Crime writing isn’t the easiest of genres for a new writer to cut their teeth on, but 55-year-old teacher and mum of two Leigh Russell has got the knack from the off. Leigh’s debut novel Cut Short, published Harpenden based No Exit Press, is a taut, slick, easy to read thriller, presented in a pocket-sized volume made up of manageably brief chapters for you to dip into while on the go or settle down with at the end of the day and really get stuck in.
It should come as no surprise that Leigh has a masters degree in English and has gone on to teach the subject for the majority of her working career in schools across Hertfordshire; but it’s still fascinating to hear her say she “stumbled into writing” when faced with a first work that’s so accomplished.
Cut Short introduces readers to newly promoted Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel, who has recently relocated to the sleepy town of Woolsmarsh. When a frenzied killer begins slaying young women in the local parkland, what begins as a straightforward murder investigation is now a desperate hunt for a serial attacker whose bloodlust is spiraling out of control.
Cut Short interplays the life stories of many characters – the policewoman, her boss and colleagues, the chance witness, the serial killer in the park and his unfortunate victims.
Leigh, who still teaches English at a school near Elstree has lived in Hertfordshire for more than 30 years – ten in St Albans, ten in Hatch End and now in Pinner for the past ten years. She tells me the idea for the book came to her while out walking locally.
“I was walking through Pinner Memorial Park and I suddenly thought what if, and it all came pouring out. I’ve moved the location of the lake and swapped things a little bit but Pinner park is where I had this idea. It was a rainy day and I started thinking about this teacher out walking who passes this man and inadvertently becomes a witness.
"I walked past somebody and thought about this woman who sees something and goes to the police but they can’t find him and they’re not even sure if he’s involved in the crime. I sure the person I saw was totally charming person but it got me thinking. What would you do if you saw a leg sticking out of the bushes. What I’ve wanted to get across in my writing is that anyone can become involved in terrible happenings.”
Leigh’s writing has a distinctly down-to-earth approach created through doing enough research to make the novel sound convincing but coupled with a good grounding in human nature.
“The book required a certain amount of police proceedure and I’ve a couple of contacts in the police force so I could check facts such as would the DI have their own desk with drawers in it. When it comes to those everyday little details you need a person you can ask.
“With the bodies, I’m very fortunate enough that my dad is a retired GP so I ran all my bodies past him.”
No Exit will publish the second book in the series, Road Closed, in 2010 and Leigh is currently working on the third book of the series, Dead End.
Leigh will be conducting a book tour in the local area which calls at Borders, Waterfields Retail Park, Watford on Saturday, July 4, at 10.30am. For further details about the book and other signing events, visit: www.noexit.co.uk
For more arts and leisure features, interviews and reviews go to: www.watfordobserver.co.uk/leisure