Today I’m welcoming the blog tour for Christina James’ seventh DI Yates novel Gentleman Jack and I’ve got a fabulous guest post from Christina about serial killers!
Many thanks to Emma Dowson of Salt Publishing for inviting me on the blog tour.
DI Tim Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are investigating the widespread theft of expensive farm machinery and keep on drawing a blank. They don’t know whether they’re looking for a gang, an individual or an organised network; nor can they find any trace of the machinery once it’s been stolen. Meanwhile, local property developer and philanthropist Jack Fovargue is assaulted in the street, and seems reluctant to help find his assailant. Visiting one of Fovargue’s building sites to persuade him to make a statement, DI Yates sees a quad that he thinks may have been stolen from a nearby farm a few days before. Fovargue denies all knowledge of the vehicle, while his foreman says he picked it up cheaply from a traveller. Tim obtains a warrant to search the site and discovers something far more sinister than another missing machine.
The Guest Post – Serial Killers
My seventh novel in the DI Yates series, Gentleman Jack, has just been published; it’s my first about a serial killer. It’s a subject I’ve been reluctant to tackle until now – too close, perhaps, to my personal experience.
I don’t mean that I’ve been targeted by a serial killer – or not to my knowledge, anyway! But I was a student in Leeds during the 1970s, when the Yorkshire Ripper was active; and I started my first job, working for a library supply company in Normanton in West Yorkshire, before he was caught. No woman who lived in West or South Yorkshire during that period can forget what the fear was like: an ugly creeping thing that eventually infected all our lives.
Initially, we read about the murders in the newspapers and were both fascinated and horrified by them. Peter Sutcliffe operated in such a wide geographical area that there was scarcely anyone who wasn’t familiar with the scenes of some of his crimes. The body of Wilma McCann, a prostitute and the first of his victims to make the police suspicious that a serial killer was on the loose, was dumped on a playing field close to where my husband had just started work at his first job. I was still a student then, living in rented accommodation in Brudenell Road in a run-down part of Leeds. I had a friend who lived about half a mile away, and I often walked home from her flat in the early hours of the morning. I remember she said to me once, “It’s very late and there’s been another attack – do you want to stay the night?”, and I said, “I’ll be OK – he’s looking for prostitutes, not students.” At the time, we all thought that.
Then Sutcliffe did kill a student, Jacqueline Hill. As I had been a couple of years before her, she was in her third year of studying for an English degree at Leeds University; also like me, she was living in a students’ hall of residence in Headingley. Her death brought realisation of the danger very close to home, because her body was left on a piece of waste ground at the rear of the dry cleaner’s shop in Headingley owned by my husband’s uncle. And she wasn’t killed late at night – her murder almost certainly took place before 9 pm.
As far as is known, Jacqueline Hill was the last of Sutcliffe’s victims – though Olivia Reivers, the 24-year-old prostitute who was with him when he was caught by police close to Sheffield University the following year presumably had a lucky escape. He may well have been looking for another student that night. For the whole year before Jacqueline Hill died, and especially the time between her murder and Sutcliffe’s capture, I am not being melodramatic when I say that Yorkshire was gripped with terror. The police warned women not to go out on their own after dark, not even to the dustbin; they also said that the killer might attack a woman early in the morning, perhaps when on her way to work. I didn’t have a car at the time – I had been travelling to my job in Normanton by bus. My husband used to drop me at a bus stop in Oulton, a village just outside Leeds. Now we were too afraid to risk this arrangement and he took me all the way to work before driving back to Leeds to his own job. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women took similar precautions.
I found out that the Ripper had been caught when a friend from Sussex rang to tell me she’d been watching the news; his capture in a dimly-lit road in Sheffield had just been announced. The sense of relief I felt was indescribable. It was something that I and most of the women I knew talked about a great deal in the weeks and months ahead.
Most of us weren’t scarred by Sutcliffe’s crimes, but they did make a deep and lasting impression on us. Because of all the newspaper accounts and television programmes that appeared both at the time, and, at intervals, since then, I am aware, however, that there was a large group of people who were indeed scarred – whose lives were changed irrevocably because of Sutcliffe’s serial urges to kill. For example, I’ve read poignant accounts by Wilma McCann’s son and Jacqueline Hill’s mother about what these murders did to them.
It would be crass for an author not to take such information on board when choosing how to write about a serial killer. I hope that my readers will think Gentleman Jack handles serial killing with sensitivity as well as drama.
Who Is Christina James?
Christina James was born in Spalding and sets her novels in the evocative Fenland countryside of South Lincolnshire. She works as a bookseller, researcher and teacher and lives in Yorkshire. She is also a well-established non-fiction writer under a separate name. ‘Gentleman Jack’ is the seventh in the DI Yates series of crime novels.
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