S INVOLVING CRIME DETECTIVE CONSTABLE
Novellist LISA CUTTS is a DC for Kent Police and has spent a decade working for their Serious Crime Directorate, dealing with murders and other major cases. Her third book, Mercy Killing, follows DI Harry Powell’s investigation into the death of a sex off
The first few days of a murder are manic and, depending on the role allocated to me, I may finish work after 18 hours, get four hours’ sleep and then do it all again. Interviewing prisoners is always days of work with very late finishes. The reality is 20 minutes of heart-racing, adrenalin-filled action, followed by weeks of paperwork.
Mostly, I work on murders and rapes, although the department also deals with kidnaps, blackmail and large-scale, protracted investigations. It can include arresting and interviewing suspects, taking witness statements, travelling the county – or the country – to make enquiries and, of course, months of paperwork.
Many of my colleagues have bought my books, some have even read them. I’ve had a great deal of support from work, although I did have to go through the correct channels. Firstly, I needed to get secondary employment clearance, something all police and civilian staff have to do for work in addition to their job. After that was approved, I approached the legal department to check that what I was writing wasn’t going to be an issue and cause problems for the police.
Being a part of a team that has sent someone to prison for a lengthy sentence, hopefully allowing the victim or their family to try to get some of their broken lives back together, is a very big high. The main challenge is lack of staff. Officers are leaving and not being replaced. Finding time to write is becoming a challenge, as work is busier and busier. I think that the time will come when I have to make a decision about whether I can continue to do both.
Sticking to accurate police procedures is one of the main aims in my crime fiction. Murder is horrifying and compelling enough, without making up how it’s investigated. I avoid the detail of the amount of paperwork required. I’m very aware how dull that would be.
A gripping story is what keeps the reader turning the page, so it’s crucial that it’s as good as it can be. I don’t shy away from what I know about investigating murder. If something simply wouldn’t happen, or if the murderer did something that would make him or her easy to identify, I have to change it. It does cause me enormous problems when writing. The advances in DNA, mobile phones, electronic footsteps, automatic number plate readers, CCTV and the most important one of all, help from the public, all play their part in identifying a killer.
The idea for Mercy Killing came about after I spent a considerable amount of time investigating allegations of historic child abuse. Although the book is fiction and definitely not based on anyone from the investigation, it crossed my mind, on an almost daily basis, for three years, how the team and I would feel if we were investigating the murder of a paedophile, rather than the crimes of one.
I also wondered how the Senior Investigating Officer would rally their staff, to show the dedication required to catch the killer. Harry Powell moans, drinks, swears, backs his team and most importantly, he’s a very good Detective Inspector. The moaning and drinking have definitely transferred themselves into my characters.
I definitely use the police procedures, the ones I’m allowed to write about, anyway. I don’t write about actual murders I’ve worked on – my books are all works of fiction. One thing I often do is use colleagues’ anecdotes, especially the ones that have made me laugh. I do ask their permission first, although no-one has yet refused.
Mercy Killing (Simon & Schuster) is out now.