Silent Victims

Lynda La Plante

Silent Victims

The third book in the Jane Tennison series, 1993

PREFACE

When I was commissioned to write Prime Suspect for Granada Television, I had no notion that it would change my life. I had been very successful writing a series called Widows, but it had not resulted in offers of work that I felt excited about. The plot of Widows pivoted on four men attempting a dangerous armed robbery, and all died when the explosives held in their truck exploded. They left four widows, who discovered the detailed plans and decided they would audaciously attempt to pull the robbery.

My meeting at Granada was to see if I had any other project they could consider. Due to offers coming in that were all similar to Widows, I decided that the best way to approach the possible commission was to find out exactly what the network was looking for, rather than pitch one or other of my ideas. I was told they were actually looking for a female-led police drama, but they did not want her to be in uniform.

“Ah I have been researching exactly that, and have some great material in a treatment,” I LIED! But when I was asked what the title of this proposed new show was, out came, and with no forethought, the title Prime Suspect.

I knew this was a great opportunity, and with nothing actually written, I had to launch into research to prepare a treatment for a possible series. I was fortunate enough to meet Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Malton. She was attached to the Metropolitan Scotland Yard murder squad, and had risen through the ranks from uniform to become one of only three high-ranking female officers. By the time I had completed a story line and treatment, we had become friends. The friendship continued as I gained a commission to write the series Prime Suspect.

Via Jackie, and her eagerness for me to “get it right,” I went to my first autopsy. I spent time in incident rooms, pathology labs, and forensic departments. She was a never-ending source of encouragement and in many ways Jane Tennison was created via Jackie’s constant desire that for once a woman was portrayed within the police force in a realistic way. She would read every scene, make corrections and suggestions with anecdotes appertaining to her own career. She was a complex woman and had been subjected to discrimination throughout her career. As I rewrote and polished up the scripts she became quite emotional because I had acted like a sponge listening and inserting sections that she didn’t recall telling me about.

The moment Prime Suspect aired on British television it created incredible critical acclaim. I had to fight for a number of scenes to be retained. Producers were concerned that I had written an unsympathetic woman, but I refused to change, explaining over and over that this was a character based on reality. When she examined a victim she didn't, as they wanted, show emotion but retained a professional distance. To make her ambitious was yet again not wholly acceptable, but I persisted, and again I was helped by being able to introduce Jackie Malton.

Helen Mirren was unafraid of the role and added a strong quality to the character. She was the right age, she was still a very attractive woman and yet her believability never faltered. I would never have considered another actress could take on the same role. Over the years there have been so many scripts and attempts to make a US version of the show. There was a constant difficulty in finding an actress on a par with Helen, and although the scripts were well written, something didn’t work as the writers moved away from the original concept. That is until Maria Bello took on the role. The series is written by Alexandra Cunningham and she has brilliantly captured the world of a New York precinct. She has cleverly snatched from the original opening series the most salient points and updated them, bringing in the discrimination that still exists and how even today a woman detective has to prove herself beyond and above her male counterparts; respect does not come easily.

The books cover Prime Suspect 1, 2, 3… and they mean as much to me as the television show. Sadly with all good things, sometimes the powers that be, have their own agendas and only these three books represent my voice. I only ever wrote three episodes, and three books. The learning curve from being a writer for hire, which I was on Prime Suspect, became the next major change in my career. I formed a production company, so that enabled me to produce my own work, cast, edit, and choose the directors. That said, although I have produced and written numerous series, I don’t think there will ever be one as close to me as Prime Suspect.

Sincerely,

Lynda La Plante

1

The color slide of a naked female corpse flashed up on the screen. The girl was about seventeen, with long blond hair trailing over her white shoulders. She had once been very pretty. The projector clicked and the screen was filled with a close-up of the girl’s head. The ligature, a piece of fencing wire, bit deeply into the soft flesh of her neck. Her once pretty blue eyes were swollen, blood filled, bulging blindly toward the sky. Her tongue protruded like a fat purple worm.

The audience in the darkened lecture hall didn’t stir. Trained not to display emotion and hardened by experience, the homicide officers, police medical teams, and Pathology scientists sat in silent rows, enduring the grisly peep show. Hardened or not, experienced or otherwise, some stomachs churned. A few of the younger men felt faint, nauseous, or both. The voice of the lecturer didn’t help. Jake Hunter went remorselessly on, the catalogue of human depravity and perversion made even more chilling by his educated Boston drawl.

“So far, apart from a recent case in the United States, known serial killers have all been male, almost all white, often unusually intelligent or extremely cunning. Most victims are female, usually young women, whose death-as you see here-is frequently accompanied by violent sexual assault. Invariably there is evidence of torture and mutilation. A number of cases have involved homosexuals.”

Another slide flashed up. A full-face close-up of a swarthy, dark-haired, unshaven man with piercing, crazed eyes separated by a bony blade of nose. His thin, veined neck was cut off by a nine-digit mug-shot ident code.

“Richard Trenton Chase, the Sacramento ‘Vampire Killer,’ ” Hunter went on. “Arrested for seven murders.” The slide changed. “Note his own handwriting, taken from a scrawled message left at the scene of one of his crimes. Catch Me Before I Kill More, I Cannot Control Myself.”

Hunter turned to the audience. He was of medium height, with an athletic build that filled out his expensively tailored tweed suit. Under it he wore a button-down cream shirt with a striped silk tie. If the suit marked out his fashion sense as transatlantic, the brown cowhide boots with stirrup trim were strictly Dallas by way of Fifth Avenue.

Hunter went on, “Later, I’ll come back to the clues the handwriting gave as an insight to the killer’s personality.”

He hadn’t spotted Tennison. She’d arrived late, quite deliberately, and was standing by the door, her short hair a honey-blond blur in the flickering darkness. It rather amused her, Jake not knowing she was there, although they had already met twice during his lecture tour of England. Observing him secretly in the reflected glow of the screen gave her a tiny flutter of excitement, part nerves, part sexual danger.

His short brown hair was a little more flecked with gray, especially noticeable at the neatly trimmed sideburns, yet the bastard was still as ruggedly handsome as ever. His eyebrows were sun bleached, standing out against his tanned, craggy features. Had she aged as attractively? She still got her share of looks on the street, workmen whistled at her from scaffolding, but inside she sometimes felt like the Wicked Witch of the West. That was the job. A woman in a man’s world. Required, expected, to handle the daily dish of crap and not flinch.

So she wasn’t surprised, as she’d noticed on entering, to be the only woman present. She’d been the only female Detective Chief Inspector in the Murder Squad, at her previous posting at Southampton Row. About to move to Vice on the northern perimeter of Soho, Jane Tennison had no doubt that she’d be the senior female officer there by several light-years.

“Mass murder is the quintessential American crime,” Hunter told his attentive audience. “Virtually unheard of a century ago, it has now become almost an epidemic. We are coming through a phase where males in the thirty-to-fifty age group are more brutal, more violent, than ever before. I have no doubt that these mass murders have a contagious element…”

They were listening silently not out of politeness or boredom, but because Jake Hunter spoke with the authority of hard-won experience. He had lived through it, been there on the front line. As a consultant to the New York Police Pathology and Forensic Research Unit, he was one of the world’s top-ranked experts in the field; not only had he studied ...

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