Natasha Cooper - CrimeFest June 2008 by Andrew Taylor
If the country of crime and mystery fiction were a constitutional monarchy, then Natasha Cooper would be the perfect candidate for its sovereign. Universally beloved, unfailingly diplomatic, highly intelligent, brilliant at public speaking, an exceptional writer, and of course effortlessly regal: she has all the qualifications for the job, which - by an amazing coincidence - are precisely the qualifications required by the Toastrix of CrimeFest. She is a Londoner through and through, and this great, sprawling city lies at the heart of many of her novels. Unusually for a professional author, however, she began her working life on the other side of the tracks - she started her working life as an award-winning publisher, rising rapidly up the editorial ladder. But other influences were at work, and she turned back to a childhood ambition to become a writer (as had been her grandmother, a pre-war novelist). After ten years, she left publishing and became a full-time author. First came six well-received historical novels. But crime fiction, a longstanding interest, lured her into another, perhaps more fulfilling literary region.
In 1990 she published Festering Lilies, which became the first title in her Willow King series. Willow King lives a double life - on the surface she is a straitlaced civil servant, but she also has a secret existence as glamorous romantic novelist Cressida Woodruffe. These are witty, often irreverent crime novels with an undertow of social comment that lifts them above the competition.
But Natasha Cooper has never been content to stand still. She is a woman who feels passionately about injustice, and increasingly powerful themes began to emerge in her fiction. In a sense her watershed novel was Creeping Ivy (1998). Here, Willow King plays only a modest role. The real heroine is Trish Maguire, a spiky-haired barrister in her 30s who labours under two disadvantages in her chosen career, which is dominated by expensively educated men - not only is she a woman, but she does not come from a privileged, cosseted background. Natasha Cooper had found a protagonist for another series.
Val McDermid has called Trish Maguire ‘A heroine for the new millennium - competent, tenacious and adamant in her pursuit of the justice that sometimes eludes the law.’That’s a fair summary. Trish develops as the series progresses. She started in family law but now works principally in the field of commercial law - and with great success: in the latest novel, A Poisoned Mind (2008), she has ‘taken silk’ and become a senior barrister, a Queen’s Counsel. But her drive to succeed is matched by the unsatiable demands that her conscience makes on her and on those around her. Indeed, her conscience and her compassion are the twin motors that drive this impressive series, propelling Trish into investigating the dark corners of cases that a more prudent and less scrupulous barrister would do his or her very best to ignore. Injustice makes Trish Maguire - and Natasha Cooper - very angry.
Each of the eight books works wonderfully well as a straight crime novel while simultaneously providing a biting critique of a particular evil and those responsible for it. Impeccably researched settings and an impressive grasp of human nature bring a depth and richness to the series. The two women, fictional and real, make a perfect match - Natasha Cooper writes: ‘I am very fond of her [Trish] and she has a lot to do with the fact that I am now a happy crime writer.’ Apart from her series, Natasha Cooper has also written three well-regarded standalone psychological thrillers under the name of Clare Layton. These look at some of the longterm consequences and causes of crime. In 2000, she served as chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association. She reviews widely, mainly in The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and the Toronto Globe & Mail. She is a popular and experienced speaker on radio, at reading groups, libraries and literary festivals. She has taught crime fiction courses, notable for Arvon. In 2007 she chaired the Harrogate Crime Writing festival. So, in sum: in Natasha Cooper we have one of Britain’s best crime writers - and a perfect Toastrix for CrimeFest. Long live Queen Natasha.
To find out more about Natasha Cooper and her work please visit: http://www.natashacooper.co.uk/