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Edinburgh writer Gillian Galbraith heading to Grantown this weekend opens a new chapter with latest book featuring Anthony Sparrow

By Margaret Chrystall

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WITH three investigators to service for her crime books, Wee Crime Festival guest Gillian Galbraith must have plenty of research to do to keep on top of the facts for them. Take the Izal toilet paper for her newest book The End of the Line, featuring book expert Anthony Sparrow.

In a revealing scene near the beginning of the book where Sparrow first enters the home of a dead professor whose artefacts he is clearing, the toilet paper makes a surprise appearance.

By the time we know Sparrow is a cravat man with a lisp who finds the smell of leather-bound books makes him “almost dizzy with desire”, we know he is very different from writer Gillian’s first heroine, Detective Sergeant Alice Rice.

“I wasn’t sure whether Izal was still available, but it is,” said Gillian. “And I thought if you were a man of limited means like the professor, it seemed to me you might make little economies if you were slightly monkish in your habits.”

The paper is a memory from the writer’s youth, but fits perfectly with the atmosphere created in the professor’s spartan home.

“I used to stay with my grandparents and they were careful Scots and there was Izal loo paper!” laughed Gillian.

The world of Anthony Sparrow is a contrast to the police procedural contemporary scene of the Alice Rice books. But Gillian enjoyed the experience of creating Sparrow’s world, the amateur detective giving her scope to leave the technology of crime behind for this book.

“The more knowledgeable you are about the forensic technique, the more improbable people doing ordinary things and crimes occurring – and their not being caught – it is.

“You have to distort the plot in order to explain, for example, why something is not on CCTV or information cannot be transmitted by mobile phone or why DNA will not be found in the right place, because all our knowledge of these things is much more sophisticated than it used to be.

“Then I came to the conclusion that there is no reason in a sense why, if you are looking into a situation where you have the same material the police have – in fact you have slightly more, then if you have a very good brain, which Sparrow has, you can still come to a different conclusion.

“That is why The End of the Line is quite a nice vehicle for an amateur sleuth, without, I hope, being utterly improbable.

“The fact that Sparrow is an obsessive person who, once he starts on something, can’t stop until he has fully unearthed the whole object, is the engine for these particular circumstances.

“I don’t have to bother with DNA – only in the most peripheral way – or ballistics or CCTV or any of those things.

Gillian's latest novel features a new lead character, bibliophile Anthony Sparrow.
Gillian's latest novel features a new lead character, bibliophile Anthony Sparrow.

“You can write a crime story that is, in a way, old-fashioned without worrying about modern technology and its effect on your drama – which was quite nice, I found.”

It’s a story that takes him into the world of the blood contamination scandal, which is being looked at again in the first UK-wide public enquiry, following the conclusion of the Penrose Inquiry that previously looked into the situation in Scotland between 2008 and 2015.

Gillian – who was an advocate specialising in medical negligence and agricultural law cases for 17 years – was involved in drafting the final report for that inquiry and the plot reflects her knowledge of those events.

“Everyone is different, everyone who writes crime has a different area of interest – and I suppose mine is always why it is done.

“I am far more interested in people who think they are good ordinary people like you or me who would end up doing something that the whole world would say is bad – circumstances where we as individuals, and the facts from the case, might leave you with a tiny bit of doubt, where you might think, ‘In that situation, I do understand what they did’.

“And that none of us, please God, find ourselves in such situations.

“But if we do, you could never guarantee you wouldn’t do that, though I like to think I wouldn’t take to stabbing people.”

Corruption and Lies at the festival has Gillian Galbraith and Theresa Talbot interviewed by Michael Malone at 2pm Saturday (November 2) in The Pagoda, Grantown.

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