Without Trace is the first in a series of crime novels featuring single mother Morgan Vine, an investigative journalist who lives in a converted railway carriage on the beach at Dungeness in Kent. Although she and I could hardly be more different, we share several characteristics, including:
- A love of isolated, eerie landscape.
- A sense of moral outrage over miscarriages of justice.
In Morgan’s case, this anger fuels her tireless championing of her childhood sweetheart, Danny Kilcannon. As Without Trace begins, he’s in prison, convicted on dubious evidence of murdering his teenage stepdaughter. But when he’s released on appeal, Morgan’s own 18 year-old daughter goes missing, and the finger of suspicion soon points firmly in Danny’s direction. She’s forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her old flame. Is he the innocent she believes him to be or a ruthless, manipulative killer?
Morgan’s fascination with miscarriages of justice is something I share. Let’s take a look at a few names from the real-life “archive of shame”:
- Timothy Evans was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and daughter and hanged in 1950.
- Sally Clark was convicted of the murder of her two sons—released on appeal after six years in prison, she became an alcoholic and subsequently died from alcohol poisoning.
- Barry George was convicted in 2001 of murdering TV presenter Jill Dando and cleared after a retrial in 2008.
- Current Netflix sensation Making a Murderer—the real-life story of Steven Avery—is a reminder of how criminal justice systems all over the world continue to get things badly wrong.
How do such tragic cases arise? Who is to blame? Is it cock-up or conspiracy? How do victims of the system deal with the anger that must feel overwhelming? And, if fortunate enough to be exonerated, how do people whose lives have been so cruelly blighted cope with the fact that, although released from prison, suspicion haunts their every move?
Consider the case of Sion Jenkins, convicted of the murder of his foster daughter, Billie-Jo Jenkins, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998. In 2006, after two appeals and retrials, he was finally acquitted. He’d spent six years in prison, maintaining his innocence throughout. Our fascination with such cases stems, I believe, partly from a sense of fear that it could happen to any of us, and partly from a nagging suspicion for some people that there is “no smoke without fire.”
Like Sion Jenkins, Morgan Vine’s old flame, Danny Kilcannon, is released from prison—officially in the clear following the quashing of his conviction for murder. But, when her own daughter disappears without trace, and shocking revelations come to light, she is forced to ask the most fundamental of questions:
Who can we trust?
Without Trace by Simon Booker is out now in ebook (Twenty7, £4.99) and will be published in paperback on 16th June 2016 (£7.99). You can buy the ebook here :
Simon Booker is a screenwriter of prime time TV drama for the BBC, ITV and US TV. His credits include BBC1’s Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Holby City and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries starring Diana Rigg; ITV1 thrillers The Stepfather and The Blind Date; and Perfect Strangers, the CBS romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe and Anna Friel. He has written many plays for BBC Radio 4. He has worked extensively as a producer in television and radio and as a journalist. Simon lives in London and Deal. He is a volunteer facilitator in Restorative Justice, working with offenders at HMP Brixton. Without Trace is his debut novel. The second Morgan Vine novel is due to be published in 2017. He lives in Kent and London with his partner fellow crime writer M.J McGrath. @simonbooker www.simonbooker.com