Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 13 March 2015

Stranger Child - Rachel Abbott - Guest Post

I'm very pleased to welcome author Rachel Abbott to the blog today! 

Rachel is the author of four novels, her new book is called Stranger Child, and she is here to tell us about the kind of research that goes into her writing. 

I've read and reviewed two of Rachel's novels so far, Only the Innocent and The Back Road, and enjoyed them both very much (click the titles to read my reviews).

A thrilling line of research
by Rachel Abbott

One of the aspects of writing that I have always thoroughly enjoyed is the research. My husband has said frequently that a police raid must be imminent as I scour the Internet to discover methods of killing people, and learn about money laundering, drug distribution and people trafficking. Fortunately I can prove – through my books – that it really has all been in the line of research.

I don’t know how writers managed before the Internet came along. I know there is much you can do in libraries, but when you are researching a thriller it’s hard to know where in any respectable library you might find out how to manufacture liquid nicotine, and where best to inject it to cause death.

When I sit down with an idea for a book, I usually start with a ‘what if?’ question. ‘What if a woman had no choice but to murder a man?’; ‘What if a man is so obsessed with his wife that he has to…’ (I’m not going to finish that sentence – it gives the game away in one of my books.)

From that initial question, I start to develop the plot. What has happened to these people to bring them to where they are now? As the ideas develop, I start to build character profiles and a timeline of events.

Even these first steps, which I believe are crucial to forming a picture in readers’ minds, require research. When I develop a character profile, I have an idea of what a character might look like. But that’s not enough. I want an actual picture so I don’t lose sight of them. I scour web images, looking for anybody – a star, a model or just somebody’s mum – that fits the bill. That image is pasted into the character profile, and I find other items to add to their portfolio – where they live, what clothes they wear, what they like to drink, and so on.

The timeline creates its own research list. In Stranger Child, Tom – the main detective in all my books – is reminiscing about his youth with older brother, Jack. I check the timeline to confirm when they were both born. What music would they have been listening to in their teens? I trawl through the charts for that year, and decide which brother would have liked which tracks.

All of this is valuable research, but for Stranger Child I had to go one step further – although I actually bottled it when it came to one part of the investigation. But I’ll come to that shortly.
In Stranger Child one character has to go into a safe deposit vault buried deep under the streets of Manchester in the middle of the night – with no light other than a head torch. For me, this would be a terrifying experience, but to make it as realistic as possible I needed to know how it might feel. So I phoned up a company (they wish to remain anonymous) and asked if I could have a tour.

Of course, I went during the day when the lights were on and it was full of people. But I stood in the centre of the room and tried to imagine I was there on my own, and it was pitch black. As it’s underground, there would be no ambient light, and the sounds from outside would be muffled.

There’s a viewing room where people take their boxes to add or remove items, and I imagined how it would feel to know that somebody might be hiding in there, waiting for me. I had to make others feel how I knew I would have felt, with an authenticity that couldn’t have been achieved without a site visit.

And now for the bit where I have to admit to being a wimp! Stranger Child references the Dark Web. For those who may not know much about the Dark Web it’s part of the Deep Web (an area of the internet that cannot be found through search engines). There are several reasons why websites and other content might legitimately not want to be accessed via search engines, but the Dark Web is the part of the Deep Web associated with the buying and selling of anything from guns and drugs to credit card details. Some use the terms Deep and Dark interchangeably, but my research suggests that there is a subtle difference. Neither, though, is readily accessible.

This was a vital part of my story, so I researched how to penetrate the Dark Web. It must be possible, or there would be no market for the illegal goods sold there! And I managed it. I actually know how to get into the Dark Web. But the truth is, I didn’t have the guts to try it.

Given the amount of attention being given to cyber crime by Europol and other agencies, for the first time since I started writing I was actually afraid of completing my research by visiting any of the sites. What if I stumbled across some seriously illegal activities? What if, entirely by mistake, I bought a gun, or found I had inadvertently bought a stack of bitcoin?

So unlike my quest for creating the realism of the vault, I relied on the fact that I knew a lot about the dark web without, thankfully, ever having visited it. And I assumed most of my readers would know no more than me.

Research for Stranger Child was fascinating, but with each book, I seem to have to delve deeper into dark worlds. So if you hear I’ve been arrested, it was all in the interests of authentic research.

About 'Stranger Child'

One Dark Secret. One act of revenge. 

When Emma Joseph met her husband David, he was a man shattered by grief. His first wife had been killed outright when her car veered off the road. Just as tragically, their six-year-old daughter mysteriously vanished from the scene of the accident. 

Now, six years later, Emma believes the painful years are behind them. She and David have built a new life together and have a beautiful baby son, Ollie. 
Then a stranger walks into their lives, and their world tilts on its axis. 
Emma’s life no longer feels secure. Does she know what really happened all those years ago? And why does she feel so frightened for herself and for her baby? 

When a desperate Emma reaches out to her old friend DCI Tom Douglas for help, she puts all their lives in jeopardy. Before long, a web of deceit is revealed that shocks both Emma and Tom to the core. 

They say you should never trust a stranger. Maybe they’re right. 

About Rachel

Rachel Abbott was born just outside Manchester, England. She spent most of her working life as the Managing Director of an interactive media company, developing software and websites for the education market. The sale of that business enabled her to take early retirement and fulfil one of her lifelong ambitions - to buy and restore a property in Italy. 

But even in Italy the winters can be cold and wet, and so Rachel decided to fill those dismal days by fulfilling another ambition - writing a psychological thriller! ONLY THE INNOCENT, her first novel, was more successful than she could ever have imagined, and it enabled her to change her life yet again, and become a full time writer. Her third novel, SLEEP TIGHT, was released on 24th February 2014 and was her third number one. Stranger Child, Rachel's latest book, was released on 24th February 2015.


Web :
Twitter:     @Rachel__Abbott


  1. I'm always enthralled by the amount of research that goes on and especially when it comes to crime and/or historical fiction. Interesting post, thanks Rachel.

  2. This was a fascinating post - I read a book about the Dark Web, and I have the Tor browser installed on my laptop, although I've never used it. I know a lad who uses the Dark Web, well Silk Road, to buy cannabis for his MS so he doesn't have to engage with any local dealers and nobody knows his business. He uses bitcoin. He finds it really easy, but he's taught himself really well, technically. The thing I'd be really scared of is kiddie porn. And it must be fairly easy to get, as there's forever people in the paper who've been caught with it. Scumbags! Just the thought of inadvertently getting involved in that - terrifying! A fascinating post, nonetheless. Her husband sounds quite funny…

    1. Thanks very much for visiting Linda, glad you found it interesting! :)

  3. That's dedication for you - hope you don't get into too much dodgy stuff and have the police raid at your door, Rachel!

    1. Certainly is, isn't it! Thanks for visiting :)

  4. What a great post. Researching theses things are interesting in general.

    The entire "Dark/Deep Web" thing is fascinating. We see the best and worst of humanity on the internet.

    1. Thanks very much for commenting Brian :)

  5. Thank you for sharing such a great guest post, Lindsay. I'm already a fan of the author and I haven't yet read any of her books! I have a feeling I would love the research part of writing if I were an author too. I love it now (even though I don't do it for writing purposes). I am always fascinated the lengths authors go in their research--and so glad they take the time to do it.

    1. Thanks very much for visiting and commenting Wendy :) I think I would love it too, I do enjoy researching things.


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)