“Crime is a way of life for the Devlin brothers. Groomed at an early age and trained as criminals by local gangsters, the Devlin brothers get their thrill out of creating fear amongst their victims. They have a macabre pact; not to be arrested or caged. Brutality hits the town of Harrowfield when the scourge of the community is found dead, his companion slaughtered. The locals react with praise for the killers. The same day firefighters respond to a fire but lose the fight to save Merton Manor. Amongst the debris two bodies are discovered; executed. As Dylan struggles to cope with the pressure, armed officers await his judgement call. Can he remain professional or will he release his anger?”
It is my pleasure to welcome R C Bridgestock to damppebbles today as part of their blog tour. I am handing the reigns of my little blog over to the lovely Carol and Bob to celebrate the publication of their seventh DI Jack Dylan novel (which happens to be tomorrow, that’s Thursday 30th June 2016). Over to you #TeamDylan.
Bob dealt with hundreds of dead bodies in his 30 year detective led police career; he has met cold blooded murderers who show no iota of remorse – and then he retired and became co-author of the Detective Inspector Jack ‘Dylan’ series with his wife Carol.
Bob had reached the rank of Detective Superintendent, Senior Investigative Officer, in
charge of major incidents for West Yorkshire Police, the fourth largest force in the country. But, at just 51, he knew it was time to stop. ‘I’d see more horrific sights in a couple of weeks than most people see in a lifetime,’ he says. So, with his wife Carol, also in the Force as a support officer, they ‘retired’ to the Isle of Wight, where the plot of their lives took an unlikely turn. They became authors.
‘We’d watch TV detective dramas/read books and Bob would say: ‘It would never be done like that!’, says Carol. ‘You’d never want to live in Midsomer, would you!’ returns Bob. ‘Think how much it would cost to insure your house!’
Actually writing their own book seemed as unlikely a turn of events as many in that TV drama. ‘I had a lifetime of cases but I didn’t consider myself a writer. I don’t even read a lot. In fact I often wonder whether Tom Sawyer ever finished painting that fence,’ he jokes, recalling the unfinished book he was given for good attendance at Sunday School.
Yet one day he saw an advert for a writing course at the Isle of Wight College, and enrolled himself and Carol. The result was Deadly Focus, a novel which has been well received by public and police alike. The couple have gone on to write six more books, the second, Consequences, third White Lilies, fourth Snow Kills, fifth Reprobates, sixth Killer Smile and the seventh When The Killing Starts publication date 30th June 2016.
Carol describes how two people can work on one book. ‘I say to Bob: ‘How d’you see Vicky, (the main character’s sidekick). Bob says ‘I see her like Joanne Froggatt (Downton).’ So we can both imagine her, physically, then her character is based on someone we both knew well.’
Plot’s not a problem: it was Bob’s life.
It’s hard to square the circle between Bob’s very talkative avuncular comedian personality and the dogged and hard-faced policeman you see in the newspaper cuttings. For even in the fuzziest little newspaper picture, Bob appears as a human mask, exhausted eyes peering out of fixed pallid face. ‘There were times I was dealing with six murder enquiries at once,’ he says.
Bob’s early brushes with the law should have turned him off the idea of policing. ‘When I was five my elder brother picked a fog warning detonator off the railway line and told me he’d got me a watch,’ grins Bob. ‘I was given a clip round the ear by the policeman. That didn’t seem fair!’
Bob, born in 1952, was one of five siblings in the small Yorkshire village of Marsden, on the border with Lancashire. Although his father was working there wasn’t much money to feed a large family. ‘We used to hide under the stairs from either the lightening or the rent man,’ he grins. It was a life of hand-me-downs and making do. ‘My dad used to repair all the shoes: for two years I thought I had a club foot, because one foot was higher than the other!’
