No rest for Anya: Cold Grave

Last month, I went on an adventure on the high seas.

Not literally of course, a cruise wasn’t really on the agenda for this year, but almost as fun, I travelled by book. I was completely immersed in Kathryn Fox’s most recent Anya Crichton crime novel Cold Grave (Pan Macmillan).

Forensic physician, Anya Crichton, needs a break. Cocooned from the world abroad a luxury cruise ship, nothing can interrupt time with her precious six-year-old son.

Peace is shattered when the body of a teenage girl is discovered shoved in the cupboard, dripping wet. With no obvious cause of death and the nearest port days away. Anya volunteers her forensic expertise.

She quickly uncovers a sordid pattern of sexual assaults, unchecked drug use and mysterious disappearances. With crew too afraid to talk, she is drawn into the underbelly of the cruise line, its dangerous secrets and the murky waters of legal accountability.

Cold Grave is rich in detail, paced perfectly and full of all the twists and turns you’ve come to expect from good forensic fiction. Anya’s personal story is moving and her relationship with her ex-husband and son feels quite real, a compelling story in itself.

Fox’s novel is full of menacing characters, their presence creating a palpable tension, a sense of claustrophobia. I found this mystery a real riddle, and I enjoyed having to pay close attention to the facts and observations threaded throughout. If you’re a fan of crime novels that have a real puzzle to solve, this is most definitely one for you.

After reading the book, I was fortunate enough to have a chat with Kathryn about what makes her, and her characters tick…

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Kathryn, what compels you to write your forensic mysteries?
I think my medical background definitely influenced me in my subject choice, as I’d seen a fair bit of crime in my work in medicine. I saw a lot of sexual assualt medicine and domestic violence patients in my work as a GP, victims and their families. I think we underestimate how much sexual assualt and domestic abuse is out there in the community as it’s hidden a lot of the time. As a GP looking after a whole community of patients, it became apparent over time what a big problem this was. And so now, I tend to write about issues such as these, and that’s what keeps me going – the fact that I may be able to make even a tiny difference, even if it’s through writing fiction.

So do you work to raise awareness?
Yes, but of course my primary job is to entertain and to write a fantastic reading experience for the reader. That’s the goal of every writer, but the other thing is that I’m fascinated by the world, and I’m always asking ‘why’ and ‘how’ things happen. Writing this series, gives me a great chance to explore an issue in depth as well. So, I win just as much by becoming far more informed in the process…

And why did you choose cruise ships in particular as the setting for this novel?
Cruise ships, I think, make a fantastic setting for a thriller because so much about them has changed over the years. Like a lot of people, I used to think of cruise ships as cozy and small, Agatha Christy-type environments when in truth they’re actually floating cities, they’re massive and they’ve had to get bigger and better and more exciting to compete with resorts and hotels for the tourist dollar. They fascinate me because they can leave any problem behind them – if there’s a bad season, a cold winter, they can just sail on to a new location where there’s better weather. It occurred to me that there was the potential for these cruise ships to leave legal trouble behind them as well. You can have up to eight-thousand people on board but there’s no police – you’re in international waters and the companies are registered in foreign countries. It’s a bit scary.

As soon as I started researching, I came across some well known cases that had popped up in the media. As I delved deeper, I was surprised to discover that there’s an International Victims of Cruise Crime organisation. So it would seem, crimes do happen and the ones we’ve heard about aren’t isolated, it’s just that a lot of them you don’t get reported because there’s no resolution to the police investigation. On average, a person goes missing every two weeks off a cruise ship. It’s frightening, but when you think that there’s twenty-million people travelling on cruise ships in a year that’s not a lot, but of course for those people and their families, it’s far too many.

There were a lot of unsettling aspects to the novel, but one of the main things that I noticed was a real sense of claustrophobia… was this intentional?
Yes! That was a really important theme, I really wanted to get that across. Cruise ships aren’t normally claustrophobic in themselves, but I wanted to show that if you were involved in any of these types of crimes, or a victim, that you’re socially, physically and legally isolated and you’re literally floating. You have to carry on knowing that whoever committed the crime is most probably still on board.

I thought your use of weather helped to create the claustrophobia and to build the suspense.
I wanted that to happen, most definitely. Everyone thinks of cruises with great sunny weather and going outside but when you’re actually trapped inside by rain and bad weather, with five-thousand other people, it becomes more worrisome and sometimes dangerous.

Is that type of device something that you’ve used in your previous books?
No, the setting for me isn’t normally important and the setting certainly hasn’t been a character before. I think it’s fair to say though that in Cold Grave, the setting has really become a main character in the story.

In a lot of crime fiction, the lead character is a man – a male detective, a police officer or a doctor. Do you think that using a female lead character, Anya Crichton, has allowed you to do anything differently in your series?
I think in some ways, women and men tend to think differently and I think this comes through in how Anya operates. Mainly though I think that maybe it’s because women victims of crime do tend to prefer a woman doctor and that’s why Anya is able to get in and talk to people. It’s not necessarily a good thing for her though because she’s affected emotionally by the fall-out of the crimes that she’s seeing and the victims, so it makes it harder for her. It just seems to me that a many men, male doctors especially have that innate ability to switch off from the emotional side of their jobs, and I think that the emotional complications that Anya faces makes it difficult for her.

Another difficulty she faces is the fact that she’s lost her child, not because she’s a bad mother but because she was the bread-winner in the family when the separation happened. There are a lot of women in a similar position, and I think that that’s just devastating, that they’ve been compelled to go back to work for financial reasons and then they end up loosing their children as well.

What’s next… more Anya or something else?
Both actually! I’m working on my sixth Anya book, it’s about genetically modified food, another issue that I’m interested in. I’m also working on another couple of projects in my spare time and I really want to write comedy and different sorts of human interest stories. The world’s just really exciting and for me, writing’s become like breathing. In the same way that someone who likes to travel, likes to travel to different places not just the same places each time, I think writing and opening up your mind to new ideas is a lot like that.

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I’m really looking forward to reading Kathryn’s next instalment in the Anya Crichton series, and maybe something completely different!

Have you read any of the Anya Crichton novels? What’s you’re favourite crime fiction

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