Sheffield writer Danuta Reah has drawn on her eastern European roots for her new psychological thriller.
The Last Room switches from locations in the UK to Poland as a father comes to terms with the reported suicide in Łódź of his daughter, a forensic linguistics expert whose evidence in a British murder trial is about to be discredited.
Danuta’s own father, the architect Jan Kot, was a Pole from Minsk (now in Belarus) who became a refugee from the Stalin regime. But the choice of location was as much to do with the theme of forensic linguistics, the study of language characterstics in the context of law and crime investigation.
After penning six crime novels (two as Carla Banks) the writer had become disillusioned with the publishing business. “I decided to take a step back from it and focus on other things and ironically that was what gave me the idea for this book,” she recounts.
“I attended a forensic linguistics conference. It was a subject which fascinated me and I had thought at one time of taking it up as an academic.”
At the same time it was something that naturally lent itself to crime fiction – “I had used a little bit in my third novel.”
The subject had taken her to Łódź university. “This was before EU accession and it was a dirty industrial city which I found very unattractive. There were reminders of the Nazi occupation everywhere which I thought I could write about and I also wanted to write about modern Poland.”
She took another look and formed a different impression. “A large part of the city is built in a forest and hearing that everyone says, ‘Oh, like Sheffield’.”
Things came together when she imagined the character of a young woman working in the forensic linguistic department in Lodz .
So Ania was born. “But I just found the character wouldn’t write, it wouldn’t work when I tried to write scenes for her. So we meet her through her father. I realised it would be in her death rather than her life. When you are planning a book you find the subconscious puts things together.”
Thus Will, the father, became the protagonist. Ania is the second of his daughters to have died a premature and unnatural death. “I wanted it to be a book about grief and that’s a theme that runs throughout the book, But I have never written a book with a male central character before.”
Another departure with The Last Room is that it is published by Caffeine Nights, an independent imprint specialising in crime stories. “ I have discovered small publishers actually like authors,” she says with a dig at the conglomerates who have distributed her previous novels.
For her next book she is delving into the world of urban explorers for a mystery set in a disused railway tunnel near Whitby. “I wanted to come back to Yorkshire,” she says.
The Last Room, published by Caffeine Nights, is available in paperback (£6.99) and eBook (£1.50)