DI Silas Hart, head of Swindon CID, has crept into my novels like a film extra who wants to play the lead. OK, maybe his debut role, in Forget My Name, was a bit more than a man in a crowd, but he was certainly not centre stage. I’d written my first psychological novel, Find Me, a couple of years before and it had included hardly any police procedure. Since then, I’ve been writing mostly hybrid psychological thrillers, developing the procedural elements. Hart’s role grew even bigger in The Other You, making his first appearance a third of the way in, but it wasn’t until my latest novel, The Man On Hackpen Hill, that I finally began a book with Hart.
I like to think he would be pleased, although he’s not the arrogant type. Now in his mid-fifties, he was born in Wiltshire – I settled on the surname Hart as it’s one of the most common in the county – and followed his father into the police, without going to university. Hart’s not unintelligent, far from it, but it’s fair to say that he’s more about human intuition than academic learning. He spent his early career working on the beat for the Met, but returned to Wiltshire as a detective with his wife Mel after they’d had a son, Conor, now in his twenties.
I didn’t want to give him a drink problem – too many fictitious detectives are on the sauce – but his marriage to Mel is rocky, ever since Conor was diagnosed with skunk-induced schizophrenia. I also didn’t want him to be an unreconstructed, white, middle-aged man. There are enough of those around too. Hart is not exactly woke, but he tries to understand the modern world, keep his mind open, his sagging body healthy, thanks to Mel, who has retrained as a florist after years as a nurse. Hatha Yoga? He’ll try it. Salads for lunch? Ditto (even if he grabs a bonus takeaway on the way home). But it’s his relationship with his female assistant, DC Strover, that has come to define him.
Strover is everything that Hart is not, the perfect foil for his more earthy skills. Sassy, young, with a pin-sharp intellect, short-cropped hair and quick putdowns, she also knows a lot about cars. And chemistry – she studied forensics at the University of The West of England. And maths. She’s good at researching facts fast – she can run a pretty quick 10k too – and speaks with a strong Bristol accent. We don’t know much about her past – yet – or even her first name, and Hart respects her desire for personal privacy. He’s also keen to promote her in what remains a stubbornly male world. But she’s due to share the limelight with Hart in the next novel to feature the pair. Hart has a troubled relationship with his own son Conor. He would never admit it, least of all to Strover, but she is like the daughter he never had, the daughter he always wanted.