Guest post by author Mark Roberts who was born and raised in Liverpool and was educated at St. Francis Xavier’s College. He was a mainstream teacher for twenty years and for the last ten years has worked as a special school teacher. He received a Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for best new play of the year. What She Saw is the second novel in the DCI Rosen series after the acclaimed debut, The Sixth Soul.
When I started writing The Sixth Soul, the first Rosen novel, I wanted to create a sympathetic character in DCI Rosen and build his Murder Investigation Team, with diverse, recurring characters who I could grow and develop as the stories progressed. I didn’t want to create another detective as victim with alcohol/gambling problems, broken marriages/alienated children, a terrible burden because of the death of a police colleague through something he had got wrong or had failed to do.
I wanted to create a character who readers could relate to and, although I had no intention of saddling Rosen with the usual baggage, I created a central tragedy in his past that had nothing to do with human weakness but just sheer bad luck.
Rosen’s back story would have a heavy impact on the story in The Sixth Soul.
Several years before the start of The Herod Case at the heart of The Sixth Soul, Rosen and his wife Sarah lose an infant daughter through cot death. Following this personal tragedy, Sarah suffered depression and was hospitalised. In The Sixth Soul, she has recovered from clinical depression but the experience has marbled their lives and, although they have a happy marriage, there is an ever present burden of loss that bonds them.
Sarah is not an add-on character to provide light and shade to Rosen and his professional dealings. She becomes central to the action of The Sixth Soul and contributes heavily to the mounting tension and emotional stakes in What She Saw.
As a DCI in the London Metropolitan Police, Rosen is successful. Fair to those beneath him in the hierarchy, he will stand up to those above him and is very good at his job. When we first meet him, in The Sixth Soul, he is about to break free from a run of terrible luck. London is in the grip of a bizarre serial killer whose modus operandi is to snatch pregnant women and deposit their bodies (minus the babies) at what appears to be random points around the city. When a fifth mother is snatched from her home in the dead of night, Rosen uses his experience of another case to make a breakthrough in terms of Herod’s means of entering the woman’s house and getting her away.
Given his personal history, the Herod Case and the lack of progress put Rosen under a huge amount of pressure, pressure that is compounded by a senior officer Baxter who proceeds to put Rosen through a peer review. (Other officers brought in to investigate the manner in which the enquiry has been managed, a public humiliation). Despite this, Rosen presses on with dignity.
Rosen receives an unexpected call out of the blue from a Roman Catholic priest Father Sebastian Flint (a social anthropologist and former adviser to The Vatican on The Occult) who claims to know the killer’s motivation, the case roars into top gear and Rosen is sent on a breakneck journey towards solving the case at immense personal loss.
In What She Saw, Rosen’s personal life has been blessed by the arrival of a new baby son. This fact proves to have a crucial influence in a life and death decision that Rosen makes as the journey reaches its end.
The case involves young people as victims and witnesses and so Rosen is tested in a much different way than he has been by The Herod Case. Children, Rosen’s need to protect them and the harm inflicted on them by the world, are his Achilles’ Heel.
On a sink estate in Peckham, when a young boy crawls from a burning car, the case of a missing person is about to become a new murder investigation for Rosen and his MIT. The only eye witnesses are a good Samaritan teenage boy, (who has helped the boy, giving him the slim chance of life) and a little girl called Macy Conner who has run away from the scene pursued by two men who she saw at the burning car.
Rosen develops a paternalistic relationship with the fatherless Macy as she builds her evidence in a series of meetings with him.
All is not, however, as it seems. With anyone or anything. Weird plays out in an unravelling ball of knots as Rosen comes closer to the truth against the backdrop of a modern urban English housing estate.
When esoteric symbols and an all-seeing painted eye are found at the scene of the car fire and the second murder, Rosen believes he is up against a cult. When he receives a death threat, he will be next to be burned alive, we see him proceed vigorously with the case in spite of the fact he suffers the unique loneliness that only a condemned man can experience.
In the next Rosen novel, he will pitch up against Sebastian Flint again.
Hell (the perpetrator) it seems has come to Earth to claim those it deems guilty (the victims) and in dealing with the damned inflicts terrible vengeance. The only hope is Rosen and his team and Rosen is forced to fight on two fronts. Against the killer and against Flint.
His fallibility is seen, amongst other things, through the meals and snacks he sneaks behind Sarah’s back. She has him on a calorie controlled diet and cannot understand why his weight is not dropping
If I had to sum up Rosen’s greatest achievement, apart from solving cases and catching killers, it is that he has hung on to his humanity in spite of the terrible things he has dealt with, and not only this but extends that humanity to those around him. After nearly thirty years in The Met, Rosen can still feel sorrow for victims, feel afraid, feel the need to run away but have the strength to stay put and keep going. Like millions of people living and working in the United Kingdom, Rosen puts a brave face on at work every day while suffering all kinds of sorrow and disappointments. In this, he is an everyman and shares the quiet heroic attributes of so many people out there.
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