Lying in bed, listening to the neighbours upstairs as they screamed and shouted, as things were thrown and presumably broken, I wondered whether I should call the police. My neighbours were noisy people. Most nights I lay awake listening to their TV playing or their karaoke singing. Now and then voices were raised but nothing that seemed to suggest anything was wrong. But that night things were different and I wondered if I should do something. Should I go up and see if everything was all right? Should I call the police? And if so, did I call 999 or was it not considered an emergency? At what point would it become an emergency?
In the end, I did nothing. I lay awake until the noise finally stopped. And then I stayed awake, wondering what had gone on and whether I should’ve intervened.
In the days that followed I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I assumed everything was okay because the karaoke returned a few days later. But still it plagued me. What if someone had actually been hurt and I’d done nothing? At what point is it our responsibility to step in?
I’d just finished my first book, Stolen, and was starting to plan my second. I knew I wanted to explore these questions that’d been bothering me, but after months of trying, I just couldn’t find the right way to tell the story. In the end it took me until my fourth book to work it out.
Murder in Slow Motion was a difficult book to write but the one I felt most compelled to do. All the things that happen to the characters Lawton and Katy are things that really happened – either to myself, to people I know, or to women I learned about whilst researching the book.
Many people still believe that unless there is physical violence, a relationship is not abusive. Men like Andrew don’t see what they’re doing as abusive, women like Katy are reluctant to name what they’re going through purely because it’s not as bad as what’s happening next door. Family and friends are often oblivious, the abuse is so well hidden. And even if it’s not, even if there are niggling doubts, too often we shy away from intervening. We don’t want to make accusations, we don’t want to get involved in someone’s private life.
I never heard things get out of control upstairs after that night. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was something. I guess I’ll never know. But the question I ask myself is, if it happened again, would I have the courage to speak up for those who are unable to reach out?