Friday, August 11, 2023

Q&A with Gytha Lodge


Gytha Lodge is the author of the new novel A Killer in the Family. It's the fifth in her Jonah Sheens detective series. She is also a playwright and a writer for video games and screen.


Q: This is your fifth book featuring your team of police detectives--how do you think they've changed over the course of the series?


A: There's something uniquely satisfying about getting to watch characters change and grow over the course of a series. It's the main thing that drew me to a series in the first place, with the team the consistent backdrop even while each crime and other characters we meet is different each time.


I've definitely been conscious of wanting the team of four to develop. Juliette Hanson in particular has gone from being the new detective to being an experienced one; from being an outsider to a core part of the team; from being a little wary and distrustful of her colleagues to being incredibly close to them and being willing to do all she can to keep them safe and happy.


Jonah Sheens, as our team leader and essentially the central player, has had his share of change, even as a seasoned cop. He's dealt with his past coming back to haunt him, and putting a lot of it to rest. He's found solutions to his mother's unhappiness that make his own life easier. He's become a father, and had to deal with the huge complications of reforging a relationship with his ex-fiancee.


He's a brilliant manager and detective, and someone who believes in justice. But as the books have gone on, he's had to re-examine whether some of his behaviour is self-destructive and damages those around him.


Ben Lightman is someone who's had to confront a great deal, too. We've seen him throughout through Juliette's eyes, gradually understanding him more as she does. His initial closed-off nature has revealed itself little by little to be the result of past trauma, and Ben has finally accepted that this is something he needs to deal with in order to be happy. So with Ben, the fun of the journey is both in him taking steps forward, and in our own understanding taking those steps.


And then there's Domnall O'Malley, the most stable and unchanging of them as yet. Cheerful and kind-hearted and warm; disorganised and humorous and with a sideways form of thinking that can be brilliant. He is the anchor to the team in many ways - when people can find him. But O'Malley will have his time for change, too, and his own story. 


Q: What inspired the idea for A Killer in the Family?


A: A Killer in the Family was born out of my fascination with the Golden State Killer, and the final reckoning that came through forensic genealogy. I knew the moment I read about the use of DNA on an ancestry site to catch the killer that I wanted to write about it.


But in the end it wasn't the detectives' story that really drew me in. I found myself fascinated by the other side of things. I wanted to know how it would feel to upload your DNA to a site... and discover that someone incredibly close to you was a serial killer.


Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Yes, this was a very research intensive novel in lots of directions, all of it a ton of fun. I spent a long time making sure the science of the forensic side was right, and really got into forensic genealogy as a whole. Learning exactly what a profile will tell you and how the markers work is fascinating.


What really surprised me was how much more accurate and informative an ancestry profile is than a police DNA test. Of course, logically, it makes sense when a police test is simply designed to say, "This is a match/this isn't a match." But I was somehow expecting there to be more detail in the law enforcement version. Whereas, in fact, a police test would tell you only that someone was related.


Contrastingly, a typical ancestry match can tell you to a high degree of accuracy how closely related someone is. That's how Aisling Cooley knows that the killer is a close male relative: a father or brother or son. 


Q: What do you think the novel says about defining family?


A: Ah, such a great question but a hard one to sum up in a few words! I think family is such a complex concept. I've known people stand by family members for decades who have only ever treated them horribly, and been fascinated by the parents of serial killers who would never accept their guilt.


Other parents seem indifferent to their own children. They might actively harm them or not care about them more than a stranger, as if blood means nothing. I've also known people with no relation at all who are more like a parent and child than anyone who is related. 


My feeling is that families are complex, tangled things, which can be a tie or a support depending. They always say you don't get to choose your family, but I think that's too simplistic. We can choose how we treat family, and whether we welcome others as family who aren't related to us.


Those of us who adopt or foster and give the children as much love as if they were our own kids - that's choosing family, I think. In a very real and profound way. 


Q: Can you say anything about what's next in the series?


A: I'd love to! It's a slightly unusual situation just now in that my next book (which I'm currently editing) is actually my very first standalone!! So I'm a little less clear on the ins and outs of the next Jonah book than I usually would be at this stage. 


My standalone has a lot of the feeling of the Jonah books but is essentially a missing person's investigation told through the lens of a break-up. It asks the question "What if the only one who could save you was the one who got away?" It's partly a strange love story, partly a missing person's and partly her murder investigation and I've had SO much fun writing it! 


The next Jonah book is very much in my mind and takes the team on into very deep, dark waters. The events of A Killer in the Family lead them on into a strange new place, more than in any other book, and the team is faced with a tense and scary situation. But they also more than ever have each other to lean on. And seeing those relationships deepen and develop is something I'm really looking forward to. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I always find my mind going blank when asked this. The one thing that occurs to me: it's probably important to know that all my books are fuelled by way too much black Earl Grey tea and nut granola. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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