DI Gillian Marsh of the #not-me generation

Sandman (2)

DI Gillian Marsh is a handful. She can be abrasive and insubordinate. She is a thorn in her boss’s side because she simply doesn’t know her place. She is every murderer’s worst nightmare because if you’ve got something on your conscience you won’t shake her off your scent. Her team know not to get in her way as she steams through her cases like a runaway train that will wait for no one. No, Gillian isn’t likeable, but that doesn’t worry her. She wasn’t born to be liked – she was born to get to the bottom of the matter. That takes dogged determination, hard-nosed attitude and never letting go. It is no wonder that with all those characteristics, DI Marsh is affectionately known as Pitt Bull.

I am quite particular about not labelling DI Marsh as a lady-detective. Not because she isn’t a lady, but because she wouldn’t appreciate the label – the gender label. When she’s on a case, she isn’t a woman. Neither is she a man. She has no gender.

She is just a damn good detective.

I have been brought up to take gender equality for granted. I have never submitted to gender stereotypes and have led my life as a human being, full stop. If I had to describe myself, I would never start (or finish) with I am a woman. Womanhood would constrict me to one side of humanity. I wouldn’t want to miss on what the other side had to offer. I wouldn’t want to take sides. So no, I am not a feminist. I don’t see a point in gender wars.  I have now passed my beliefs to my protagonist. I won’t have her defined by reference to men or be seen through a man’s eyes. Gillian doesn’t aspire to be man’s equal, or even to be better than any man. Her straightforward and uncomplicated objective is to be the best in absolute terms, without bringing sexuality into it.

I like to think of DI Gillian Marsh as the prototype of the next generation – the post #me-too generation. I like to think of her as the #not-me generation. No one would dream of reducing her to her femininity. No man would dare to take advantage of her womanhood. Make no mistake, Gillian Marsh would not be abused. Being a woman does not make her vulnerable. That’s how she is and that’s how I like her.

That’s what makes her a damn good detective.

Gillian is tenacious and methodical. She analyses cases to death. She calls that inventorising. In her head, she runs an inventory of facts and evidence, mulls them over, tries different angles and matches all the pieces until they all fit together. She doesn’t give up. That constant and entirely absorbing process leaves her little time for domesticity.

Her daughter, Tara, is her Achille’s heel. Gillian is an impromptu mother. She blunders through motherhood, plagued by insecurities and anxieties. God knows how she gets through mothering without major incidents! Probably beginner’s luck. And there is another character flaw on the domestic front. It is to do with men. Gillian doesn’t know quite what to do with them after sex. Men seem to slip through her fingers like sand. She can only give them so much of her time, and that is never quite enough. But that’s the choice she knows she has to make. She has to choose her job. After all, she may not be the greatest lover the world has seen, but –

…she is damn good detective.

Re-blogged from Accent Press:



A sneak preview of Thicker than Blood


My third DI Marsh mystery, Thicker than Blood, is being released into the wild world tomorrow.

To give you the flavour of the story and the characters, here comes a sneak preview:


Liam Cox is twiddling his thumbs, willing the priest to take a shortcut to that part where he says, ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended’, the answer to which is quivering on Liam’s lips, ready to come out: ‘Thanks be to God!’

But the priest is taking his time, sending out fumes of frankincense and pronouncing the glory of the Almighty left, right, and centre. Mother must have paid a fortune for this memorial service and she expects good returns on her investment. It will be a while yet. Liam has to grin and bear it. He remembers those long church hours of Sunday Mass stretching into infinity, a purgatory for a small boy with his mind on climbing trees. Today, nearly forty years later, his mind is still on earthly matters, such as his stumbling business. Mother could help, if she wanted to co-operate, but before they get to that he must sit through this spectacle, biding his time. This will please her. ‘Your father will be proud of you,’ she will say, as if Father would have given a toss even when he was alive. Now that he is dead, and has been so for two years exactly, he cares even less. But it matters to Mother. She still believes in all this mumbo-jumbo of praying for the dear-departed in the hope that it will make their afterlife easier.

Oh well, you can take a nun out of a nunnery, but you can’t take the nunnery out of a nun.

‘God, give me strength!’ It is rather hypocritical of Liam to pray for divine intervention under the circumstances of his uncharitable thoughts, but he hopes the loving God will overlook them.

He fidgets, and Mother shushes him, just like she used to when he was a youngster. She puts her forefinger to her lips and frowns at him, whispering, ‘Sit still!’

