Q&A: Helen Fields

If you love to read scary serial killer characters and terrific detective fiction, Helen Fields’ chilling Perfect series is reason to celebrate. Her sixth novel, Perfect Kill, will be out later this year. Fields, who practiced criminal and family law for 13 years in Scotland, has created a lineup of evil characters sure to make you keep the lights on long after you’ve turned the last page. Thankfully, she’s also created an investigative team you’d want on the job. Her novels in the series are: Perfect Remains, Perfect Prey, Perfect Death, Perfect Silence, Perfect Crime and, of course, Perfect Kill. The books are driven by the savvy and determination of DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach – and a natural rage to see justice for the victims. Turner and Callanach each possess bumps and bruises that make you root harder for them.

Currents: How did you decide you wanted to write such dark novels?

Helen: I don’t think I ever consciously decided that the content of my books would be quite so dark. It just happens when I start writing. I grew up reading horror novels from an (inappropriately) young age, so whenever I start typing the bodies appear. I’ve always been fascinated by the darkness in the human psyche. We love to be scared, to tell ghost stories, to watch true crime dramas, to see actual footage from nightmare scenarios. There’s a reason why crime is the bestselling genre worldwide. I think I just feed into that.

Currents: What characteristics do you give each of your criminals to make them terrifying–yet believable?

Helen: Really, great criminals are many layered. Some of the most prolific and appalling serial killers have had normal home lives, with wives who had no idea what their husbands were up to. They function in the community. They can be “likeable” when controlling themselves. This is what’s terrifying. If serials killers were easy to spot, they wouldn’t be dangerous. What I like to explore is the sense of normalcy they can project. Contrasting that with their private thoughts, the way they behave when they unleash their inner selves, it’s that difference that makes them so terrifying to me.

Currents: Have you considered a serial killer character or crime, then thought, “No, that’s taking it too far?”

Helen: I’ve definitely had my publishers telling me to dial it down a bit–I’m very graphic and brutal when I write, so I do need to be checked. I know I push the boundaries of my antagonists, but my research is carefully done. There’s very little that hasn’t happened somewhere in the real world. Sometimes I find real world examples of crimes and think–well no one’s going to believe that if I include it!

Currents: You’ve created some scary villains. Are any of them based on cases you handled or read about while working in the justice system?

Helen: All my book villains have drawn tiny strands from people in my past, more character traits rather than from any actual cases. Sometimes those character traits were from police officers or psychiatrists, teachers, or passersby–people who just gave out a weird, unsettling vibe. The characters are put together in my head and fleshed out by attaching the character traits to them. I often start each book concept with the idea of a victim, and then think…but who would do that another human being?

Currents: Together with your husband, David, you now run a film production company, Wailing Banshee, where you act as script writer and producer. Any chance of seeing the Perfect series in movie form?

Helen: I’m hoping that one day we’ll see the Perfect series on screen. You’d be amazed how many people contact me about this, and who mention it when they’re reviewing the books. I think they’re quite visual stories and characters (especially Luc!), which is what lends themselves to a screen adaptation. I know there are French production companies who’ve been interested in a collaboration, because of the main character. We can only wait and see…

Currents: Tell us about Perfect Kill.

Helen: Perfect Kill touches on two main themes–human trafficking and organ harvesting. It’s very, very dark, even by my standards. I was pushing the boundaries here with my readers’ willing suspension of disbelief but the reaction to the book has been great. It’s tough to read, upsetting and brutal, and still I had to balance that with some police banter and humor at appropriate moments. The whole book can’t be a downward spiral of depression, so a few light touches are necessary. The feedback has been that it’s definitely the most terrifying of the six books, and researching it was pretty grim. These are important subjects though, and we can’t close our eyes to them.

Currents: What are you writing now?

Helen: I’ve just handed a new draft of my latest book, coming out February 2021, to my publishers. The editing process is long and complex, so I have plenty more work to do on it. There’s no title yet, but it’s a standalone set in Edinburgh, with a great new protagonist who I love–Dr. Connie Woolwine. She’s an American forensic psychologist who can only see in black and white, and she’s tough, direct, and unforgiving. She’s also trying to profile and track a man who seems to be defying all traditional profiling models–and that’s because he honestly believes he’s already dead. In addition, I have a self-published book coming out this week called These Lost & Broken Things, which is dark historical fiction set in London in the early 1900s. I’m incredibly excited about it. Historical thrillers are my favorite books to read, so this was an exercise in self-indulgence! Finally, I’m just putting ideas together for another standalone, and I wrote the first chapter of that yesterday, but I’m not allowed to talk about it yet. No rest for the wicked…