Interview: Tracy Buchanan

4 Mins read
Crime fiction author Tracy Buchanan landscape shot

What’s a girl to do when she works in PR and journalism, but has a secret fascination with the darker side of human nature? Not that celebrity PR doesn’t get to some dark places now and again – but for Tracy Buchanan the answer has been to turn her skill to writing crime novels. Based in Buckinghamshire, England, Tracy already has several thrillers to her name, and her latest is certainly worth looking out for if you like a strong forensic element to your mystery consumption. Venom in the Blood features the forensic entomologist Dr Vanessa Marwood, and crime scenes that involve more than a handful of creepy crawlies. Shudder. We decided to ask Tracy about her new novel, and her interest in insects…

What are crime fiction lovers going to love about Venom in the Blood?
I think crime fiction lovers will love the fact Venom in the Blood places the spotlight on an area of crime that hasn’t truly been explored before in novels – forensic entomology. But this doesn’t mean I’ve neglected all the things crime fiction readers love, such as unexpected twists, richly drawn characters and most important of all, page-turning awesomeness! 

Who is your protagonist, Dr Vanessa Marwood, and what made you decide to focus in on a forensic entomologist?
Dr Vanessa Marwood is a brilliant British forensic entomologist with a keen eye for detail and an unyielding determination to uncover the truth. She has a truly unique style with her gothabilly vibe, but is also a typical woman in her 40s, creaking bones and perimenopausal symptoms included! I was inspired to focus on forensic entomology not only because I adore insects, but also because it’s a fascinating and underexplored field that really adds a fresh perspective to crime-solving.

Venom in the Blood by Tracy Buchanan front cover

Who or what is she up against in Venom in the Blood?
In Venom in the Blood, Vanessa faces a chilling adversary known as The Cobweb Killer, whose killings are inspired by the mating rituals of insects. I know, sick hey?! He stalks the villagers of Greensands, picking them off one by one.

What gave you the idea for a killer who leaves spider’s web in their victim’s wounds?
This all ties into the insect mating rituals element. This particular technique is inspired by mate binding, where male spiders deposit silk soaked in hormones into a female spider’s stomach to placate her before mating. I’ve always been fascinated by how killers often leave behind symbolic clues, and this seemed like the ultimate symbol of power and control. 

You’ve been raising maggots and all sorts – what research have you done about insects and what did you discover?
Ha! Well, I tried to raise some maggots to fly stage, but then they got rained on and it went a bit wrong! My best area of research was talking to the UK’s leading forensic scientist, Dr Amoret Whitaker. She really helped me get to grips with how tiny creatures play a role solving crimes. This collaboration, and other meticulous research such as talking to police detectives in my family – I have a number of police in my family! – was so important to me as I really wanted to get the science and procedure right.

Tell us a little bit about the setting. Where is Greensands and what is it like?
Greensands is a fictional town nestled in the English countryside with an abandoned butterfly farm at its centre. It’s actually based on an area not far from me: Woburn Sands. Though the butterfly farm isn’t real! As with all my novels, I’m fascinated by tight-knit communities with dark secrets at their heart. 

What are some of the other themes you wanted to explore in Venom in the Blood?
Besides the primary focus on these hideous crimes and the topic of forensic entomology, I also wanted to delve into themes of obsession, guilt, family secrets and the psychological impact of trauma.

What else can you imagine Marwood getting up to, and what other invertebrates will we run into in future?
In future books, Vanessa will continue to tackle complex cases, each involving different aspects of forensic entomology. The next book in the series, Death’s Final Sting, for example, places Vanessa at the centre of the illegal insect trading world in New York. The third, Moth to the Flames, will see her coming up again an insect-obsessed cult in Australia.

What other crime fiction authors have you been reading, and which have inspired you most?
I’ve been inspired by authors like Patricia Cornwell and Tess Gerritsen, which makes the fact Tess read and loved Venom in the Blood, calling it ‘gripping and endlessly fascinating’ even more wonderful! I love the way they masterfully blend forensic science with compelling storytelling to create suspense and intrigue. I also really enjoy Angie Marsons’ novels, her characters and plots are amazing. 

What’s next for you and Dr Vanessa Marwood?
As mentioned, I’ve been working on the next two novels in the series. In fact, I just handed in book three to my editor! We’re really keen to make sure readers get their hands on the next in the series not long after reading the first. I know what’s it like to be really into a series and desperate to get your hands on the next instalment!

Venom in the Blood is on sale from 1 July 2024. Click here to grab your copy.

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