Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Partners in Crime: Carol & Bob Bridgestock

Carol and Bob Bridgestock know what each other is thinking. They “finish each other’s sentences – annoyingly!” Carol laughs. And when it comes to writing fiction…well, the two of them really do become one person – R. C. Bridgestock, creator of the Detective Jack Dylan mystery series.

He writes the storyline, and she builds it up, fleshing out the characters and bringing out their emotions. It all comes easily to them: both worked for the police department in West Yorkshire, England, Bob as a detective and Carol as part of the administrative support staff. Together, they have almost half a century of police-work experiences to draw upon. Their first book, Deadly Focus, has been called “both witty and harrowing” by British television writer Peter Hammond (“Midsomer Murders,” “Torchwood,” and “Sapphire & Steele”). “[T]he dialogue and characters are great. It also reveals so much about working coppers’ problems with the system…bring[ing] a deeper insight to it without being preachy or pretentious. Most importantly, the police characters are believable and one cares about them,” The second novel, Consequences, will be released this coming spring, and Book #3 is already at the publishers.

“Working as a detective at every rank for 28 years of my 30-year career allows me to utilize my personal experience instead of researching,” explains Bob, who was a Senior Investigative Officer (SIO) in charge of homicide cases as well as a force hostage negotiator. None of the plots is completely based on a real case, but “the books are definitely written from the heart and about what I have witnessed.

“Of course, I recall the sight of a murder scene, for instance, or a mortuary,” he continues. “There are certain things you never forget.” Bob always had a storyteller in him, and he certainly had more than enough material to work with. But what “held me back from writing for so long was that I didn’t want to bring back the pain to the families of the victims by writing about a particular incident.” Then someone they knew came up with the perfect solution: write fiction.

Enter D. I. Jack Dylan and his partner, Jennifer Jones, who are loosely based on the Bridgestocks themselves. Jen’s presence in the books is key: she keeps Jack from being the stereotypical lone-wolf detective “coming home to nothing more than the whiskey bottle,” Carol observes. Instead, “Dylan comes home to a supportive partner in the shape of Jen, and she becomes the rock to keep him anchored.” And while Carol doesn’t “glorify the supporting role a partner plays,” she definitely makes use of her own experiences.

Readers pick up on those things. Carol talks about the e-mails they’ve received from other detectives’ partners…women who say things like “`I felt like that when xxx had to attend a scene and we were supposed to be going out. Then I felt guilty, as I knew they needed him/her at that moment more than I did.’ And the truth is, you know that if you were ever in such a terrible situation, your ‘hero’ is the only person you’d want to be there for you. It’s a tough one, but Bob’s job was obviously a lifestyle, and I tried to make that as easy as possible. The reason is simple -- I love him!”

That’s her part of the story. Bob takes up where she has left off. He talks about learning to deal with death on an almost daily basis: “I saw post-mortems all the time from a professional point of view – looking for the evidence I needed to convict a killer or the reason that someone had died and what weapon had been used, if any….When you have seen hundreds of dead bodies, you do become somewhat hardened to seeing them and learn how to keep yourself detached emotionally. If you allow yourself to get ‘sucked’ into the emotion, then the job is made more difficult.” Still, he admits that giving his consent to his mom’s autopsy “when she unexpectedly died in hospital at the age of 60 was a different ‘kettle of fish,’ as we say in Yorkshire. Knowing what they do in a post-mortem and being emotionally involved…let’s just say it wasn’t an easy decision.”

I tell them how I once heard a detective tell an interviewer that he no longer simply takes walks in the park; no, as he’s out strolling about, he’ll glance over at a wooded area and think, “That looks like a place where someone might bury a body.” Is that a way of thinking that detectives typically fall into? Bob laughs. I could, Carol says, be talking about him. “We walk our dogs regularly through parks, wooded areas, and on beaches nearby,” she goes on to explain, “and he’s always alert to people or what’s going on around us – looking out for the person behaving ‘oddly’ and commenting on it or pointing out areas to avoid if I have to walk the dogs alone. He talks of predators and hunting ground.” And when their daughters were younger, he was “paranoid” about the girls being out on their own in remote areas and gave them emergency money; he’s still very protective of them, even though they’re all grown up with families of their own.

“He has seen the horrendous scenes of a murder,” Carol points out, “heard the perpetrators tell him how they cooked up the idea and enabled their plan, and [he has] seen the devastation it causes to a ‘normal’ family. So he tries to stop that from happening to his own – who wouldn’t?”

But she and Bob bring more to their work than their combined police experience. Both glory in reading. Bob goes for the more factual books. After all his years reading and signing off on page upon page of murder and major incident files – “two van loads of paperwork,” in effect – he finds it difficult reading fiction that’s studded with inaccuracies difficult. Carol likes novels and autobiographies: in fact, she says that the book that has influenced her the most has been The Diary of Anne Frank, which “was written from the heart.” They write daily. Carol also chairs the Wight Fair Writers’ Circle on the Isle of Wight, where they now live.

There are at least three more Jack Dylan novels in the works, “and we see no reason to stop. From one book to the next in the series, Dylan’s experience grows, and he learns more about himself, Jen, and others as well as his job. D. I. Jack Dylan brings a fresh and procedurally correct approach to the investigation of crime, we hope. You get the ‘real’ feelings of the man in charge and his partner from someone who has actually taken charge of numerous real murder inquiries. Therefore, as the reader you can ‘feel’ the emotion throughout the investigation. You travel every step of the way with Jack and also support Jen.”

Any thoughts on who would be playing their lead characters in a movie or mini-series? That’s easy, they say: Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt from “Downton Abbey.” The two actors “play very similar characters in ‘Downton’ as they would as Dylan and Jen. They put their partner’s needs before their own; obviously love each other very deeply; are fiercely protective of each other; and trust each other implicitly.”

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