Mature Adult Read
When you’re working undercover the smallest mistake can cost you your life.
Detective Constable Bailey Morgan has been out of the undercover game since her last job went horribly wrong, leaving her with scars inside and out.
When her colleague Alice is found dead whilst working deep cover in a women’s prison, Bailey steps in to replace her.
Working alone, Bailey embarks on a dangerous journey through the murky underbelly of the prison and soon discovers that Alice’s death was part of a spate of brutal murders.
Surrounded by prison officers, criminals and lowlifes, the slightest mistake could cost Bailey her life.
Illicit drug trafficking, prison gangs and corruption are just some of the things she’s up against… and behind it, all lurks a sinister and terrifying secret that will truly test her survival instincts.
Interview Questions – Caro Savage – Jailbird
Is ‘Jailbird’ inspired by a particular event? Can you share your inspirations for this story?
‘Jailbird’ isn’t inspired by any particular event. It’s more like it emerged out of a collision between various interests and preoccupations of mine.
I’d been wanting to write a women’s prison thriller for a while because I’ve always enjoyed prison-themed books, films and TV shows. I tried several different variations on the story but none of them felt quite right until I got to the scenario of a cop going undercover in a prison. And that tapped straight into a preoccupation I’ve always had with how far people put up facades to fool others for good motives or bad, and how far you can see the cracks in those facades if you look closely enough. The idea of an undercover cop, having to conceal her identity in order to fight crime, takes this to the extreme, because if people see through her facade she’s a dead woman!
Why are prisons popular settings for crime fiction and thrillers?
I think prisons make for good crime thriller material because they’re a closed environment with an inbuilt element of criminality which provides the potential for lots of intrigue and conflict. The atmosphere of a prison lends itself well to this genre because you’ve got that claustrophobia from hundreds of people being locked in with each other against their will, and the constant simmering tension which arises as a result.
I love reading books set in prisons and I don’t think there are enough of them which is one reason why I wanted to write ‘Jailbird’, to make my own contribution to this crime sub-genre.
What makes your story unique, in such a popular genre?
Well, they say no story is truly unique, don’t they? So I guess it’s the way you tell it that makes it special…
I think good well-defined characters play a very important part in making a story stand out. The main character of ‘Jailbird’ is Bailey Morgan, the policewoman who goes undercover in the prison. I’ve tried to make her as three-dimensional as possible – yes she’s tough and resourceful, with an appetite for danger, but she also has a vulnerable side which is explained by a backstory that actually ends up feeding into the very risks she’s facing on a daily basis as an undercover cop in a prison.
As for the plot itself, there have been stories before about cops going undercover in prison, but I think the female cop/female prison angle makes ‘Jailbird’ different from what I’ve encountered in the genre so far. Plus the fact that it’s set in the UK perhaps makes it a little more unusual.
There are also other elements to the story that makes ‘Jailbird’ unique, which you discover towards the denouement, but of course, I’m not going to give that away here. You’ll have to read it to the end to find out!
There is a varied cast of characters in your novel, how did you make them realistic and relatable?
One thing I did when I was writing ‘Jailbird’ was to create questionnaires for all of the main characters which ran the gamut from things like, ‘where does she live?’, ‘what’s her height?’, ‘what’s her favourite colour?’, ‘what’s her favourite song?’ etc, right through to deeper things like ‘what was her first experience of death?’ and so on. For the most part, the answers to these questions didn’t make it into the actual book. But when you force yourself to think through the answers to these questions for each character, they really start to become alive and much more three-dimensional. And once that happens their motivations for doing what they’re doing become a lot clearer.
What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?
I love crime and thriller books obviously – recently I’ve been enjoying novels by Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Heather Burnside, Gillian Flynn, Don Winslow and Martina Cole amongst others. Reading other people’s novels is a great way to understand some of the techniques these very talented writers use in order to generate suspense and create great characters.
I also do like horror fiction – authors like Adam Nevill, James Herbert and C.J. Tudor. From a personal writing perspective I find horror complements crime quite well and in fact, there can often be a cross-over.
I read quite a bit of non-fiction as well. True crime, current affairs, popular psychology. Some of it is research on what I’m writing, some of it I read just because it interests me!
What are you currently writing?
I am currently working on the follow-up novel to ‘Jailbird’. After all, Bailey Morgan is still around and she’s not going to be able to put up with normal life for very long before she’ll be wanting to go undercover again…
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
If you enjoy prison drama, suspense and menace, Jailbird is an exciting new story to explore.
It contains everything you would expect in a novel of this type, a courageous, challenged protagonist, who is only there to finish a job, her friend was unable to, after her violent death. A corrupt prison ethos, where it is debatable who is in charge, and a culture of abuse, drugs and violence.
