Death and the city

As a Melburnian, she didn’t have to do much research, but did have to reacquaint herself with the layout and vibe of the city. “Trying to bring it to life through the eyes of someone new to the environment was really fun.”

In what could possibly be seen as perfect camouflage, the second homicide – of a dashing actor – is committed during the shooting of a chaotic group scene of marauding zombies for a big-budget Hollywood movie, the aptly titled Death is Alive. Cue fake weapons and ghoulish fright masks everywhere.

“I had an idea about a high-profile public death which I felt matched the more flashy vibe of the city. I felt Gemma needed to take on a case that she’d never have encountered in Smithson, her home town, and a zombie movie set certainly fits the bill. I also wanted to give the impression of the city having many aspects to it,” says Bailey. As Gemma points out that starting to work on a case is “like beginning a jigsaw puzzle without having looked at the picture on the box”, imagine more than 400 pieces of cast and crew of the film set to sort through.

Bailey’s 15-year background in advertising provided a solid grounding for fast writing and subsequent editing.

“It probably helped overcome any writer’s block,” she says. “Also I think my role in advertising, which was a business and strategy role rather than a creative role, definitely prepared me for the marketing-oriented aspects of publishing. I could talk about books and characters until the end of time so I quite enjoy the promotional aspects.”

With its deft exploration of the intersection of public and private lives and a chance to peer more deeply into the mind and heartset of an engagingly flawed heroine, Into the Dark seems set to be just as successful as The Dark Lake.

Bailey nominates several local crime authors as inspiration: “Michael Robotham and Jane Harper consistently churn out hits but some other great books I’ve really enjoyed recently are Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake, Anna Snoekstra’s Little Secrets and Mark Brandi’s Wimmera. And everyone should look out for Scrublands by Chris Hammer, which is due out later this year. It’s incredible and will cause many people to stay up way too late.”

Bailey has been likened to brand names Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn but she demurs at the comparison. “It’s obviously very flattering but I don’t take them too seriously. It’s hard to have any real perspective on your own writing but I’m just happy that people are reading my books and enjoying them.”

I felt Gemma needed to take on a case that she’d never have encountered in Smithson, her home town.

Sarah Bailey

One of the strengths of her latest novel is the carefully built, multi-layered character of Gemma. She may seem like a tough cop, but beneath the exterior is a mess of neuroses and insecurities. “For me she’s unapologetically real even though she doesn’t always make great decisions,” says Bailey, who is fond of her protagonist.

“Obviously most readers aren’t homicide detectives, but I think the constant juggle she faces between her personal desires and her responsibilities, and the pressure she feels from friends, family, colleagues and society is quite relatable. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue Gemma’s story in subsequent books; I think she has more growing to do.”

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