Brief Encounter

Lynda La Plante: Modern technology causes ‘formidable’ problems for crime writers

The detective novelist on how to make your characters get away with it

February 28, 2024
Illustration by Michael Rea
Illustration by Michael Rea

What is the first news event you can recall?

When Liverpool won the FA Cup in 1965. My parents were lifelong football fans, ­especially my mother. She was actually buried in a Liverpool shirt.

What is your favourite quotation?

One I have used throughout my career: “Rejection does not mean no.”

Which of your ancestors or relatives are you most proud of?

My favourite ancestor was an incredible man called Stanley Hugill. He ran away to sea at the age of 12 and was a sailor on the last big, rigged commercial sailing ships. He spoke 11 languages, was an art collector and a brilliant storyteller. I loved to spend time with him as a child; him showing me incredible costumes and once, while sitting on a bloodstained mat that had belonged to a samurai, how harikari would have been committed.

What is the last piece of music, play, novel or film that brought you to tears?

The film I have been obsessed with from the first time I saw it is Abel Gance’s stunning five-and-a-half-hour epic silent movie Napoléon (1927). I was fortunate to know Carl Davis, who composed the music for the first showing of the film after its reconstruction by Kevin Brownlow—it had previously been lost for many years. There is one moment in the film, from when Napoleon is a lonely young boy at military college with a beloved pet eagle. The other boys tease him and release his precious eagle. Standing by the open window with a snowstorm brewing, Napoleon is weeping, and the orchestra made everyone’s hearts quicken as the sound of the eagle’s wings began to beat louder and louder. I was not the only person crying, as it was such a beautiful moment when they were reunited.

Will you miss Jane Tennison, the detective protagonist of many of your books and also of the Prime Suspect TV show?

I have lived with this character for so many years that, of course, I will miss not writing more and more about her—having just finished the final novel in her backstory. But I also love expanding the life of Jack Warr, the character in my other series of novels.

What should the next generation of crime writers look to achieve?

New crime writers are up against formidable problems: new developments in forensic science, let alone CCTV and mobile phones. The results being achieved in previously “cold” cases are astonishing. So crime writers have to struggle with a crucial and increasingly tricky question: how can I get away with it? 

Who in that generation is really worth reading?

I recently read a debut novel, Deadly Animals by Marie Tierney, which I thought was wonderful. I also thought that Marie must be a young new talent, but was told that she is actually 52 years old. Wonderful! Proof that you can be the “next generation of crime writers” at any age.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I was not only an actress for 20 years, but I did stand-up and cabaret, as well as all the Shakespeare and classical dramas. My favourite role was Calamity Jane: I adored playing this crazy woman and I was also given the freedom to write the script for the production; it was a very special time in my life. A lot of my memories of that period—and many others—will be in my memoir, which is coming out in September. I hope it will make the reader laugh out loud, and sometimes even cry.

What do you most regret?

The happiest moment of my life was holding my son Lorcan, and my regret is that I didn’t have more. I’d love to have a houseful! I now have Hugo, a two-year-old giant Borzoi. He is so comical, he sings at the television whenever there is music, is my loyal writing companion, and makes me laugh constantly. Because of his size, a passing lorry driver once shouted, “Is that a llama?!”

Lynda La Plante is a featured guest at Bristol’s CrimeFest, 9th to 12th May. Her latest Jane Tennison title, “Taste of Blood”, is now available in paperback. Her last ever Jane Tennison title, “Whole Life Sentence”, will be published in July