Liam turns to sit on the other cheek, because the bench is hard as hell and his backside is aching. He catches a glimpse of people on the back pews. Not many people. Maybe ten in all. They are old faces he remembers vaguely from his childhood, faces of no significance now. Right at the back sits a man. He also has a face that is vaguely familiar, but Liam can’t put a name to it. He isn’t that old either: late forties, thick blond hair and beard, Liam’s build. What is he doing attending a mid-week memorial Mass? Who is he? Liam has a strong feeling he should know who that man is.

The priest bellows, ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended!’

‘Thanks be to God!’


When it rains, the freshly turned soil glistens with its own oily sweat. It gives out the scent of musk. It is carnal. Unwashed. Intimate. Mildred loves the smell of ploughed fields in the rain. It makes her feel alive and, at the age of seventy-six, it is a feeling to be cherished. She inhales deeply and holds it in, getting intoxicated on fresh air. Her thoughts ebb and flow inside her skull, the rows of turned earth an extension of her brain waves. She pauses for the hundredth time, and scans the fields. They permeate her. It isn’t so much that she owns them as it is that they own her.

Raindrops crack open against the sou’wester she is wearing over her scarf. It is an old scarf – they don’t make scarves like that anymore. It’s the kind the Queen favours, with a bold floral pattern and a rich, aged-gold border like a picture frame. Her green waterproof anorak keeps her bones warm and dry inside. She could stand here and look at the fields for hours. And inhale them. Mildred sucks in the air greedily. Young people don’t appreciate the simple pleasure of drawing breath, she thinks. They take in air and spit it out without relishing it, like fast food.

‘Mum, we’ve got to be moving. I’ve got millions of things to do back at the office,’ Liam points out with an exasperated scowl. He is a big bull of a man; fleshy, flushed with the effort of walking, already short of breath. And patience. Just like his father, Mildred observes. Reginald too was always annoyed, always had something better to do, something urgent waiting round the corner. He was chasing it relentlessly, like a dog chasing its own tail. He had had no time or patience for Mildred – he simply tolerated her. Nor had he had the time or patience for the land. He had cultivated it without love, without a pause for thought.

‘Mother!’ Liam is talking to a brick wall.

‘Give her a break. She’s catching her breath,’ Colleen tells him.

Mildred smiles at her daughter. In her doe-brown walking boots and a knee-length pleated skirt of demure black under the frills of her exuberantly purple poncho, standing under a green-and-red check umbrella, Colleen is a mismatch of colour and style. Her ripe-plum coloured hair, pinned on top of her head, has fallen out of the bun in thin wisps and is clinging to her neck and cheeks as if the purple hair dye has run. She is puffed and frumpy. She has never cared about her appearance. No wonder she has never married. It used to worry Mildred, but it no longer does.

It is four p.m. Mildred was hoping she could offer them a snack before they left, considering the effort they have made to be here. They didn’t have to come to the service. She half-expected to hear the usual excuses: a dentist appointment, a meeting with a client, the car has gone for service…They surprised her. Seeing them arrive gave her that tiny flutter of motherly pride deep inside her stomach. Liam had even herded in Stella. She stepped out of the car wrapped in a slinky black fur coat, wearing six-inch heels, looking like a penguin on stilts. She used to be a beautiful girl – peachy complexion, slender body. No wonder Liam put up such a fight over her and used every trick in the book to seduce her away from his brother, David. Would he do the same nowadays? He probably would. He is his father’s son. He owns things and he owns people. He won’t let go of what’s his without a fight.

They are standing together. Stella is desperate to squeeze under his umbrella and save both her fur and her hair from ruin. Her narrow heels have sunk deep into the ground and she is leaning forward to maintain balance. An expression of angelic patience graces her face. ‘She’s going to catch her death in this rain,’ she says, unwisely presuming that Mildred can’t hear her. Mildred can, but she is selective about responding. She won’t waste her breath on flippant remarks. She won’t get herself wound up. Sometimes it is easier to pretend she is deaf as a post. That way she can keep track of what is said behind her back.

‘Mother, please, let’s get a move on!’ Liam is such an ankle-biter.

Mildred stirs. ‘Will you stay for a snack and a cup of tea?’ she asks. ‘It won’t take Grace a minute to whip up sandwiches. I have scones and fresh clotted cream. Strawberry jam, homemade…’

‘I’m in, Mum. I’d kill for hot tea. And your strawberry jam…’ Colleen takes her gently by the arm and leads her down the path.

