Bloody Scotland: Heather Critchlow on Unsolved

Each week Scottish Field will be talking to one of the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize shortlist authors about their novels and feature an extract from the book. 

This week we hear from Heather Critchlow, 42, from Aberdeenshire, about her novel Unsolved (Canelo) , a cold case mystery about two women who disappeared
35 years ago which was inspired by a true crime podcast.

Click HERE to read an excerpt from the book.



Ever since listening to the first series of true crime podcast Serial in 2014, I’ve been fascinated by true crime podcasts and the people behind them. 

What starts as simple exploration of a cold case can morph into years of investigation, unearthing new evidence and ultimately finding justice for forgotten victims and their families. 

I wanted to explore what might drive someone to dedicate their time to true crime podcasting, how cases might suck them in and what cost that might have in their own life.

I knew I wanted a wild and remote setting, where a small community has been hiding secrets over decades. 

The foothills of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire where I grew up are the ideal location, with wild hillsides, pockets of woodland and even a secret waterfall. 

In the book, Layla Mackie rides her horse into the woods and never comes out. Thirty-five years later, Cal Lovett travels to Aberdeenshire at the request of her family to find out why. 

Cal’s own sister Margot vanished when he was a child and it was important to me that both Layla and Margot were independent, complicated characters, women ahead of their time.

I wanted to explore the uncomfortable truth that victims are judged and blamed if they don’t conform to society’s ideals. 

The writing process

I try to plan the beats of the novel, and then I dive into a first draft, usually writing 1,000 words a day around my day job and family life.

As I write, I stop occasionally and check the structure is working and that I still know where I’m going (not always the case).

I find the first draft a slog and breathe a big sigh of relief when I reach the editing stage. 

My process is always evolving – although Unsolved is my first published novel, it was the fifth I’d written and I’m currently on my eighth. 

I’ve become more of a planner than when I started out but sometimes things just won’t go to plan…

Unsolved is the first in a three-book series, all of which feature podcaster Cal Lovett. 

Each book will cover a new cold case as well as moving Cal’s personal story forward. 

Book two, set on the west coast of Scotland in a fictional Plockton-type village, is written and due out early in 2024. 

The cold case is a shooting in an isolated farmhouse that has cast ripples down the years in the community. 

I’m now working on the third book in the series, which sees Cal back in Aberdeenshire. 

Bloody Scotland Debut shortlisters 2023

Bloody Scotland Debut shortlisters 2023

Biggest influences

I’ve been loyal to Maggie O’Farrell ever since her first novel absorbed me so much I forgot to get off a bus and ended up stuck at the depot. 

Claire Fuller’s books are also automatic buys – I’m saving The Memory of Animals for my summer holiday.

Louise Welsh is another favourite. I’m a sucker for dystopian fiction and adored her Plague Times series as well as her brilliant crime fiction. 

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka is my favourite read so far this year. 

It tells the story of the women who’ve survived a killer scheduled to die on death row. It’s elegant, gripping and heartbreaking. 


The winner of the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize will be revealed on 15 September at the opening night of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival.