Marked To Die by Sarah Hawkswood
A Bradecote and Catchpoll mystery
October 1143. His task dispatched, a mysterious archer melts back into the forest leaving a pile of corpses in his wake. The lord Sheriff of Worcester cannot ignore such a brazen attack on the salt road from Wich, nor the death of a nobleman in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so Hugh Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll are dispatched to hunt an elusive killer and his gang, and put a stop to the mounting attacks.
But it is not easy to get the culprits in their sights with a reeve keen to keep his position at all costs, a lord with his own ends to serve and a distrusting and vengeful widow to whom Bradecote is increasingly attracted.
I never wanted my detectives to be flawless, or Holmesian in their ability to solve the crimes placed before them. What is important is that they are human, and also men of their time. In fact Catchpoll is very much a ‘proto-copper’ in the mould of Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes. I always think ‘Vimesy’ and Catchpoll would understand each other perfectly, and have an equal disregard for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. They both fight dirty, have a deep sense of justice, and side with justice over the Law, which are not always totally in agreement. Both also know the power of creating their own myth, though neither would phrase it in that way.
Catchpoll, in terms of looks, has always been one man to me, taken from an image in a newspaper way back when the idea of the series formed in my head, and I saw a black and white portrait in a newspaper of the actor about to play a leading role at the RSC. I knew instantly ‘he’ was Catchpoll, from the gash of a mouth as a grim line in the grizzled stubble to the hard eyes with the deep crow’s feet at their corners, and the straggling, untrimmed hair. When I write him I see him as that every moment, and since Matt Addis has brought his voice to life in the audiobooks of the first two novels, I can hear the Worcestershire accent in every word. When it comes to the actual character of the man, he is in part someone I have known all my life. I am the product of three generations of Royal Marines senior NCOs, and, as some reviewers have noted, Catchpoll is your classic senior NCO. I drew heavily on my father’s pragmatism, practicality, and humanity. Catchpoll fulfils what he knows the people of Worcester expect the Sheriff’s Sergeant to be, unflappable, sometimes omniscient, tough and intolerant of fools. His view is that the criminals have to know that however mean and clever bastards they think themselves, Serjeant Catchpoll is for certain a meaner and cleverer one. He actively encourages this belief as a deterrence to crime in ‘his’ Worcester.
Thus Catchpoll seems as hard as nails, and prefers to be seen that way, but some things get through to his inner softness, which he then rushes to conceal. He is inclined to be tetchy, is always cynical, frequently insubordinate, and he has an inordinate and apparently illogical dislike of the Welsh, though that is explained in the sixth book in the series. He also talks to corpses, not in a ghoulish way, but because he is in essence ‘interviewing’ them as he would someone who could speak, and by asking the questions that their physical condition can answer, he finds it easier to see and store the information gleaned.
His relationship with Hugh Bradecote, the new Undersheriff, is one that develops gradually, from antipathy to grudging acceptance and then respect and trust. It had to be an arc, and a natural one at that, not some ‘buddy cop’ scenario. It has to be remembered also that outside of the important crimes, or crimes involving important people, he works alone, though he has now got Walkelin as his ‘serjeanting apprentice’, and imparting his knowledge to his protégé is something he quietly enjoys, though he would not tell Walkelin that. It also saves his creaky knees, of which he often complains.
Solving murder would not be an easy task in the twelfth century, and in reality the ‘cases’ where killers were caught were those where a community hue and cry brought in the perpetrator, not the Sheriff’s men hunting for clues. Having ‘detectives’ is an invention, but then the mediaeval murder mystery as a genre has to have them in some form. It would be a world where every piece of information and evidence has to be stored in memory, rather than annotated in a notebook, and the detective’s almost sole asset would be his ability to observe with all the senses and ‘read’ his fellow man. Both attributes are as useful to the modern detective too, of course, but now there are written statements, evidence bags, SOCOs etc. Sometimes Bradecote and Catchpoll make errors in their mental filing, forget something, give it too much value or not enough. I think it important that they can do that, and if the reader works out who did it before they do I do not think it matters. What is important is enjoying taking their journey to the solving of the crime. I certainly enjoy working with them.