‘Thank God for that!’ Mildred hears Liam mumble under his breath. She is not sure what he is so grateful to the Lord about: the strawberry jam or her being on the move again. His shoes squelch on the muddy ground. Stella’s heels dig into the clay like chisels. When did she become such a madam? She used to live two houses down the lane, on Dove Farm. She used to run about barefoot.


It was his mother’s idea to walk to church. There was the civilised option of taking the car, but she would have none of it. ‘There’s a perfectly good shortcut,’ she’d said. ‘I’d be the laughing stock of Sexton’s Canning being driven five hundred yards in a car! It’s only ten minutes on foot.’ So they went treading through mud and cowpats to please her.

At the gate, Esme is talking to that farmhand – an Irishman whose name Liam never remembers. He became a permanent feature on the farm after Father’s death, or perhaps it was only then that Liam started noticing his sulky presence. All sorts of scum crawl out of the woodwork when a man dies. They feed on hapless senile widows, like ticks on blood.

They are standing by the stables where Esme keeps her horse. Rohan, she calls him. It costs a fortune in insurance. Liam wishes his daughter would spend his money in a more constructive way. But she won’t. She has always been contrary, like her grandmother. Chose to study biology. He asked her why she couldn’t go one step further, become a vet. Push herself a bit. It would give her something concrete in hand, but no! – biology is what she wanted. What do you do with biology? Put your diploma in the bottom drawer and volunteer to do odd jobs for the National Trust; let your father pay the bills.

The farmhand sees them approach, hangs his head low, and disappears inside the stables, taking the horse with him. There’s something shifty about that man! Liam is a good judge of character, and he doesn’t trust him as far as he can spit. He will have to get rid of him. He will have to make lots of changes around here.

Esme is waving, a big smile on her face. She is pretty ‑ strawberries and cream, like her mother used to be at that age. What is she doing talking to that man? What can they possibly be talking about?

Fresh off the press: Nothing to Lose

P1060670I was thrilled earlier today to discover a little parcel on my doorstep. It contained my author’s copies of Nothing to Lose, a second instalment of DI Marsh mysteries. The cover is amazing and in keeping with the first book, Swimming with Sharks.

The blurb on the back reads:

After a head-on collision resulting in four deaths and a fifth person fighting for his life, DI Gillian Marsh is sent to investigate. Nothing seems to add up. How did four capable drivers end up dead on a quiet, peaceful country road?

As Gillian unpicks the victims’ stories, she edges closer to the truth. But will she be able to face her own truth and help her daughter before it’s too late?

Nothing to Lose will be launched on 7th April 2017, but it can be pre-ordered on Amazon, through the Publisher or from any major bookshops.


Signed and dusted!

Thank you to everyone who came to support me at the launch of Swimming with Sharks at The Shires Waterstones yesterday. It was amazing to see so many wonderful people: friends (including one I hadn’t seen in 18 years since we both left South Africa), family (including one who can’t read yet – ha, can’t walk either, but was there to hold my hand for a bit until he drifted to sleep), fellow author Alison Knight and my wonderful editor Greg Rees all the way from Cardiff.

And the winner of the champagne pulled out of the bottle by Greg is…. TARAAAA: Sarah Cobb! Congratulations!

Swimming with Sharks links:






A day in the life of DI Marsh – my guest post on Jane Risdon’s blog

Today my Guest Author is ANNA LEGAT. Back in February I was honoured to be a guest on her blog and so today I am returning the favour. Anna is going to tell us something about A Day in the Life of DI Gillian Marsh Anna’s detective. Anna, who is DI Marsh and where can […]

via Meet DI Gillian Marsh – My Guest Author Anna Legat’s unlikely heroine. — Jane Risdon

Extract from Swimming with Sharks: Enter Gillian


Day 9


It is the ninth day today. Gillian Marsh has been living on the edge: getting no sleep, jumping at every telephone ring and following the Six O’clock News for any sign of cataclysms, abductions and acts of international terrorism. Eight days ago her daughter went globe-trotting: Thailand, Australia, South Africa – in that order. Forty days of living on adrenalin and crackers, then back home – hopefully life lessons learned vicariously through other people’s misfortunes. Forty days – like The Flood…

Tara is not alone, she has a friend with her, but that is of little consolation. Both girls are only eighteen and have not seen much of the world outside the sleepy safety of Sexton’s Canning. Although Tara was born in South Africa she does not remember any of its perils; Gillian took her out of there when she was four, when Gillian’s marriage to Tara’s father Deon fell apart amidst tears, the spittle of angry words, and clenched fists. South Africa was not a place for a single mother with a little girl in tow. Gillian returned home with her tail between her legs. Her parents were delighted. Deon, on the other hand, declared the move a personal insult and withdrew into silence. Then, out of nowhere, three years ago, he got in touch, his second marriage in tatters, another ex-wife on the run and a teenage son in a boarding school somewhere in Somerset.