He had two paper rounds before walking a mile and a half to school. ‘But,’ he says, ‘you just got on with it. Everyone did.’ He made it to grammar school, but Bob didn’t take his GCEs. ‘I was offered a job at the butchers where i’d worked on a Saturday – and decided to take it.’He had two paper rounds before walking a mile and a half to school. ‘But,’ he says, ‘you
You can’t avoid assuming the slaughterhouse went some way to preparing him for the blood and gore he was to come across later. It was now that he had a second run-in with the police. ‘I was travelling home by bus, with my blood-stained butcher’s smock under my arm. Suddenly the bus stopped, I get another clip round the ear for wasting police time and had to walk home. I don’t know what they thought I’d done.’
Bob could have become a cynical decrier of the law. Another time he was thrown into a van with an Alsatian snapping at him, for no good reason. But somewhere in Bob’s mind was the idea that policemen should be more like television’s Dixon of Dock Green. ‘I thought somewhere there must be a nice police officer.’
Bob qualified as a butcher, but by now he was married and the money was poor. So he left to work at the local dye works, an unforgiving place where he saw colleagues with terrible burns. ‘I’d blow my nose and give off blue dye, and thought this can’t be healthy.’ He stuck it for two years and then, taking a massive cut in pay, he joined the police force. The training was harsh. ‘In the first fortnight, I had my hair cut six times! We learnt to march, press our own uniform, bull our boots. You used to parade at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. I used to say to myself ‘what the hell am I doing here?’
Two years and several exams later Bob was working five weeks of night duty, marching out on the streets of Huddersfield in his too-tight helmet and collar which rubbed. His dogged determination and fearlessness led to promotion, and Bob became a detective. He soon learnt that catching criminals had an element of luck – or otherwise. ‘Me and a colleague were watching a timber yard which had had been subject to arson attacks. We were there seven nights. On the eighth, a girl called Helen Rytka was murdered just yards from where we’d been sat: a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper.’ He pauses. ‘Just one more night and he’d have been well and truly caught.’
The Ripper case, then in its latter stages, was just one of very many high profile murders that Bob would see over the years, and it is a prime example of the way a case takes over the lives of those dealing with it. ‘There was so much criticism over the case – that Sutcliffe (eventually convicted) was questioned but let go several times – it destroyed the lives of those in charge.’
But being ‘the man in charge’ was something he aspired to. As a uniformed sergeant in Calderdale he was told: ‘We don’t go into that pub, they don’t like police!’ ‘Well, it was like a red rag to a bull! If you don’t nip behaviour in the bud it just goes on.’
Pleased to cast off the uniform again, he became a detective working on the infamous Sarah Harper murder, the little girl who went to buy a loaf of bread and never came back. Equally chilling were the Boarded Barn murders in Cheshire, where an ill-conceived attempt at kidnap and extortion led to the utterly callous murders of two young mothers. The team was commended for solving the crime, and Bob was promoted. As Detective Inspector he was given the Denis Hoban Trophy for outstanding detective work. Bob mentions this and his other commendations not with any arrogance but with an air of gratitude that his efforts have been noted. It is Carol who points out that most officers don’t get anything like the 20 certificates of commendation that Bob has accumulated over the years.
Bob became Detective Chief Inspector and held the post for seven years. He spent four years at Wakefield Detective School training future senior detectives; he became a hostage negotiator, and trained others in the art: ‘Fortunately, on incidents I went to I never lost anybody.’
His biggest fear was, being in the middle of six death-related cases at once, he’d
blather out the name of the wrong victim to a relative. ‘One of them was the Huddersfield fire case (where petrol bombs were thrown through the window and petrol poured through the letter box killed seven in an Asian family). ‘Lovely family, but it was easy to pronounce the Asian names wrongly.’ In that case, the survivors wanted the victims flown home to Pakistan, a
nd Bob, arranged all this. ‘I was the man in charge,’ he says, adding: ‘Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got forensic, you’ve got pathology – but it’s you that makes the decisions that will make or break the enquiry. So you go to the mortuary, you endure the very terrible sights and smells because you need to understand the nature of the injuries.’
