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Saturday, 21st July 2007


Edinburgh Evening News Fri 20 Jul 2007

Another job for inspector MacLeod


IT was the grimmest of discoveries. On the afternoon of September 21, 2001, a member of the public spotted something floating down the River Thames in London. But it was only as it passed under Tower Bridge that they realised it was a body. Or to be more precise, a torso.

The Metropolitan Police believed 'Adam', a young African boy aged between four and seven, had been the victim of a ritual killing.

Using sophisticated forensic techniques, they traced the boy back to Nigeria. They also discovered he had arrived in the UK only a few days before his murder.

"I like to write about the things that frighten me - it's a way of exploring it," says Capital-based crime writer Lin Anderson, whose new book Dark Flight takes its inspiration from the ground-breaking investigation.

"I thought it was a really interesting story - the foren-sics side of it and the way they traced the boy back to Nigeria. And, having lived there for five years, I was aware of the Juju [a Nigerian belief system which sometimes involves sacrificial offerings, a way of warding off evil spirits]."

In her latest novel, a six-year-old boy has vanished from his own back garden, while his mother and grand-mother are found horrifically murdered.

At the scene, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod, making her fourth appearance in an Anderson novel, finds a chilling African talisman made from the bones of a child.

The mutilated torso of a second child is then pulled from the river. MacLeod must try to decipher the talisman's meaning and track down the boy before he becomes the next link in the killer's chain.

"I'm not sure if it's darker than the other Rhona MacLeod novels, people tell me they're all dark," says Anderson, who will be attend-ing the launch of Dark Flight at Waterstone's, George Street, on Thursday.

"I spoke to the Metropolitan Police about the Adam case and they told me of their determination to find out who he was. They were talking about 200 children disappearing off primary registers and they didn't know where they were."

Back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, the 56-year-old lived in northern Nigeria with her husband John, an irrigation engineer, in a small village near the city of Kano.

"It was in Hausa country and there were a lot of tribes," says Anderson, who taught at a local school while her husband was involved with building a dam.

"I had kept an advert for the local witchdoctor from the newspaper. It was what spurred me on to write the book."

However, the idea for the MacLeod character, who first appeared in 2003's Driftnet, did not originate in Africa.

"One of my pupils in Carrbridge [Inverness-shire], Emma Hart, went on to become a forensics inspector in the Met," says Anderson.

"She would come home with these wonderful stories about what they did and she obviously really enjoyed it.

"The idea for the first book was to explore someone who turned up at a crime and found that the victim is connected to her. Rhona turns up and initially believes a young murder victim is the son she gave up for adoption 17 years ago."

But the inspiration for MacLeod's boss and mentor, Detective Inspector Bill Wilson, was even closer to home - Greenock-born Anderson's father was a CID detective.

"I don't think I realised how much I had based Wilson on my father until I finished reading Driftnet," says the author. "Detectives tend to be dysfunctional, but he's happily married with two teenage children. His marriage is the reason he can do the job because he can come home and shut the door - in contrast to Rhona.

"My father would come in and close the door and never spoke about what happened during the day, except to my mother. The kitchen door would be shut and we always knew they were talking about something serious. Occasion-ally the whisky bottle was taken out - they must have been the bad ones. There were no rapes reported on TV, no child assaults. Nothing like that was actually made public. We were given these coded messages.

"I remember my dad once said, 'If a man comes up to you with a bottle of lemonade and offers you a drink, don't take it.' It was because there was a man out poisoning children.

"I only now realise how much more worrying it must be to be a father and a policeman. I remember my father saying one day when I told him to stop fussing and worrying, 'I'm a man and I know what men are capable of'. And he was right. He was dealing with it every day."

Anderson's crime thrillers have drawn inevitable comparisons with her Merchiston neighbour, Ian Rankin - 'The King of Tartan Noir'.

"We have our coffee in the same place in the morning," says Anderson. "He's the biggest-selling crime writer in the UK and crime writers in Scotland have benefited from the high profile of him and Inspector Rebus."

The respect is mutual, with Rankin naming Driftnet among his 20 favourite books.

However, Anderson insists their protagonists are very different.

"Rhona's a sexy, professional female in her mid-30s," she says. "And she's not an alcoholic."

• Lin Anderson, Waterstone's, George Street, Thursday, 6.30pm, free, 0131-225 3436

• Dark Flight by Lin Anderson is published on Thursday by Hodder & Stoughton priced £12.99

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Last updated: 20-Jul-07 17:42 BST

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