Deon wants to get to know his daughter. It is his right – who is Gillian to argue? For years, she has been feeling guilty for depriving Tara of a father. Those days are gone.

It was great when Deon came to visit and met Tara. They hit it off straight away, father and daughter, like two peas in a pod. But Gillian knew the day would come when Tara would want to go and see her father on his turf. She hoped it wouldn’t be too soon. Her prayers had not been answered. Tara decided to run to her dad as soon as she turned eighteen. There was no stopping her. She is a foolhardy girl, and her friend Sasha is bad news. It is their gap year. They are adults. They do as they please. Gillian is in for forty long days of sheer dread.

She will keep herself busy. The other option is to go mad with worry. For the past eight days she has been mulling over the mortal dangers her daughter is facing: human traffickers, tsunamis, food poisoning, AIDS-infected syringes buried in sand, sharks and enraged elephants. Gillian will put it out of mind. Next week she is going to London: three-weeks of training. She has been putting it off, citing the demands of single parenthood, but with Tara gone she has run out of excuses. Her promotion to the rank of detective inspector has been hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles. She will have to let it fall.

Her desk is the windmill of her mind with the sawdust of closed but undocumented casework threatening to suffocate her. She will have to deal with it in the next two days. Anything would be better than her single-finger typing. She often thinks of the keyboard as her personal punch bag. It is a battered old thing, but indestructible if you consider the amount of coffee spilled over it and the flurry of invectives thrown at it, all in vain.

Any distraction from her worst fears and even worse desk jobs is a good distraction, so when PC Miller ushers in an elderly couple, who in loud tandem demand to speak to someone in authority, Gillian is at hand to lend a sympathetic ear.


“She told us she’d be back yesterday, lunch time.”

“Did she say lunchtime, dear?”

“She did. She said by lunchtime, actually. The plane, she said, was landing at 8:40 at Heathrow, terminal 4. I have taken it all down. Flight number, the date, the time… I’ve got it here.” Mrs Devonshire’s bird-claw hand submits a notepad bearing the flight details recorded in an immaculate cursive handwriting. “If you could take a copy. I’d like my notebook back, please.

“The problem, you see, is that Miss Eagles knows we’re going away tomorrow. We told her straightaway when she came to ask if we’d look after Fritz. We said, it’s fine, we don’t mind taking care of Fritz, but we’ll be off on Friday morning. How fortunate, she said, that I’ll be back before you leave, otherwise I’d have to take Fritz to a cattery. He wouldn’t like that, I said. Eunice would never part with him. Eunice, you understand, was Miss Eagle’s aunt. Sadly, she passed away last year. We’ve always been good friends with Eunice. We’ve been neighbours for forty years. Miss Eagles moved into Eunice’s cottage, what… would you say five months ago, dear? Maybe four… I lose count.”

“She told us to call her Nicola,” Mr Devonshire gazes pleadingly at his wife. He has a narrow face with pale, arched brows that give him a look of permanent bewilderment.

“We couldn’t, dear, not right away… We’ve only known her for five minutes. Well, I couldn’t anyway. You can call her what you like, though I simply wouldn’t go as far as the first-name basis… I’m particular that way. Anyway, we don’t want to bore the police with details.” At this point Mrs Devonshire’s attention returns to Gillian. “As I was saying, Miss Eagles was very excited about her holiday. She’s never been to the Maldives, she said. Neither have we, I told her, small world! We had a giggle, didn’t we dear?”

Mr Devonshire nods agreement and pats his wife’s hand with affection. Gillian is copying the details from the notebook: a flight from Colombo, UL4016, lands 8:40am, Wednesday 6th February, mob: 078 45291022… “Have you tried calling her on her mobile? She left you her number.”

“Well, no!” Mrs Devonshire looks horrified. “The cost is prohibitive even if she weren’t abroad, which she may well be, considering that she isn’t here, don’t you think? We thought the police should be making the telephone calls, especially the ones abroad… We are pensioners, and like I said, we’ve only known her for five minutes…”

“We wouldn’t want to intrude on her privacy.”

