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The American murder case that inspired Sophie's new novel

DID YOU SEE MELODY?


Pushed to breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

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The American murder case that inspired Sophie's new novel

BEHIND THE BOOK – Did You See Melody?

My first ever US book tour – for my first crime novel, Little Face – was long before Twitter, or at least long before I joined Twitter. It was also a few years before I owned a laptop computer light enough to travel with. I couldn’t, therefore, get on with any useful work, or gossip with friends, or become outraged about the pressing issues of the day while travelling, and I didn’t have the energy to do tourist things like see shows and visit galleries…so I ended up watching a huge amount of TV in my various hotel rooms.
Even this wasn’t easy, with the number of television channels there are in America. I kept discovering episodes of House MD or Seinfeld, my two all-time favourite shows, just as they were finishing, and then, while I waited to see if another episode would follow, I observed a lot of very strange advertisements:

‘GlucoFlush may cause cardiac arrest, leukemia, athlete’s foot, blindness or halitosis. Do not take GlucoFlush if you are pregnant, asthmatic, diabetic, a talented violin player or keen on tennis. Side effects include loss of teeth, hair, sense of humour, car keys and virginity. Ask your doctor before taking GlucoFlush if you don’t want to die, shrink, turn to green slime, swell up like a balloon, lose all your friends and family, or vomit forever.’

‘Hm, how interesting,’ I thought to myself. In England, advertisements go to great lengths to avoid mentioning the dystopian worst-case-scenario that buying the product in question might bring into being. I was very aware, each time I saw an advert like that, I was An Englishwoman in America. And nothing made me so acutely aware of this as the coverage of the American true-crime drama of the moment that was all over every TV channel: the disappearance of a toddler called Caylee Marie Anthony.
I quickly became intrigued and disturbed by this story, and found myself neglecting House and Seinfeld in order to keep up with its developments. I soon noticed something that made no sense to me. Despite the fact that Caylee’s whereabouts were unknown at that time, and therefore no one knew if she was dead or alive, I only needed to watch twenty minutes of American TV in order to be told in no uncertain terms and by a range of respected and eminent commentators, that she was bound to be dead, and that her mother, who sounded sub-optimal in every possible way, had almost definitely killed her.
‘This is so weird!’ I thought to myself. ‘If Caylee is dead, and there’s any kind of trial, surely every prospective juror will have to be disqualified for bias, because by that point surely the whole of America will have heard what I’ve heard: that Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, must have killed her.’
The following year I did another US tour for my next book. By now, Caylee’s body had been found and Casey – whose TV nickname was ‘Tot Mom’ – was charged with her murder. I watched, transfixed, as expert after expert appeared on my hotel TV screens in New York, Chicago, Dayton Ohio, San Francisco and Laurence, Kansas to tell me over and over again that Casey Anthony was, in their opinion, a callous and calculating murderer. No one seemed at all worried that they might prejudice a trial by publicly expressing such sentiments. And in fact, when it came to trial, Casey Anthony was, bizarrely, acquitted, and that felt to me like a huge miscarriage of justice because, although I hadn’t been in court to hear any of the proceedings, I had watched an awful lot of American television. Like a lot of people who didn’t actually know all that much in terms of solid facts, I was convinced that Tot Mom was guilty.
Another thing that fascinated me was that this case was all over the US media, but in the UK no one had heard of Casey or Caylee Anthony. How could something so famous over here be so completely unknown over there? That’s when I had the idea that, some years later, developed to become my new book, Keep Her Safe.
What if an English woman were in America, because for some reason she needs to escape from her home and family… What if she checks into a hotel and sees a girl – just an ordinary girl, nothing special or suspicious about her… And then, what if the next day she discovers that the girl she saw is none other than America’s most famous murder victim, whose face is all over every TV channel and whose parents have been convicted of her murder…and yet this English woman, the novel’s protagonist who knows nothing about the way justice works in America, knows she saw this girl alive? What if, before she can persuade anyone to believe her story, she’s kidnapped and taken to a trailer in the middle of nowhere, where’s she’s very likely to be killed on account of what she has seen… Meanwhile, she’s desperate to be reunited with her family…the same family she was convinced she needed to escape from in order to save the life of one of her own children – but can she, and can any of us, trust anyone at all?

EARLY READER REVIEWS


“Everything I hoped for and more. Outstandingly brilliant.”
Clare Mackintosh, author of I Let You Go and I See You

“A top-notch page-turner full of intrigue and unforgettable characters – Sophie Hannah at her absolute best.”
Liz Nugent, author of Lying in Wait

“I loved everything about this novel, from the setting to the witty and vivid characters to the immensely satisfying ending. I will be recommending this one to everyone – and you will, too.”
Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into the Darkest Corner

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