Thursday 11 April 2024

Dr Rhona MacLeod, Forensics and I by Lin Anderson

With the paperback of The Wild Coast due to be published on 11th April 2024 Lin Anderson talks about the Dr Rhona MacLeod and forensics. 

Driftnet, the first book to feature forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod was published in 2003. The Wild Coast, the latest and the hardback of no 17 in the series was published twenty years later on the 3rd August 2023.

How has the world of forensics changed during that time?

The story of Rhona MacLeod…

My father was a Detective Inspector in Greenock when I was growing up. He never spoke about his job to his three daughters, but my mother was his confidant when dark things were happening and they would go into the kitchen to talk with the door firmly shut.

With three teenage daughters, my dad had lots to worry about. One of his favourite warnings to me was…I know what men are like, Linda.

One of his deepest concerns was that he might turn up at a scene of crime to discover one of his daughters as a victim. That fear of his became the catalyst for writing Driftnet.

I imagined someone turning up at the scene of a murder only to discover the victim is linked to them. I wondered who that someone would be. In most novels, it would be a male detective, like my dad. For some reason, I thought of a former Maths pupil of mine, Emma Hart who had gone to university to study forensic science, which back then was in its infancy. She had graduated and was now working with the forensic services in London.

So in that serendipity moment, I thought I would have a female forensic scientist and that she would think the teenage victim looked so like her, he might be the son she gave up for adoption seventeen years before.

Needless to say I knew nothing about forensic science at the time, so I set about trying to buy a book on the subject. In the current Waterstones on Princes Street, Edinburgh, back then known as Ottakers, I found only one book on the subject, The Encyclopedia of Forensic Science, which I have to this day.

Fortunately, I was also able to call on Emma, to point out what things I did right or wrong.

Driftnet became Ottakers book of the month and launched my career. I also found I loved the world of forensic science which married well with my other teaching subject of Computing Science. I fell in love with my little cast of characters, Rhona, Chrissy her side kick, DS Michael McNab, DI Wilson (who was based on my father) and Orcadian psychologist Professor Magnus Pirie(I used to live in Orkney…it’s a great place). Hence the series was born.

I didn’t make the decision to set each book in a given year and move forward in real time, like Ian Rankin did with Rebus. In truth, I hadn’t planned to write a series at all. So I just had each story start where the previous one ended. This is indicated by the season. So roughly speaking during her time in the spotlight, Rhona has aged about four years.

Shortly after Driftnet was published, I took an evening course at my former university of Glasgow entitled ‘Diploma in Forensic Science’, offered to those who might have to give evidence in court, such as police officers, mortuary technicians, social workers etc…and any other interested parties. I decided that was me and I applied. I then discovered my partner in crime (and co founder of Bloody Scotland with me), Alex Gray had also spotted the advert. After which we spent many happy hours listening to the real experts in the field of forensic science.

The experts I met through that course, together with my carefully preserved notes allow me to continue with Rhona up to now.

The Wild Coast by Lin Anderson (Pan Macmillan) PB Published 11 April 2024

A remote shoreline. A lethal killer. As lone visitors disappear from the rural northwest of Scotland, campsites are becoming crime scenes. When forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod is brought in to analyse a shallow grave on Scotland's west coast, she is disturbed by a bundle of twigs crafted into a stickman and left in the victim's mouth. Then, when a young woman is reported missing from a nearby campsite with another sinister figurine left in her van, it seems that someone is targeting wild campers. An idyllic coastline known for providing peace and serenity, now the area is a hunting ground. As her investigation proceeds, Rhona is forced to reconsider her closest bonds. Rumours of sexual assault offences by serving police officers are circling in Glasgow, which may include her trusted colleague DS Michael McNab. Could it be true, or is someone looking to put him out of action? All the while a young woman's life is on the line and the clock is ticking...

Whispers of the Dead is the eighteenth book in the Dr Rhona McLeod series is due to be published in August 2024.

Whispers of the Dead by Lin Anderson (Pan Macmillan) Published 1st August 2024.

A gangland slaying. A missing movie star. When an actor goes missing in Glasgow, the clue to his whereabouts could be in the film script itself.  In the dead of night, a man’s body is found strapped to a chair in Glasgow’s Elder Park, his identity unknown. As forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod examines the scene, the violence on display suggests a gangland feud could be the cause. At the post-mortem, a bullet engraved with a snake’s head is found in the man’s stomach, lending weight to the theory. Elsewhere in the city, a major Hollywood movie is being filmed. But shooting comes to a standstill when its lead actor is reported missing. As the news spreads, Police Scotland believe the two cases may be connected. DS Michael McNab thinks the key to finding those responsible could be the film itself. A storyline playing out in real-life on the streets of Glasgow with a killer intent on revenge at any cost. A vendetta which must be paid in blood . . .

More information about Lin Anderson and her books can be found on her website. You can also find her on “X” @Lin_Anderson on Instagram @Linandersonwriter and on Facebook.

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