JOHN MARRS: Would You Recognize a Criminal?

Written by John Marrs

I become bored very easily. Be it a long running TV show, a movie in excess of a couple of hours or a concert that feels like it might never end, I get itchy feet if I think something is overstaying its welcome or becoming repetitive.


To keep my interest in writing, it’s essential for me to try new things, to explore territories I have not delved into before and to push myself.  My first book, When You Disappeared, was a domestic psychological thriller. My second, third and fourth were all completely different from that, from their style to their set-ups, but I guess they all share the underlying thriller theme.


That’s why my latest novel, Her Last Move, is my first foray into the world of police procedural books. When it came to book five, I needed to challenge myself. I offer nothing but respect to the authors out there who make a career from long-running characters and series. But I know that using the same character is just not my thing; I need to keep it fresh and exciting for me first and foremost. Because if I think I’m going through the motions, then my readers will know it. And as police procedural isn’t something I have ever tackled before, I made a decision to give it my best shot.


While the market for that genre is huge, I’m very aware it’s also very saturated. According to figures released at the London Book Fair in April this year, Britain has become a nation obsessed by crime fiction.18.7 million crime novels were sold in 2017, an increase of almost 20% since 2015. Industry data from Nielsen BookScan reveals they make up a whopping 36% of all books sold, which is more than any other genre.


There are many incredible crime writers out there, from legends such as Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves to the new school such as Caroline Mitchell and Cara Hunter who are bringing fascinating and unique perspectives to the crime category.


So I needed to bring something new of my own to the game. Step forward the Super Recognisers. Never heard of them? You are not alone. Very few people have.


Her Last Move follows two lead characters, detectives Joe Russell and Becca Vincent. They’re paired up to hunt a series of increasingly violent murders throughout London. Joe was inspired by an interview I read in the Guardian newspaper about Super Recognisers (SRs) who are a small department in London’s Metropolitan Police. They’re made up of detectives from across the force who never forget a face. Most of us will remember up to 20% of faces that we see in our lifetime. However, an SR has the capacity to recall 80%. Just 2% of the population have their ability.


To give the department its full title – the not-so snappily titled Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office – it’s the only dedicated team of its kind in the world. It makes a quarter of all suspect identifications within the Met. To my knowledge there are less than a handful of novels that have used SRs as main characters, meaning there was a lot of scope for me to bring them to the reader’s attention through Joe.  


I felt it important that my second lead, Becca, had a back story a world away from her career. So I made her a single mum, raising a Down’s syndrome daughter alongside her divorced mother. Becca’s career is important to her but with the increasing amount of attention each murder gets, the pressures upon her as a detective and a mum reach a boiling point.


The toughest challenge I faced in writing Her Last Move was not the storyline or the character development, but ensuring each aspect of the criminal investigation was accurate. My dad was a police officer in Northamptonshire for 25 years, but he died some 13 years ago now. And had he been alive, much would have changed in procedure since his retirement.


Thankfully, a Blogger I had been in touch with suggested a friend of hers, a serving police officer and book lover. They read a very early version draft and came back with pages of notes for me. They included everything from the correct terminology for certain operations, to police rankings and walked me through how each of my investigations would be carried out. That gave me so much confidence to continue.


As I write this, my novel still has a month to go before it’s published and thankfully, my genre hopping has been a hit with early readers and reviewers. Writing it has also allowed me to fully appreciate the brilliance of authors who have based their careers around writing police procedural novels. With other genres, you can be much freer to use your imagination. But with police procedurals, one hand is always tied behind your back to ensure what you are writing is also factually accurate. Because there are plenty of crime fiction lovers out there who will be quick to point out when it’s not!


Will I write in this genre again? For the first time, I am actually tempted to. Sticking to procedure forces you to think smarter, to nail the accuracy and be original as you can. And as a writer, that’s the challenge I’m always seeking.



Her Last Move by John Marrs is published by Thomas & Mercer,

Oct 8, 2018 pbk and ebook


John Marrs

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