It is now official that 2012 has been the wettest year in my part of the world since records began (and in most other parts of England – it is apparently only because Scotland and Northern Ireland have been drier that this dubious distinction has not been earned by the UK as a whole). As I look back on it, I remember it less as a year of rain than a year of mud: mud squelching underfoot every day on the dog walk; the banks of streams reduced to treacherous muddy jellies after continually being breached by waters in spate; mud topped by thick blankets of leaves plastered together like papier mâché, creating involuntary ski runs down the hillside for the unwary; mud-caked wellies, mud-spattered trousers and trails of mud every day on the kitchen floor as boots and paws traverse it; even mud on my handbag once, as I carelessly rested it in the footwell, having already clambered into the car with mud on my boots. Mud, mud, mud.
I’m always on the look-out for new experiences and situations to write about, but, until yesterday, mud seemed an unpromising material for a crime-writer to work with. Bodies are often hidden under snow, lie obscured by drifts of crisp chestnut-coloured leaves or are tossed into miraculously-dry ravines to dry for years so that they become mummified. But mud? Only a manic or very foolish murderer would try to dig in sodden mud to conceal a body: there would be tell-tale boot-prints everywhere; the hole would keep on filling with water; the whole business would be a muddle!
Then, yesterday, as I was toiling back up the hill, my feet slipping and sliding on a path made smooth by running water and wading through patches of boot-sucking quagmire, my heart leapt as the grinning visage of a skull confronted me. It was re-emerging from the mud, its head turned towards me, the teeth grimacing, the backbones arching clear of the water. It took me a moment to realise that it had belonged to a sheep, presumably one that had got caught in the blackthorn hedge last summer or even the summer before that, and died.
So mud could hold copy for a crime-writer, because inexorably, over time, it might yield up its grisly secrets.