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Highland landscape reveals its dark side again in the second thriller from North writer Gareth Halliday

By Margaret Chrystall

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LOCKDOWN may have had its effects on writer Gareth Halliday, but it has made very little impact on the appearance of his second book in the DI Monica Kennedy crime series.

The book is coming out only a few days later than originally planned, unaffected by the delays forced on many other titles by the effects of Covid-19.

But the Highland-based writer who lives not far from Inverness in the country admitted that lockdown has left his imagination a little stir crazy as he remained at home for the last few months.

Dark waters and Gareth Halliday, at Glen Affric.
Dark waters and Gareth Halliday, at Glen Affric.

Yet Gareth’s imagination had already done its work with Dark Waters, the new book set in Inverness and seeing the return of his tall dark heroine Detective Inspector Monica Kennedy, newly back at work after the traumas of the case from first book From The Shadows.

‘Dark and disturbing – in the best possible way’, says Icelandic crime superstar Yrsa Sigurdardottir in her tantalising quote about Dark Waters gracing the cover.

And there’s no denying that the story of what happens when a young woman drives to the Highlands and makes a couple of terrible mistakes, is terrifying. Or that the first murder to greet detective Monica Kennedy on her return, is grisly.

But much of Gareth’s latest thriller is directly inspired by the landscape of the Highlands that triggers some of his best ideas.

Take Dark Waters, the seed was sown after an experience Gareth had not long after moving to the Highlands from his original home in Stirling.

“It happened just after I moved here, about 10 years ago.

“I went for a walk on my own in the woods and I was quite far away from the car and I just stopped to have something to eat and take a rest.

“I heard this screaming from off behind me in the woods, it was just for a couple of moments and at first I thought it was kids messing around, so I kind of looked up but I couldn’t see anyone and I couldn’t hear any laughing and it seemed like it was quite a long way from home for kids to be walking in the woods.

“So then I thought maybe I had imagined it because it was so short and went back to what I was doing. Then five minutes later I hear this screaming again, but this time it sounds as if someone is moving through the woods towards me.

“This time, I just grabbed my stuff and made a hasty getaway.

“I don’t know what it was, I kind of thought it might be a stag or something like that and I did Google searches of those kinds of noises, but it didn’t sound like any of them. So I wondered eventually if it was maybe people doing primal screaming or something!”

It becomes a blood-chilling moment in the book and Gareth taps into the sense of vulnerability when you are alone in the outdoors.

“It’s amazing to be out in the wilderness and explore places, but there is that sense that the rules of civilisation don’t apply there. That is what is kind of appealing about those places, there is that potential risk of something really terrible happening.”

The new book featuring Inverness detective, DI Monica Kennedy.
The new book featuring Inverness detective, DI Monica Kennedy.

It looks as if the many planned events, including crime festival appearances getting Gareth himself out into the book world this year may well be on hold.

But last year, having been nominated for crime festival Bloody Scotland’s new McIlvanney Debut Prize for new crime novelists, he did get to go and meet his fellow writers.

“It was really good fun because I don’t actually know a lot of other writers. The other people on the debut shortlist were also just generally starting out with writing, so it was good to chat to them about that.

“And it is so good having that bit of recognition, as there’s so much crime published in Scotland and Britain, it’s a case of gradually developing your reputation for your books and the quality of your writing.

“And I played football with the writers – Ian Rankin was there – he wasn’t playing that time but he was kind of our unofficial manager. So that was surreal and exciting!”

“I’ve read a lot of his books over the years and Christopher Brookmyre was there and I’m a big fan, so it was great. It was a beautiful sunny day when we were playing, so it was great. The Bloody Scotland thing is just amazing. And it’s strange but I hadn’t realised how popular Scottish crime actually was until I first got published myself. So just seeing all that down there was really impressive.”

Gareth Halliday's new thriller uncovers a dark world beneath the scenic views.
Gareth Halliday's new thriller uncovers a dark world beneath the scenic views.

Moving toward the end of lockdown will probably give a boost to Gareth’s imagination.

“Being at home, you get starved of outside stimulus.

“It’s easy to forget how important it is to have these teeny tiny little moments of just seeing new things, how important that can be to your writing.

“Even just being out and about in the city or driving to visit a new place, it can give you a lot of inspiration.

“It can feel a little claustrophobic if you are stuck at home. I still write every day, but in terms of refreshing your imagination it’s good to get a change of scene.”

Gareth enjoys swimming in wild places and revealed a recent visit to Aviemore had meant the chance of a dip in Loch Morlich.

“One of the places I’ve also been swimming is on the River Beauly and swimming down there is one of the things that inspired using it as a location in Dark Waters.

“It’s where Monica and Crawford find the body at the start of the book!”

Dark Waters by GR Halliday (Harvill Secker, £14.99), the second book in the DI Monica Kennedy series, is newly published. It’s also out on e-book and audiobook. Watch Gareth reading from the book below:

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