Lesley Thomson on walking in the steps of The Dog Walker


Lesley Thomson on walking in the steps of The Dog Walker

If I didn’t have a dog I’d be too scared to walk in this dark, deserted place. Winter. 6.30 am. I’m walking with only a small poodle for company, but have no sense of danger.

Fog swirls around me, it wreathes through misshapen holes in the crumbling flint walls. I’m togged in waterproofs. Alfred has a red glowing collar since, being chocolate-brown, I can’t see him in the dark. Shadows emerge and shapes resolve in the blackness. There are no lamp posts in the ruins of Lewes Priory.

Regular as clockwork, come sheeting rain or biting frost, I walk Alfred here before dawn. Jack says too many of us assume we’re not being followed or watched. He relies on this assumption as he tracks people through the streets. But, like Stella, I assume that at this hour those I meet will be dog walkers, and they’re harmless. Jack knows better.

The idea for The Dog Walker came to me as, lit by vestiges of moonlight, Alfred and I crossed pools of shadow in the deathly quiet. I imagined Stella and Jack’s next case. Walking alone in the dark, I absorbed impressions and experiences, ideas and facts. Ridiculously, I believe that by inhabiting the persona of one of my characters I’m safe from real accidents or incidents. I’m the writer, so I decide if anything bad happens to me.

Armed with the bones of a plot, I went to the Thames at Kew Green in London. I took pictures of the river. In gathering dusk I walked the scenes of my novel; a little park, a row of cottages. The towpath. A jogger ran past me, swift and insubstantial. Dazzled by their head torch, light danced before my eyes. I called a greeting. No reply. My heart missed a beat. I raised the camera and snapped the receding figure. In my photograph there’s no one on the towpath. It was too dark to see. Oblivious to the loneliness of my surroundings, I jotted down a sketch of this scene in my notebook.

One winter’s night in 1987, Helen Honeysett – young, beautiful, happily married with a blossoming career – goes jogging along the Thames towpath with her dog. She never returns. Decades later, Stella and Jack set out to discover what happened to her. Jack suggests that any of Helen’s neighbours in Thames Cottages – five houses by the towpath – are capable of murder. The killer knew Helen’s routine. All the residents are dog walkers. One night, by the river, Stella is blinded by a dog walker’s head-torch. She says ‘Good evening’. No reply. Stanley runs off down the desolate towpath. Stella follows…

It’s the dog walker (or the crime writer) with their inquisitive pet straying off the beaten track, who is most likely to come upon the body of a murder victim. Rarely does it occur to them that they themselves could be a victim.

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The Dog Walker is out now in hardback and ebook.