Getting a feel for the atmosphere of a crime scene was important, too. One thing he found frustrating was that, as he rose to be DCI he was no longer allowed to interview suspects because the rank of Det Chief Inspector was deemed to be intimidating to suspects. ‘You learn so much from being face to face with people.’ For the Dylan series he resorted to reducing ‘his’ rank, because suspect interviews were an essential tool of the plot.
Bob believes two things are essential in policing. The first is common sense. ‘People say ‘you’re breaching criminals’ human rights.’ Hang on a minute! If you steal you’re a thief; you don’t swear because it’s rude. If you cross that line and injure or kill you should forfeit those human rights.’
The second is keeping a sense of humour. He talks about the man in charge of the mortuary who had a pacemaker, who was on the lookout for a free upgrade. Gallows humour maybe, but an essential pressure release.
Despite his relentless exposure to callousness he retained his belief in people. He recalls with pleasure people who went out of their way to thank him: the wife of one victim, ‘have-a-go hero’ Kevin Jackson, bought him a pair of slippers so he wouldn’t worry about bringing muddy shoes into people’s homes.
A sweet thought in a world of cynicism. Bob, when he became Detective Superintendent, had 26 murders in his last three years alone, as well as 50 suspicious deaths and 23 major incidents. In true Detective hero style, he had a maverick approach to the task. ‘We knew who killed Kevin Jackson because we’d got a DNA match from under his finger nails. So I got photos of the suspects and did the press conference in front of the photos which I’d had blown up into massive posters!’ Legally sensitive, perhaps, but Bob’s argument was ‘we’re looking for murderers here.’
As the face of the news conference, wasn’t he fearful of backlashes? ‘No, providing you’ve been right with them they’re right with you. I’ve always treated people the way I’d want to be treated. I go back to these influences from earlier,’ he says, referring to all those uncalled-for clips round the ear – ‘Police shouldn’t treat people like that.’ When in the midst of a case, members of the public would come up to him when he and Carol were doing the weekly shop with their own suggestions: ‘Here, Bob, had you thought it might be so-and-so that did it?!’ Carol laughs: ‘We couldn’t get round Sainsbury’s without someone coming up to us!’
Their lighthearted approach belies the reality that there were no real days off. His catalogue of cases is relentless. He spent days at a time in the mortuary – and TV post-mortems go nowhere to prepare for the real thing – and there were nights when Carol didn’t even know he’d come to bed at all. But he couldn’t rest until that case was finished because if you relaxed there might just be something, something that you miss. In the end his body told him to quit. He found, getting out of the car one night, he was frozen to the spot. His doctor suggested it was time to stop. ‘If you don’t step away you get sucked into a vacuum of sadness,’ says Bob.
Thirty years seemed a reasonable innings, and the Isle of Wight has had its fabled relaxing affect on this non-stop policeman and his wife. ‘Being in the Force meant I understood the demands of the job,’ says Carol. ‘And I love him, so of course I supported him.’ Some people say Jen, is too good but we tell it as it is – in a fictional tale.
Now, as well as the couple getting their DI Dylan books published by Caffeine Nights
Publishers, Kent they have also found a super literary agent in David Headley (DHH Literary Agency, London). They are also active Patrons of three charities and Ambassadors for two others. Why? ‘I thought I worked hard,’ says Bob. ‘But these people, they just give everything.’
The DI Jack Dylan series of books is available from all good book shops and online.
Thank you so much R C Bridgestock. What a fascinating guest post and great to learn about the real experiences of senior detective.
When the Killing Starts by R C Bridgestock was published in the UK by Caffeine Nights Publishing on 30th June 2016 and in available in paperback and eBook formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones |
The D.I. Dylan series of books by RC Bridgestock (Husband and wife writing team, Bob and Carol Bridgestock) comes from a unique perspective of a collective real life experience of high level policing of 47 years.
The couple are consultant storyline/police procedure for Sally Waintwright on 2014 police drama series for BBC 1 Happy Valley and are also consultant storyline advisors/police procedural to Red Productions Ltd for ITV 1 Scott & Bailey & general police advice.