It has been almost five years since crime writer Gillian Galbraith published a novel. The last by the author of the popular Alice Rice Mysteries – The Good Priest – launched in 2014.
So it’s little surprise that her latest offering, The End of the Line, is – despite being a complete departure from her usual police procedurals – being well received. And it couldn’t be better timed.
The novel has for its inspiration the blood contamination scandal of the 1970s and 80s that is the subject of a newly launched and ongoing national inquiry.
The failures – dubbed “the worst treatment scandal in the history of the NHS” – saw more than 4,800 haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C or the emerging HIV virus. Nearly 3,000 people died after receiving “bad blood”. Among the victims were other innocents like pregnant women and child accident victims, infected through transfusions of contaminated Factor VIII from America.
As a former legal advocate who for 17 years specialised in medical negligence, Gillian was involved in the late stages of Scotland’s own Penrose Inquiry into the scandal which began in 2008 – 11 years before the current national review – and lasted until 2015.
The writer – who grew up in Haddington and who studied the entire text of the Penrose report, reveals: “I came across all of the victims’ stories. Your heart bled for them.”
But she admits her sympathies also lay with some of the doctors caught up in the affair. She explains: “Doctors who were doing their best for their patients found themselves in situations where the patients who they knew extremely well had developed AIDS. And 40 years on they were having to justify their actions.
“That is difficult because everyone now knows AIDS and knows it is a blood borne disease but at the point at which all of these actions happened, nobody knew that it was even a virus.”
Her latest novel follows the mystery of a 90-year-old man found dead in his bed in an Edinburgh mansion. A post-mortem reveals he did not die of natural causes. Once a leading haematologist, he was preparing to give evidence to the blood contamination inquiry. Anthony Sparrow, a bibliophile clearing houses for estate sales, is dealing with the old man’s papers and the documents he finds lead him to question the real circumstances surrounding the professor’s demise.
Mum-of-one Gillian – who was once an agony aunt for DC Thomson – says: “I did police procedure novels but overtime I was less up to date with forensic advances and the technology that is available to police. I thought it would be more fun to go back to an amateur detective novel.”
Gillian Galbraith The End Of The Line, Polygon, £8.99