Close to a motorway service station, the body of a young woman is discovered. She appears to have no family, no friends, no one to identify her. DI Anna Travis is brought onto the team of investigators by DCS James Langton, who already suspects that this recent case could be linked to two unsolved murders. As more evidence is discovered the team realise that they are contending with a triple murder investigation -- and no suspect. Anna's blood runs cold when she receives a letter from a murderer she helped to arrest. He makes contact from prison insisting that he can track down their killer, but will only talk to Anna herself. Does he really have an insight into another killer's mind, or is he merely intent on getting into hers?
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This reading group guide forBlind Furyincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lynda La Plante. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Detective Inspector Anna Travis is nothing if not “the job.” Spending her days either performing enquiries or brainstorming in the incident room and her nights poring over case files, her total focus is on solving crimes. When a young unidentified woman is found raped and murdered, Anna finds herself being drawn even deeper into a case than ever before. Not only does the case link to three other unsolved murders, but a vicious killer who Anna put behind bars is back on her radar, claiming to be able to help solve the crime. As her visits to the prison turn personal, Anna is suddenly torn between her burgeoning feelings for one particular security guard, her determination to catch the killer, and the job she’s always put before anything else. And the clashing emotions just might prove deadly.
1. Describe Anna’s roles in the PI department. How is she treated differently than her male counterparts throughout the story? Discuss examples and the possible implications of each scenario.
2. When Anna receives the letter from Cameron Welsh offering to help with the investigation, she wavers about whether or not to ignore the note. What would you have done in Anna’s position? Why?
3. What kind of message do you think the author is sending with detailed accounts of the well-equipped and accommodating prison where Cameron Welsh is held? What is your personal stance on the controversial issue of rehabilitation programs at prisons?
4. When Detective Chief Superintendent James Langton agrees to send Anna to meet with Cameron Welsh, he makes the choice to trust a once very dangerous man. What do you think of his decision to use serial killers to help solve murder cases? Should criminals like Cameron Welsh ever be trusted again?
5. Anna’s work has always been her top priority. Her personal relationships, hobbies, and even her health sometimes fall by the wayside. Discuss the importance of a work-life balance and how it affects Anna throughout the story. What was your reaction when she came full-circle back to “the job”?
6. When Anna speaks with Eric Potts, Margaret’s brother-in-law, he tells her that Margaret’s husband frequently abused her. He says, “Despite [it all], I never saw her cry—she was a bloody punching bag and yet she didn’t cry.” What is the significance of this observation? What does this reaction tell you about Margaret’s personality?
7. Police and private investigators often must rely on instinct to solve a case, just as Anna and Langton do in Blind Fury. What are the possible ramifications of trusting one’s gut in regard to a murder investigation? Is it a liability or an essential aspect of the job? Has there ever been a time in your life when you acted on instinct? What was the result?
8. Throughout the story, the investigators are fighting against time to solve the murders. Do you feel that old cases should be closed when they run cold? Why or why not? When do you think it’s appropriate to give up on solving a serious crime?
9. When Anna uncovers the blue blanket, she subconsciously suspects Ken of being involved in the murders. She does so again later when she sees the photo of him with his coworker and his guard dog. Do you think Ken’s reaction to her suspicion is justified? Why or why not?
10. Anna frequently interviews people about events that took place years in the past, often pushing them to remember. What are the pros and cons of this kind of proactive approach to such enquiries?
11. When Anna first falls for Ken, the reader is told that she “was different, she was more confident in herself because of her relationship.” Later, Anna is described as wanting “whatever made him happy.” In what ways do these two details affect your understanding of their relationship? Have you ever been in a similar situation?
12. Gender roles and expectations play a large role in the narrative of Blind Fury. In what ways are La Plante’s comments feminist and in what ways are they antifeminist? How did you react to the ways women and men were portrayed?
13. John Smiley is accused of murder on four counts. Do you think the police had enough evidence on Smiley to make an allegation fairly prior to his confession? Why or why not? Given the frequency of falsely accused criminals, what would you do if you were in the detectives’ shoes?
