Last year Alice Castle brought her character, Belinda MacKenzie to Letters from Elsewhere. Today, she’s back to talk about… let’s see…
It’s such a pleasure to be here on Miriam’s blog today. I was really pleased when she asked me to contribute a post. I was offered the choice of Israel, Misunderstandings or Social Anxiety. As I’ve never been to Israel and I always try to avoid misunderstandings, I’m going to talk about the main character in my London Murder Mystery series, Beth Haldane.
Beth is a single mother in her mid-thirties, with a bad habit of stumbling across corpses. She also suffers from a crippling variety of social anxieties. Indeed, she barely gets through a scene in any of the five books I’ve written so far without hiding behind her fringe, blushing, stuttering or prevaricating in some way. She has the sort of nerves that all of us get, from time to time – except that she seems to suffer from them constantly.
As you’ll have gathered, Beth is a bit of a fish out of water. This is particularly true in Dulwich, the posh suburb of south London where I’ve set most of the action in my books. The other mums she meets at the school gates are mainly of the ‘yummy’ variety – they have tiny jobs, big handbags, cars the size of tanks and spend their days ferrying their children to afterschool activities like ballet and extra maths classes, meeting up with friends to moan about their au pairs. It’s a highly competitive, highly polished world, where appearances mean everything.
Beth, on the other hand, has bills to pay, deadlines to meet and, until sudden death throws her together with a certain tall, handsome policeman, in the shape of Detective Inspector Harry York, she is struggling with it all alone, following the death of her husband. She, unlike many of her contemporaries, has real worries. Her anxieties are not just social, she has trouble making ends meet.
Beth also feels insecure. Over the course of the series of books, we find out more about why this might be so. But, from the start, we are aware that in a world of sleek, Amazonian women who spend plenty of time in the local beauty parlours, Beth stands out, for all the wrong reasons. She is short, scruffy, poor and earnest. And she cares, very much, about abstract concepts like justice, right and wrong, that seem to pass many of the other residents of Dulwich by.
When I was thinking of what type of heroine I’d like at the heart of my mysteries, I considered many different foibles – amateur sleuths always seem to have them. Miss Marple disguises her forensic intelligence behind that harmless-old-lady facade, Hercule Poirot has his little grey cells. I wanted my character to be an underdog, so that we would root for her against the well-heeled, smug types she comes across, but at the same time I didn’t want her to be a spineless jelly, jumping at her own shadow.
Well, I needn’t have worried. Beth popped into my mind whole, and has been wreaking havoc in Dulwich and the surrounding area ever since. She is a mass of contradictions, cripplingly shy yet daring when she has to be, kind to a fault but also able to give as good as she gets against those bullying playground mums. She prevaricates endlessly, yet has a passion for sorting things out. And she worries, constantly. But at heart she always knows what must be done, in the interests of justice, to ensure that Dulwich remains a safe place for her boy – and for us all.
Beth sounds like the kind of woman I’d like to meet. But I’d keep away from those corpses! Thank you so much for telling us about her, Alice.
Death in Dulwich has just been released as an audiobook and is available here.
Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery, Calamity in Camberwell, Homicide in Herne Hill and Revenge on the Rye are available from Amazon here, if you’re in the UK. Otherwise, search for ‘Alice Castle’ on your Amazon.