Not a lot of people know that I have always wanted to be a detective, when I was in the police force I was a constable who dreamed of one day being Columbo. I would have loved the disheveled coat and cigars and the spinning around and asking ‘just one more question’. The writer of this book is a real life detective however, a detective constable in the Metropolitan Police Service. With this, she brings a unique and powerful perspective on the crime novel genre.
‘Before I say I do‘ is a gripping exercise in psychological character study. There’s twists which shake the readers core belief in lead characters and attention to detail which grounds us in the environment. Throughout reading this novel, I found myself asking the question ‘how well do I really know those around me?’. Authors like Vicki Bradley who can engage the reader in asking themselves such penetrating questions are few and far between.
Your wedding day is meant to be one of the most memorable in your life, for Julia that was certainly the case. However not for the cake or the dress or even because of the man she was meeting at the end of the aisle. As she meets her husband to be Mark, the man whom she has determined to spend her life with and … keep her secrets from. The figure in the tailored suit turns and it’s not Mark. Instead it;s his best man. Mark is missing. With that realization, Julia knows that she will have to face her past.
It’s Julia’s intriguing and dangerous past which will hook you from start to finish in this novel. In my reviews I refuse to give any spoilers, trust me when I say that this book is perfect for late night reading. It’s passages will stay with you long after you set it down. It’s also a book which you will want to share with your friends.
I also want to take this opportunity not only to extol this book but also it’s author. This is not a ‘by the numbers’ novel. Vicki is evidently a skilled wordsmith who can take us on a powerful journey and paint vivid characters. Some whom we may identify with, others we may find repellent but all fascinating. She has never failed to elicit an emotional reaction from me as I turned each page.
I am very grateful that she took the time to answer a few questions.
Interview with the Author – Vicki Bradley
What started your journey as a writer ?- what inspired you? and how did you begin to formulate your novel?
I just loved stories, from the moment I could understand them. I’ve always had a vivid
imagination. My twin sister and I would write comic books, mentored by an older brother, and we loved coming up with recurrent characters that would go on these epic adventures.
I think reading Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a child is probably the first time I really understood the power of stories and how they could transport you to a different world and make you feel changed once you put the book down. It was then that I wanted to be a writer.
I’ve been writing novels since I was fifteen and I have a fantasy novel that is way too long hidden away in a drawer. I worked on it for ten years and then sent it out to a few agents but I didn’t get anywhere with it. I love that book so much and I think the first book you write is a complete labour of love, but it’s also probably extremely self-indulgent, so it will be staying in the bottom of the drawer.
I was at a crossroads in my life in my early thirties, being encouraged to go for the Detective Sergeant’s promotion process when my sister sat me down and told me she thought I should really focus on my passion and pursue writing and that I couldn’t do that if I went for promotion. She was right, I wouldn’t have had time. She encouraged me to do a Masters in Novel writing with London City University and I remember telling my DCI I was pulling out of the Sergeant’s process. He was disappointed, but he said that he could see that it made me happy, and told me to go for it. I was so surprised and that’s when I realised how much writing meant to me and that other people could see it too. The Met has really surprised me at how supportive they’ve been with my writing journey, and they’ve given me a 5-year career break to pursue it.
My novel Before I Say I Do came out of the Masters. At the time I was planning my own
wedding and when you’ve been in the police I think it’s only natural that you get used to
planning for the worst case scenario. That’s what keeps us safe, preparing for the person
behind the door with a knife, but it can mean that you constantly risk assess your life, which can lead to dark thinking. So for my wedding, I kept thinking what is the worst thing that could happen? And I eventually realised that it would be your groom going missing on the day. Being left at this pivotal moment in your life, this new beginning together, and you don’t know if something awful has happened to him or if he’s simply got cold feet. It is often the not knowing which is worse. That’s really where the story came from, me exploring that fear.
I did get married in the end, my husband did turn up on the day
Have you found that your experience as a Detective has bled into the novels narrative?
To me writing is dreaming awake, when I’m writing sometimes I don’t even know where the words are coming from. I think it’s basically the subconscious trying to work out issues in your head, things that you can’t stop thinking about or that are haunting you.
I worked in Southwark CID in the Met and we dealt with serious crime and part of it was
High Risk missing person cases. Out of everything I dealt with, the missing person cases used to be the most stressful.
If there’s a stabbing, as a detective you arrive when the uniform officers have got control of the scene. The victim has often been rushed to hospital and is getting all the care they can, and as the detective you are now investigating what has happened. But when it’s a missing person case, the detectives are trying to find out what has happened to that person, where are they now and are they in danger? There’s a real urgency
there, because every second can count as to whether that person is found alive and well or not. It’s often the missing person cases that come back to haunt me. And that’s often when we have to give families terrible news.
When you aren’t writing, who are your favourite authors?
For Crime Fiction it has to be Tana French’s series The Dublin Murders, especially – In the Woods and Faithful Place. The BBC made French’s detective series into a TV drama, the Dublin Murders, but I’m too scared to watch it as I love the books so much.
I’ve just finished Stephen King’s Misery. It’s a great one for writers, because in it he
describes his writing process, so it’s great to see that unfold, and the suspense and horror in the book is chilling. He is still the king of suspense.
I’m also a big fan of reading out of the genre you write, so I’ve recently finished Anthony
Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which I highly recommend. It’s set in World War 2 and the present day and it is exceptional story telling. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and you can see why.
I’ve just finished watching The Lord of The Rings trilogy and I really want to read those
books again, they are the books that I go back to time and time again.
Who is your favourite fictional detective?
This one is a bit controversial, but my favourite fictional detective of all time is actually a duo– detectives Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. They’re not strictly detectives from a book, but they did have a massive impact on my life.
As a child, my dad and mum were very careful about what we watched, we weren’t even
allowed to watch the TV series Neighbours as it was considered too adult. For some reason though, Sci-Fi was considered fine, so we were allowed to watch X-files as a family every week. I’m re-watching the series from the beginning now, and there are some really dark adult themes in there, so I’m amazed we got away with watching it so young and very grateful because we loved it.
I love Sci-Fi, in the eighties there weren’t many strong female protagonist around, but in
Science Fiction there were plenty. Sarah Connor in the Terminator series and Ellen Ripley in the Alien series. I fell in love with those strong female protagonists and Dana Scully became a firm favourite, so different to how women were often portrayed back then in other genres.
The X-Files is what inspired me to want to be a detective. Mulder’s and Scully’s job seemed so exciting, whether they were investigating conspiracies or tracking down serial killers, and because one of the detectives was a female I didn’t ever question for a moment that I couldn’t go into that career. So I owe a lot to Dana Scully and Fox Mulder