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The first book in the Jocasta Hughes' series

The first book in the Jocasta Hughes’ series

Death comes to Hastings

Crime-fiction writers love seaside settings – the myriad ways to kill people perhaps – so, it’s surely not that surprising that Hastings should have its moment in the sun in the Dr Jocasta Hughes’ series. A. Vasudevan catches up with writer Candy Denman at one of Jocasta’s favourite bars.

“This is where it started. We thought it would be a great place for a murder.”

We’re sitting in the garden of Porters Wine Bar in the Old Town, where author Candy Denman and her husband first brainstormed Dead Pretty, the debut book featuring Dr Jocasta Hughes – or ‘Jo’ to her friends. It’s the Indian summer that everyone’s talking about and the woman at the adjoining table to us is unashamedly eavesdropping, her two bug-eyed dogs panting with equal curiosity. Murder, it seems, is irresistible, no matter what your species.

It would be fair to say that Candy’s no stranger to crime. A scriptwriter of some repute, she made her living for many years penning award-winning TV series. She was also, until last year, a practising NHS nurse. Both of these skills have proved invaluable in creating the Jocasta Hughes books.

“[Screenwriter] Alan Plater used to say that a writer needs a place to be bad whilst they learn their craft and his was Z Cars,” Candy says. “I would never, of course, admit that any of my episodes of The Bill were bad, but they did help me to find my writing voice and it was whilst working on Heartbeat and enjoying writing a combination of police and medical storylines that the Jo Hughes’ series was born  – in my head anyway.”


The UK cover for Body Heat (2018)

Thirty-something Jo is a willowy blond with a keen sense of a humour and a challenging love life. She works part-time as a GP in Hastings, while being on call as Forensic Medical Practitioner for the local police with whom she has a challenging relationship. After Dead Pretty, Jo made her second outing in Body Heat, published in the summer; Candy’s currently working on the third book. Hastings features prominently in all of them, Candy celebrating the beauty, coastline and local attractions, but also focusing on some of the issues and problems here. It is crime fiction, after all. I ask her why she chose this locale.

“I love the town,” she says simply.

She’s been coming here since childhood and has brought her children to Hastings too on family holidays. “I would live here if I could.”

“Hastings is a town made up of many contrasting parts: working fishing port and holiday destination; elegant St Leonards’ villas and run down council estates; heroin capital of the south and beautiful countryside parks,” she continues. “I wanted somewhere that could be the location of the different events in my books. A place where I wouldn’t run out of stories.” Hastings is undeniably that.

Candy with Dennis in her office © The author 2018.

Candy with Dennis in her office © The author 2018.

The town that Jo Hughes and her friends inhabit is a mixture of real and imagined places. “After a particularly trying day, Jo will meet Kate, [her best friend] for a drink at The Stag or a meal at Porters and talk things through, but failing that, a long walk alone along the seafront or across the cliffs is best,” Candy says. “Several places, such as the Vodka Bar in George Street and The Dining Room, were real, but have since closed down. Of course, the stars of the book – the Old Town, the beach, the twittens, the East Hills and the Countryside Park – all exist, too.

“Jo’s surgery and the hospital are deliberately fictional,” she adds, “as well as several pubs and clubs that are described as run down, dirty or otherwise insalubrious.”

As a protagonist, Jo is an interesting character: she’s brave, loyal to her friends and yet also stubborn, a trait that makes her a good advocate for the people, living and dead, for whom she stands up. In that, she brings to mind Temperance Brennan, the lead in Kathy Reichs’ books, of which Candy’s a fan, and which inspired the hugely successful series, Bones.

Already receiving critical attention, the Jo Hughes books are tightly plotted, fast-paced and, unsurprisingly, very filmic. They showcase the local area beautifully and yet authentically.

Candy will be talking about all things ‘Dr Jocasta Hughes’ on Friday at The Bookkeeper, when Death, it seems, will this time come to St Leonards. Why not join her?

Meet Candy Denman, 7–9pm, 19 October, The Bookkeeper, 1A Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN37 6EA.


Dr Jocasta Hughes, in great local tradition, is a dog lover, of course. Future books will feature a canine friend. Candy welcomes name suggestions. The winner of the best name will receive a signed copy of Body Heat, the latest Jocasta Hughes book.

Posted 12:21 Monday, Oct 15, 2018 In: Literature


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. aruna

    Congratulation, Sarah Morgan. Look forward to the introduction of Lady Markwick/Lady M.

    Comment by aruna — Sunday, Nov 11, 2018 @ 17:39

  2. Candy Denman

    Winner of the best name for the new dog character is Sarah Morgan with her suggestion of Lady Markwick, or Lady M.
    Sarah will receive a signed copy of Body Heat for her suggestion.

    Comment by Candy Denman — Saturday, Nov 10, 2018 @ 11:31

  3. Sunbear

    Er….has she heard of heroin in Brighton and other large towns in the South???!!!

    Comment by Sunbear — Monday, Oct 22, 2018 @ 00:43

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