Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Jane Isaac, Author of Hush Little Baby (DC Beth Chamberlain Book 3)

22 August 2020

Special Guest Post by Jane Isaac, Author of Hush Little Baby (DC Beth Chamberlain Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

One sunny day in July, someone took three-month-old Alicia Owen from her pram outside a supermarket. Her mother, Marie, was inside. No one saw who took Alicia. And no one could find her. Fifteen years later, a teenager on a construction site sees a tiny hand in the ground. When the police investigate, they find a baby buried and preserved in concrete. Could it be Alicia?

A Research Experiment!

I love research. It underpins the stories we write. I’ll admit I probably do far too much of it. Sometimes it’s only for an odd sentence, sometimes it’s a thread that runs through the entire book. Research comes in all shapes and sizes, but after eight novels, there is nothing for me that matches the personal experiment I carried out for my latest book.

In Hush Little Baby, I have a victim buried in concrete. Concrete holds some preserving properties - a delicious fact if you’re a crime writer because it opens up many possibilities for the story. But it presents problems too. My body had been immersed in a concrete block for several years when the casing was disturbed on a building site, uncovering the person inside.

What would it look like after all this time? What DNA evidence would be available for identification purposes? These are areas I needed to answer so that readers could follow the story through the eyes of Beth, my investigating detective.

Researching these points proved quite tricky. I tried all my current forensic and pathology contacts and, needless to say, they could speculate on the DNA and forensic front but had never dealt with this particular situation and couldn’t be exactly sure what it would look like. 

I read books and researched online, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of research done on bodies buried in concrete and the science was quite complex; I needed a lay person’s explanation. I was struggling and beginning to wonder if I should drop the idea. Then I decided to do my own experiment.

One Sunday afternoon, I eyed up the pig’s shoulder my daughter got out of the fridge, ready to roast for dinner. And it gave me an idea. Research has taught me that pig is similar to human skin. Depending on conditions, most bodies breakdown during the first six months after death. Why don’t I bury the pig’s shoulder in a bucket of concrete and leave it in my garden for a while?

So, much to the delight of my neighbours (and the disgust of my daughter – I won’t tell you what we ate for dinner that Sunday!), hubby and I took a little trip to the local DIY store, bought some concrete mix and did just that. The bucket sat in my garden for many months with a pot plant sitting on top. I knew it was completely sealed because the flies stayed away and my dogs showed no interest.

Fast forward to last May. Remember that beautiful hot bank holiday weekend? We were having quiet family time, catching up with jobs around the house while neighbours BBQ’d with friends and families in the surrounding gardens. I remember finishing my chores, sitting in the garden and eyeing up the bucket. The meat had been encased for almost a year; it was time to find out what it looked like inside.

The pot plant was moved. My hubby got his sledge hammer out of the shed and whacked the plastic bucket hard. The concrete smashed open. And for the first few seconds it was an extraordinary sight – the pig’s shoulder was exactly the same as when it was buried – the meat was pink and raw; even the skin hadn’t discoloured. 

What we didn’t realise was that as soon as it hit the air, it would go into rapid deterioration. By rapid, I mean super quick - the smell was putrid! And our neighbours were having these lovely BBQs with their loved ones only metres away...

Cue panic. Hubby broke up the concrete, burnt off the remnants of meat still attached to the stone, wrapped it in bags and disposed of it in the bin. I thought hard. What could I do with the joint to stop it smelling? I couldn’t put it in the wheelie bin like that. So, thinking on my toes, I wrapped it in a bag and put it in our freezer. Frozen meat doesn’t smell, right? 

I planned to put it out on refuse collection day. When we’d finally finished clearing up, hubby and I came inside. But no matter how much we cleaned and showered and changed, the fetid odour still hung in the air. We thought it was in our noses, sprayed air freshener, lit candles. Eventually the smell faded and we went to bed.

The following morning, I came downstairs and could immediately smell rotting meat. We had friends coming for brunch, I needed to start cooking. But something wasn’t right. I opened the freezer and the stench slapped me in the face.

Brunch turned out to be takeaway of sorts eaten in the garden that day. Ten minutes before our guests were due to arrive my hubby was driving out of our village - the pig’s shoulder in a carrier bag hanging out of the driver window because he wouldn’t have it in the car – off to bury the rotting meat at the edge of a disused airfield nearby. And I was emptying my freezer in case the smell had infiltrated the other food in there!

I’ve since found a wonderful scientist and former crime scene manager who specialises in bodies buried in concrete and she has been wonderfully helpful with my research. But I’ll never forget that weekend we broke into our concrete. Needless to say, my expert was incredibly interested in our experiment! 

Jane Isaac

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About the Author

Jane Isaac lives with her detective husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo. Her debut, An Unfamiliar Murder, was nominated as best mystery in the 'eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013'. The follow up, The Truth Will Out, was selected as ‘Thriller of the Month – April 2014’ by
Jane is author of nine novels. Her latest series is based in Northamptonshire and features Family Liaison Officer, DC Beth Chamberlain. Find out moire at Jane's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter  @JaneIsaacAuthor

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