Although I’m cutting right back on blog tours and am, with a few exceptions, taking as much of August off from blogging as I can, I simply had to support lovely Jane Isaac and her new thriller Hush Little Baby – not least because I still owe her a scone from our last meeting in real life! My thanks to Vicky Joss for inviting me to participate in the blog tour. As well as my review of Hush Little Baby, I have a fabulous, and slightly stomach turning, guest post from Jane today, all about research!
You’ll find other posts featuring Jane on the blog here.
Published by Aria on 23rd July 2020, Hush Little Baby is available for purchase here.
Hush Little Baby
Someone stole a baby…
One sunny day in July, someone took three-month-old Alicia Owen from her pram outside a supermarket. Her mother, Marie, was inside. No one saw who took Alicia. And no one could find her.
They silenced her cry…
Fifteen years later, a teenager on a construction site sees a tiny hand in the ground. When the police investigate, they find a baby buried and preserved in concrete. Could it be Alicia?
But the truth will always out.
When Alicia disappeared, the papers accused Marie of detachment and neglect. The Owens never got over the grief of their child’s disappearance and divorced not long after. By reopening the case, DC Beth Chamberlain must reopen old wounds. But the killer may be closer than anyone ever suspected…
An Experiment in the Name of Research
A Guest Post by Jane Isaac
I love research. It underpins the stories we write. I’ll admit I probably do far too much of it. Sometimes it’s only for an odd sentence, sometimes it’s a thread that runs through the entire book. Research comes in all shapes and sizes, but after eight novels, there is nothing for me that matches the personal experiment I carried out for my latest book.
In Hush Little Baby, I have a victim buried in concrete. Concrete holds some preserving properties – a delicious fact if you’re a crime writer because it opens upmany possibilities for the story. But it presents problems too. My body had been immersed in a concrete block for several years when the casing was disturbed on a building site, uncovering the person inside. What would it look like after all this time? What DNA evidence would be available for identification purposes? These are areas I neededto answer so that readers could follow the story through the eyes of Beth, my investigating detective.
Researching these points proved quite tricky. I tried all my current forensic and pathology contacts and, needless to say, they could speculate on the DNA and forensic front but had never dealt with this particular situation and couldn’t be exactly sure what it would look like. I read books and researched online, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of research done on bodies buried in concrete and the science was quite complex; I needed a lay person’s explanation. I was struggling and beginning to wonder if I should drop the idea. Then I decided to do my own experiment.
One Sunday afternoon, I eyed up the pig’s shoulder my daughter got out of the fridge, ready to roast for dinner. And it gave me an idea. Research has taught me that pig is similar to human skin. Depending on conditions, most bodies breakdown during the first six months after death. Why don’t I bury the pig’s shoulder in a bucket of concrete and leave it in my garden for a while?
So, much to the delight of my neighbours (and the disgust of my daughter – I won’t tell you what we ate for dinner that Sunday!), hubby and I took a little trip to the local DIY store, bought some concrete mix and did just that. The bucket sat in my garden for many months with a pot plant sitting on top. I knew it was completely sealed because the flies stayed away and my dogs showed no interest.
Fast forward to last May. Remember that beautiful hot bank holiday weekend? We were having quiet family time, catching up with jobs around the house while neighbours BBQ’d with friends and families in the surrounding gardens. I remember finishing my chores, sitting in the garden and eyeing up the bucket. The meat had been encased for almost a year; it was time to find out what it looked like inside.
The pot plant was moved. My hubby got his sledge hammer out of the shed and whacked the plastic bucket hard. The concrete smashed open. And for the first few seconds it was an extraordinary sight – the pig’s shoulder was exactly the same as when it was buried – the meat was pink and raw; even the skin hadn’t discoloured. What we didn’t realise was that as soon as it hit the air, it would go into rapid deterioration. By rapid, I mean super quick – the smell was putrid! And our neighbours were having these lovely BBQs with their loved ones only metres away…
Cue panic. Hubby broke up the concrete, burnt off the remnants of meat still attached to the stone, wrapped it in bags and disposed of it in the bin. I thought hard. What could I do with the joint to stop it smelling? I couldn’t put it in the wheelie bin like that. So, thinking on my toes, I wrapped it in a bag and put it in our freezer. Frozen meat doesn’t smell, right? I planned to put it out on refuse collection day.
When we’d finally finished clearing up, hubby and I came inside. But no matter how much we cleaned and showered and changed, the fetid odour still hung in the air. We thought it was in our noses, sprayed air freshener, lit candles. Eventually the smell faded and we went to bed.
The following morning, I came downstairs and could immediately smell rotting meat. We had friends coming for brunch, I needed to start cooking. But something wasn’t right. I opened the freezer and the stench slapped me in the face.
Brunch turned out to be takeaway of sorts eaten in the garden that day. Ten minutes before our guests were due to arrive my hubby was driving out of our village – the pig’s shoulder in a carrier bag hanging out of the driver window because he wouldn’t have it in the car – off to bury the rotting meat at the edge of a disused airfield nearby. And I was emptying my freezer in case the smell had infiltrated the other food in there!
I’ve since found a wonderful scientist and former crime scene manager who specialises in bodies buried in concrete and she has been wonderfully helpful with my research. But I’ll never forget that weekend we broke into our concrete. Needless to say, my expert was incredibly interested in our experiment!
Jane, that’s hilarious. I’m never coming to you for a BBQ or a roast dinner. Now I’ve read Hush Little Baby I can see why you needed to conduct this research!
My Review of Hush Little Baby
A cold case might only be the beginning!
I thoroughly enjoyed Hush Little Baby. Indeed, I had originally said I couldn’t review in time for today’s blog post but I began reading just to get a feel for the book following Jane Isaac’s guest post and before I knew it I was engrossed in the story!
Although Hush Little Baby is the third in the DC Beth Chamberlain series, it didn’t matter at all that I hadn’t read the previous book in the series because Jane Isaac’s plotting is so cleverly constructed there was enough information to give me all the detail I needed without adversely impacting on this narrative or slowing it down. There’s a wonderful sense of control in the writing that means it’s a pleasure simply to lose yourself in the plot. There’s a fast pace, partly achieved through short, impactful chapters, and partly through the twists and turns of the case so that Hush Little Baby is equally convincing and exciting and totally entertaining. I found the dialogue very realistic too.
Beth is a smashing character. She is all the more appealing to me because she doesn’t have the unrealistic baggage that so many female characters in police narrative seem to be overburdened with. Certainly she has a past and her vulnerabilities and anxieties, but these feel integral and natural making her someone I believe in completely.
As well as enjoying the story and characters, I found the underlying themes of Hush Little Baby compelling too. The impact of the past on the present, how we construct our own truths and memories, and how we judge others, are concepts that slip along underneath the plot so that there is a hugely satisfying depth to the story that made me think. Resolutions in life are not always neatly sewn up and choices are not always easy to make. Jane Isaac presents these ideas sensitively so that they have real impact.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hush Little Baby and am delighted that the book ends with potential for a future story with Beth Chamberlain. I shall look forward to reading it.
About Jane Isaac
Jane Isaac is married to a serving detective and they live in rural Northamptonshire, UK with their daughter and dogs. Jane’s debut novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, introduces DCI Helen Lavery and was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’
The Truth Will Out, the second in the DCI Helen Lavery series, was nominated as ‘Thriller of the Month – April 2014’ by E-thriller.com and winner of ‘Noveltunity book club selection – May 2014’.
Jane’s ninth novel, Hush Little Baby, is the third in the highly acclaimed DC Beth Chamberlain (Family Liaison Officer) series.
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