14. Late in the story, Anna comments on preferring to be assigned to the rape and murder case of four young women rather than to a child murder because child cases are “hard not to get emotionally involved in.” What does this preference say about Anna’s character? How does this case change her perspective?
15. When personal tragedy hits Anna, Langton encourages her to take time to deal with her grief. Instead, Anna wants to throw herself back into work. How do you handle a distressing or traumatic situation? What advice might you have given Anna?
A Conversation with Lynda La Plante
You’ve created a very strong and determined recurring female lead in Anna Travis. What was your inspiration for her character? Did you model her after someone in your life, or even yourself?
My inspiration for Anna Travis came from a visit to a murder site. I had been invited by the Metropolitan murder squad to visit numerous murder sites over the years so I wasn’t expecting something new. However, it is important to maintain my good working relationship with the police force, so I felt I should attend.
Whilst there I met a young female detective who had never been on a murder site or seen a cadaver before, and she was feeling very sick. The female victim was very decomposed and had been dumped on waste ground.
I started to talk to the officer and found her so delightful and honest that I decided it would be really interesting to build a series around an inexperienced young female detective and to follow her career. Anna Travis was born.
I don’t model any character from my novels on myself but I do use some of my own emotions and experiences, but most of all I concentrate on facts.
The majority of your previous work falls into the crime fiction category. What drew you to this genre initially and what has kept you coming back?
I think the simple reason that I base so much of my work on crime fiction is because I am commissioned to do so. It boils down to what the networks want from me. Also my publisher plays a major part in wanting more of certain characters, and as I am well known for crime fiction I continue to produce it.
What motivated you to write Blind Fury? Was there a particular message you want to send to your readers with this story? If so, what is it? Blind Fury was inspired after a particularly chilling interview with a prisoner. He was sentenced to life for the murder of two young teenagers. He was very unpleasant, gloating and very eager to give me his history. At one interview when I asked why he had chosen his victims as they were from very different backgrounds, he explained in detail. He said he patrolled London high streets like Oxford Street, Putney High Street, Kingston shopping mall, etc. He went at night and paid close attention to the lit-up windows of cafes. He maintained that seeing a young girl sitting alone was what caught his attention. He could monitor if they were accompanied or alone and follow them when they left the cafe. He virtually insinuated that they were “asking” to be picked up. The fact that he actually believed they were “waiting for him” was so sickening, and I loathed my subsequent interviews with him.
What I found so chilling was that by simply having a cup of coffee and inadvertently choosing a window seat an innocent young woman could have just signed her death contract. The opening chapter in Blind Fury sees a young girl sitting in a cafe and the attacker making his move on her. She escapes because she is waiting for her boyfriend. If the girl had not been with her boyfriend, she could easily have been Cameron Welsh’s third victim.
It’s clear from page one that you are very familiar with police procedure and criminal investigations. Do you have any prior experience in the field yourself? How did you go about researching the delicate intricacies of detective work?
My first television series was called Widows. When I was commissioned to write it I had no experience whatsoever in any form of police procedures. So I went straight to the source, visited police stations and gained many friends. I also became a prison visitor and spent many hours with forensic scientists and pathologists. The success of that series made me realize my methods and instincts were good and to always go the same route. Often I was told by various detectives that they found crime novels and television series unrealistic with writers and producers exercising what they call “dramatic license” when it comes to procedure. I don't. If these professionals are willing to give me their time because they want to see realism portrayed, then I will never abuse their time. Now I have a former high-ranking detective working on my research team which is invaluable when it comes to accuracy.
Throughout the book you’re constantly challenging the reader’s perception of gender roles in the workplace. What did you hope to accomplish in doing so?
I didn’t deliberately set out to write something that was going to challenge my readers’ perception of gender roles in the workplace but I’m glad it did. Prime Suspect brought a very experienced female detective to the screen. As a result of endemic discrimination she had a very tough time proving herself capable of handling a murder enquiry. Nowadays there is not as much discrimination against female officers and there are many female commanders and numerous high-ranking female detectives. Again, I always go to the source and work alongside a female chief superintendant who I have watched move up the ranks.