This story contains well-written, but graphic descriptions of the violence, and so this is for a mature adult audience. There is a varied cast of characters, most are complex and realistically flawed. A setting like a prison demands that the characters are exceptional, and for the most part they are. The plot has twists, that keep you guessing, and the build-up of suspense is well done.
Gritty, graphic and powerful, this is a story that makes you think.
Extract from Chapter 1 – Jailbird – Caro Savage
The clank sounded out of place. Alice Jenkins stopped pushing the laundry trolley and lifted her head. She tossed her long reddish-blonde hair out of her face. ‘Hey, who’s there?’ She was answered only by the repetitive groaning of the huge industrial washing machines and dryers which lined both sides of the prison laundry. She peered uncertainly into the shadows beyond the giant wire racks, which held folded piles of freshly laundered bedding and towels. Down here in the basement there were no windows and the overhead strip lighting flickered with a sickly insipid yellow which failed to illuminate the room properly.
Alice had only started her job in the laundry two days before. Normally there were other inmates working in here, but this afternoon she was all alone. That was because she’d volunteered to do some overtime, explaining to the laundry supervisor that she wanted to earn a little extra cash for her canteen account.
She hadn’t been in prison for very long. Just a few weeks. She’d been sent down for benefit fraud. Not a major crime but enough to land her inside for a year and three months. But she seemed to be getting the hang of things. Like managing to get this job in the laundry.
There was still plenty of stuff that she was unfamiliar with though, so she wasn’t totally relaxed by any means. In fact, she’d found that this place could suddenly put you on edge when you were least expecting it. Like now for example.
She glanced around nervously.
‘Hey stop messing about!’ she said.
Maybe some of the other inmates – her laundry colleagues – were playing a practical joke on her. She hoped so. Because if it wasn’t them then maybe it was one of the dangerous looking cliques she’d seen around the prison. Maybe they’d taken a dislike to her for some reason. Maybe they had it in for her.
‘Haha. Try and creep up on Ally. Yeah, that’s hilarious. You can come out now.’ She tried to sound breezy but her nerves betrayed her, her voice instead coming out reedy and uneven.
There was no answer. Just the incessant rumbling of the machinery.
Her knuckles turned white as she tightened her grip on the handle of the trolley and squinted into the dim recesses of the cavernous laundry. A burst of excess steam hissed from a nearby pipe. She jumped and gasped, her heart thumping in her chest.
Her mind raced to think what had made the clanking sound. It might be a rat.
The prison did have a rodent problem. Or maybe she was just spooking herself out unnecessarily.
‘You silly girl,’ she muttered, shaking her head and pulling herself upright.
She recommenced pushing the trolley, awkwardly manoeuvring its bulky weight towards one of the empty washing machines at the end of the room.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a shadow pass behind one of the sheets that were hanging up, waiting to be folded and placed on the wire racks.
She let go of the trolley and spun around to look. Was there someone there? She could have sworn she was the only one in here.
No. It was surely just a ripple in the material caused by convection in the warm air currents generated by the dryers. She turned back to the trolley, taking hold of the handle once again.
But then in the darkness beyond the racking, just behind the dryers, something caught her eye.
A brief sparkle.
A shiny surface which captured the few photons bouncing around behind the stacks of machinery and reflected them back to her…
She stopped again, momentarily entranced by it as it twinkled in the shadows like a lone star aglow in the distant black depths of deep space. For a brief moment, she forgot her apprehension as she tried to make sense of it floating there in the shadows like the needle of a compass… turning… pointing in her direction…
Then a depth charge of cold fear detonated in her gut as she realised what it was.
Her heart began to hammer inside her chest. Her hands fell away from the handle of the trolley.
‘Oh fuck,’ she whispered.
They’d come to kill her.
They’d decided to come for her when she was all alone. She cursed her stupidity for making the mistake of being down here by herself.
Somewhere along the line, she’d messed up and now she was going to pay for it with her life.
She felt a heavy nausea rise up inside her, the fear of impending death.
Slowly, she edged backwards around the trolley to put it between herself and whoever was behind the dryers. She again squinted to try and see more.
In the shadows, silence. A flicker of movement in the darkness. A shadow within a shadow. It was big. It was no rat. That was for sure. It was a person.
She gulped. Her mouth was dry. She glanced towards the doorway. It was at the far end of the laundry. That distant metal door had never looked more appealing. Nor had it ever seemed further away. She glanced back at the row of dryers.
Tensing, she took a deep breath… and bolted.
Caro Savage knows all about bestselling thrillers having worked as a Waterstones bookseller for 12 years in a previous life. Now taking up the challenge personally and turning to hard-hitting crime thriller writing.