Published: 16/12/2013 12:02 - Updated: 30/12/2013 09:55

Prison officer Donald uses inside knowledge for thriller debut

Prison officer turned crime writer Donald MacDonald.
Prison officer turned crime writer Donald MacDonald.

UNLIKE most crime writers, Donald MacDonald knows what life is like behind bars.

The Inverness-born debut author has spent 32 years in the Scottish Prison Service, including 12 years at HMP Inverness at Porterfield.

Before that, he also spent six years with the Queen’s Own Highlanders, serving in Germany and Northern Ireland.

So MacDonald acknowledges he has plenty of inside information to bring to his debut thriller, Lay-by 149. which is out now on Kindle.

"I really had to wait until I was semi-retired before I could begin writing," MacDonald said.

"There are no real names, everything is fictional, but you never know. I had quite a lot of information from the police. You knew roughly everything. I’ve read probably thousands of court reports and previous convictions and you can just build up stories."

Although the last 20 years of his prison service have been in the Dumfries area, where he is operations manager for the south of Scotland, MacDonald opted to set his first book in his home town, where some people might remember the former Inverness High School pupil as a shinty and rugby player and member of Inverness Harriers athletics club.

The action begins with a jailbreak in Inverness as "pure evil" drug baron Joe Sharpe escapes to avoid retribution from rival gangsters and army hero turned detective, Inspector Bob Morrison, leads the manhunt to catch him.

Perhaps it is fortunate that MacDonald was at Porterfield as a prison officer and not as a prisoner as he seems to have his escape route well worked out, starting with hi-jacking a cruiser on the Caledonian Canal and taking it through Loch Ness to the west.

"I thought of the factory ships that come into Ullapool," he added.

"After that, they go down to the south coast of England and then onto France and Spain — an ideal escape."

MacDonald, who revealed he is at work on a second novel revolving around the bronze age Clava Cairns and their eerie reputation, wants to put Inverness on the fictional crime map as a rival to other more familiar Scottish crimescapes such as Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh.

"I hate the way that Rankin’s Inspector Rebus is always in Edinburgh," MacDonald said.

Even last year’s Rankin novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, failed to find favour with MacDonald despite bestselling crime writer, who has a home in Cromarty, sending his series hero up the A9.

"I thought: typical. He’s after a serial killer around Inverness, but he’s back in Edinburgh again," MacDonald said.

"I had an interesting comment from an American who described the book as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Rebus hit the Capital of the Highlands’.

"At heart l am a highlander and my first novel had to be based in Inverness."

Lay-by 149 is out now on Amazon Kindle, price £3.78.

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