What do you think is the most important thing Anna discovers about life and about herself? If you could give Anna one piece of advice, what would it be?
The only advice I would give to Anna is that she must have some kind of a private life. Her career is very dominant and time consuming. When she does in fact discover life outside the station it is tragically cut short.
In your career thus far, you’ve written in a variety of different formats. What is your creative process like writing a full-length novel compared to a screenplay or a television script? What do the different experiences have in common in terms of your emotional involvement as an author?
Writing for a television series is very different from writing a novel. The freedom of a novel means if I want to, I can describe two helicopters and five patrol cars. In the current television adaptation of Deadly Intent it is very interesting see how the script alters from the novel. I have to make cuts and lose characters because of budget constraints. My emotional involvement with both novels and screenplays is exactly the same. It has to be. I often have to fight for certain things to remain when we discuss the finances about a stunt, etc.
You seem to have a strong opinion of the prison system as implied in Blind Fury. What do you think needs to be addressed to improve the current structure and methods of criminal imprisonment?
I have strong opinions on the present prison system. I also wrote a television series called The Govenor based on a prison and the female govenor. I spent almost a year researching in prisons and talking to officers, etc., and I believe I do have a considerable knowledge of the current structure within the prison system. I don’t think rehabilitation should be immediately offered to the inmates on their arrival. They take a long time to adjust and should have to earn their perks. Over and over again I was told by officers that the prisoners actually rule the prisons. Health and safety rules have become farcical when the prisoners are incarcerated for crimes they have committed – i.e., against their victims’ health and safety. In all the time I spent working within the prisons I never met or confronted one inmate who showed me any remorse. The difference between the US prisons and the UK is that in the US killers serve life without parole. It has been determined that prisoners without a parole date or possibility of release will create problems within the system. I think we need harsher sentences, tougher rules, and to allow only the prisoners who genuinely work toward rehabilitation to have the many perks on offer. That includes education, computer training, even physical freedom to work out in gyms, in other words they must earn and subsequently want to reform.
Anna and Langton have a very complicated and seemingly unfinished relationship. What’s next for the two of them? Do they have more stories to tell?
The relationship between Anna Travis and Langton has gone through many changes. He is her superior in rank, and it is frowned upon for junior officers to have any kind of relationship with their superior officers. Langton is a troubled man but an exceptional officer. However, they could never have had a future together. What they have eventually is a strong working friendship. He admires her, as she does him. Anna grows more and more aware of Langton’s faults as their working relationship progresses. As she moves up the ranks, she is often forced to confront his decisions. Eventually there will be a clash, but he is clever enough to embroil her in his devious methods, making it difficult for her to expose him. However, when that clash comes Langton will be a very dangerous and devious oppositional force.
What are you working on now? Is there another Anna Travis novel in the works?
At the moment I am finishing up the next Anna Travis novel. We have just filmed Deadly Intent and hopefully the next one to hit the screens will be Silent Scream. It is a great experience for me to see the characters grow. I enjoy working on both the screenplays and the novels equally. My next book involves a beloved son and fiance who is reported missing. A blood pool beside the victim’s bed swings the enquiry towards a murder investigation. The key question is to whom does the pool of blood belong?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Blind Fury takes place in and around London. Give your book club some British flair by serving tea and other traditional English goodies at your next meeting.
2. Anna’s—and the other detectives’—appearances and personal styles aren’t clearly illustrated, leaving her person up to the reader’s imagination. Ask each of your book club members to dress up like one of the characters. Then go around the room and explain your costume choices.
3. Detectives often brainstorm in an incident room and list clues on a communal white or chalk board. Set up your meeting space like an incident room and debate each discussion question as if it were a clue in a case.
Lynda La Plante's many novels, including the Prime Suspect series, have all been international bestsellers. She is an honorary fellow of the British Film Institute and a member of the UK Crime Writers Awards Hall of Fame. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2008. She runs her own television production company and lives in London and Easthampton, New York. Visit her website at LaplanteBooks.com.
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