“No. But we are leaving tomorrow. We’ve had a holiday home booked for months. The same holiday home we book every year. We go every year, you understand, without fail. We couldn’t cancel if we wanted. It just wouldn’t do! On the other hand, we simply can’t walk away from it, can we dear? We owe it to dear old Eunice, don’t we, to look after that girl.”

Gillian feels a cold sweat run down her spine. She is thinking of Tara. What a bad idea it was to let her go. God, what a damn stupid idea!

“How old is Miss Eagles?”

“Oh, we don’t know, do we dear? We wouldn’t dream of asking. She isn’t a spring chicken. I don’t want to sound rude, you understand, but she is… what I call beyond the childbearing age.”

“A bit frumpy, lots of layers on her, like a sheep dog,” Mr Devonshire adds with surprising competence. “Late thirties. Tallish. Mid-built. Brown hair, sort of – wiry and bouncy. Pleasant manner…”

“Dear, you’re talking of her as if she were dead! She may still be alive, just… delayed, or detained somewhere. I dare not speculate…” Mrs Devonshire covers her mouth, stifling a gasp. “Though I’d say she’s more in her forties, early forties – that’s what I mean by beyond the childbearing age. It takes a woman to know these things. Does her age have any bearing on her disappearance?”

“No, not that I know of. It’s just that you called her a girl.”

Mr Devonshire smiles. “If you were our age…”

“Let’s not detract from the matter at hand, dear. You see, Miss Eagles is missing. We are going away tomorrow, and that leaves us with the small problem of Fritz.”


“Fritz, the cat. We’ve been looking after him, didn’t you hear me? He used to belong to Eunice, and when she passed away Miss Eagles took over, very kindly – she could’ve sent him to an animal shelter.”

“Most people would…”

“Now, we’ve been looking after him in her absence. Not much trouble, wet food at night and cat biscuits for breakfast. Quite a pleasure looking after old Fritz, isn’t it dear?”

Mr Devonshire smiles at the idea of old Fritz. “So it is.”

“But now, since we’re going away, we can’t leave Fritz on his own until Miss Eagle’s return, can we? What, if the worst comes to the worst and she doesn’t return? I know we shouldn’t be thinking on those lines, but we can’t take that risk – we can’t leave Fritz alone. We couldn’t do that to dear old Eunice, could we?”

“No, we couldn’t.”

“Now, where is he, dear?”

“I left him with the officer on duty, at the Reception Desk downstairs.”

“So there! Fritz is at the Reception Desk. Please, bear in mind that he is not used to being confined. He’s a free spirited young man.”

“You mean the cat? You left the cat with PC Miller downstairs?”

“We couldn’t leave him all on his own in an empty house to fend for himself, could we?” There is unmistakable admonishment in Mrs Devonshire’s tone. “His owner has gone missing. We are reporting her missing, do you understand? You are the person in authority, are you not?”

Gillian agrees and assures the old lady that steps will be taken to track down Fritz’s owner. She shows the elderly duo out and waits for them to say their goodbyes to Fritz, who is yowling in his cage, much to PC Miller’s dismay. Gillian shakes her head, silently prohibiting the constable from querying the animal’s presence at the station.

On the step outside Sexton’s Canning Police Station, Mr Devonshire grabs hold of Gillian’s hand and presses a large key into it. “It’s to the cottage. We’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning, but I will be putting a note in the door for Nicola to contact you for the key and the cat, if you don’t mind.”

Scan_20160430“No, not at all. We’ll look after Fritz.” This probably breaks every rule in the book, but what do you say to an elderly couple expecting your help? Direct them to the nearest RSPCA?

“That’s good.” He shuffles away, his head leaning towards his left shoulder. He catches up with his wife by a red station wagon where she is strapped into the passenger seat, ready to go. They have a brief exchange and, hurriedly, Mr Devonshire waves to Gillian to wait. He shuffles back, this time with a page from Mrs Devonshire’s precious notebook. “Our telephone number in France. As soon as you know what’s happened to Nicola, let us know, will you? We promised Eunice we’d look after the girl.”

And then you promised the girl to look after the cat, Gillian smiles under her breath, but says nothing out loud other than to wish the old man a good holiday, and not to worry – she will be in touch.


Swimming with Sharks (Accent Press) was released on 28th April 2016.