I’ve always wanted to meet you. I’ve got a very clear idea of how it would go. We’d have a lovely, gossipy lunch in the Bar Sinister. We’d drink a lot, talking great slugs of wine (when I first read this in one of your books, I thought it was an actual slug, like a worm in tequila) and then we’d weave our way through the streets, maybe stopping to graffiti a car with lipstick, like Imogen, or rescue a stray pianist, as Lysander does. Maybe we’d find an abandoned animal and adopt it, giving it a cute non-cute name like Sevenoaks or Little Chef. Whatever happened, we’d have fun because that’s thing about your books, Jilly: they’re such fun.
The first book of yours I read was Prudence, when I was about sixteen. The first scene, at the party with eau-de-nihilistic walls, is just perfect. The deadly fruit punch, the even deadlier guests, the bath full of ice, the pâté that tastes like old socks, the inevitable arrival of the ‘rugger types’.
I hadn’t yet been to a party like this so I read carefully, looking for tips.
1. Wear outlandish outfits, in this case orange Bermudas but see also Octavia’s chainmail dress.
2. Scintillate everyone with puns ‘I only had time to grab a sandwich-board man at lunchtime’.
3. Dance wildly.
4. Make a beeline for the most attractive person in the room.
Prudence targets Pendle, who is cool, detached and seemingly charcoal grey all over. The night doesn’t end perfectly but I think I realised, dimly, that this heroine had agency, even if it was sending her into potentially dangerous territory.
Jilly, your characters are real. I still think of Harriet trying on outfits for her date with Simon Villers (her best dress had sweat marks, her jeans were too tight etc) or Helen rejecting a tartan jacket because it made her look like cabin crew, before an even more fateful encounter with Rupert Campbell Black. When I wrote my first crime novel, The Crossing Places, I tried to make my protagonist real too. Dr Ruth Galloway is a confident, professional woman but she feels uneasy at parties and never knows quite how to tie a scarf. She’s a single mother, too, like Harriet. You are so good at writing about children. Jilly.
Since Prudence, I have read every single one of your books. Some I enjoyed more than others but all have given me that wonderful sense of release from real life, that confidence that come from being in the hands of a master storyteller. I know you are going to tie up the loose ends and I know I can rely on you for a happy ending. My first novels were romances too and, when I turned to crime writing, I was struck by how similar the techniques are. You use the same tricks to hide Mr or Ms Right as you do to conceal the identity of the killer. It was no surprise to me that your one murder mystery, Score, was extremely good.
So, Jilly, if I ever do meet you, the first thing I will say is ‘thank you’.
The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths is longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2022.