When does a secret admirer become a stalker? When people start dying? For Constable Hazel Best, the pivot point is the attack on her friend Gabriel Ash. That’s when she focuses all her ingenuity on finding her sinister new admirer. In the end, though, Hazel must deal with the stalker alone. And more than her own life will depend on the outcome . . .
SILENT FOOTSTEPS is the sixth mystery to feature Hazel Best and Gabriel Ash, and their close friendship is one of the best aspects of the series. However, author Jo Bannister reveals that for some readers, this is not enough . . .
There’s a book reviewer in the States who’s getting really annoyed that I haven’t got Hazel Best and Gabriel Ash into bed before now. Will they, won’t they? – should they, shouldn’t they? – he can’t seem to focus on who’s died and why for wondering why their friendship hasn’t yet turned to romance.
It’s the old Harry & Sally thing, isn’t it? Can a man and a woman really just be friends, or will the biology always get in the way?
I’ll let you into a secret: I don’t know whether Hazel and Ash will ever get it together in that way, and I invented them. Every time one of them seems ready to move up a gear, the other gets distracted. Life was ever thus.
Anyway, isn’t it a slightly old-fashioned thing to be worrying about? There was a time when the main role for female characters was as an addendum to one of the primary (i.e. male) characters – as wife, mother, daughter, lover – but surely those times are past. Looking around, we see real women at the pinnacle of every profession – police chiefs, business leaders, legal authorities, journalists, scientists, politicians. Do we really expect female characters to go on being defined by their relationship to a man?
The other role that was widely reserved for female characters, of course, was that of victim. Ignoring the fact that young men are the victims of crime more than any other demographic, writers and film-makers seemed to get a positively unhealthy kick out of brutalising helpless (preferably young and pretty) women in ever more inventive ways.
Hazel Best is no one’s idea of a victim. She’s strong, she’s smart and she’s kind; she’s tough when she has to be, and resilient; and she has an important job that doesn’t leave a lot of time for curling her eyelashes. She’s also no nun – but she expects to be an equal partner in any relationship.
All this being so, why assume that her friendship with Gabriel Ash, important to both of them as it is, must eventually be consummated so they can be filed away in the pigeon-hole marked COUPLES? Isn’t it the essence of that friendship that they are not bound to one another in any legal or societal fashion, that either of them is free to walk away if they get a better offer – and yet they don’t? Lovers come and go, but the friendship endures. Perhaps the open-ended nature of the commitment is its greatest strength.
Still, I’m not blind to the possibility. Maybe one day the pair of them will step back from salving the world’s ills for long enough to realise that this is what they want. If that’s what they tell me to write, I’ll write it.
If only to make a book reviewer in the States a happy man.
SILENT FOOTSTEPS is available from 31 January in the UK and from 1 April 2019 in the US. Read more here.