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Split Second

Cath Staincliffe

Cath Staincliffe's Split Second tackles questions of bravery, fear and kindness and explores the real human impact of violent crime.


A split second is all it takes to make a decision – but what if it is the wrong one?


A winter’s evening and a trio of unruly youths board a bus and gang up on teenager Luke Murray, hurling abuse and threatening to kill him. The bus is full but no one intervenes until Jason Barnes, a young student, challenges the youths with devastating consequences.



The police begin their investigation, but they don’t get very far at first. Luke’s injuries have put him in a coma, so he can’t be helpful in identifying the attackers. And Jason’s parents Andrew and Val can’t be helpful either. They didn’t see Jason’s attackers clearly, so they can’t identify them. That leaves the people who were riding the bus when the attack started, so the police do their best to find out who those people were.In the meantime, Emma hasn’t gone to the police voluntarily, although she could be very helpful. She’s ashamed of herself and feels guilty for doing nothing to stand up to the bullies. But from Emma’s perspective, it’s not straightforward at all. Emma’s been bullied all her life, first at home, then at school and now, she even comes in for some bullying at work. She has almost no self-confidence and her main goal is to call as little attention to herself as possible.

Little by little, the police gather evidence about the fight, about Luke and about Jason. It turns out that Luke wasn’t a random choice of victim. He’d been in trouble before and the bullies know him. The police also find out who Emma is, and over time they learn what she knows.

One of the main elements in the novel is the devastation left behind when someone is killed or badly injured. Andrew and Val Barnes have to cope with the intolerable grief of losing their son, and that loss takes an extremely heavy toll. Luke’s mother Louise and sister Ruby have to face the fact hat Luke is in a coma and might not recover from it. And Emma has live with the reality that she didn’t do anything to prevent the attack.

That doesn’t mean though that there is no hope whatsoever in the story. At the same time as lives are upended, we also see a slow and very painful journey towards moving on with life. I think I can say without spoiling the story that the characters do find ways to cope, and there are flashes of warmth.

Because this is very much a character-driven story, we see several points of view presented. There’s Emma’s, there’s Andrew Barnes’, there’s Val’s, and there’s Louise Murray’s. Readers who prefer just one point of view and just one chronologically-based approach to telling the story will notice this. But that said, each part of the story is clearly identified with the name of the character whose point of view is being shared.

Another important element in the story is the set of questions it raises. The reader is invited to think about what happens when you have only an instant to decide whether to intervene in a situation. Would you speak up? Why didn’t anyone but Jason intervene in this situation? Was it right for him to intervene, given it cost him his life? And of course there’s the saddest question: could Luke and Jason have been saved if someone had spoken up?

One of the most important set of questions the novel raises is about bullying. As the story moves on, we learn a bit about Jason and Luke’s attackers. We also learn about the behaviour of Emma Curtis and the other people on the bus. Without preaching (at least I didn’t feel preached to), Staincliffe explores the question of how bullying starts and how and why it continues. One the one hand most of us would agree that bullying must not be tolerated and those who bully must be held accountable. On the other hand, bullies don’t appear out of nowhere. So a society (even a social group) in which there is bullying needs to ask itself what it is that tacitly or otherwise allows bullying within that group.

Split Second takes place in the UK city of Withington and Staincliffe does place the reader there. But the sad fact is, the bullying and what follows it could have happened just about anywhere. It’s a nearly universal issue and Staincliffe makes that clear too.

Split Second is the story of a group of people brought together by a tragic and sadly believable series of incidents. It explores important questions of bullying, of personal choice, and of what leads up to our decisions. The novel is character-driven and follows believable and very human characters as they struggle with devastation.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

The story begins just before Christmas as Emma Curtis is taking a bus home from work. Also on the bus is Luke Murray, Soon three young people board the bus and begin bullying Luke. For a time, no-one, including Emma, does anything. Then another rider Jason Barnes intervenes and tells the group to stop. The harassment lets up as the bus gets to the stop where both Jason and Luke get off. But the bullies get off the bus too, and the fight starts up again. In fact, it continues all the way to Jason’s yard. When it’s over, Luke’s been gravely injured and Jason has died of stab wounds.


About Cath Staincliffe:

Cath Staincliffe was born (and brought up) in Bradford and hoped to become an entomologist (insects) then a trapeze artist before settling on acting at the age of eight. She graduated from Birmingham University with a Drama and Theatre Arts degree and moved to work as a community artist in Manchester where she now lives.

Cath is the author of the acclaimed Sal Kilkenny mysteries. LOOKING FOR TROUBLE launched private eye Sal, a single parent struggling to juggle work and home, onto Manchester's mean streets. It was short listed for the Crime Writers Association's John Creasey best first novel award, serialised on BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour and awarded Le Masque de l'Année in France. Since then, Cath has published six further Sal Kilkenny mysteries.

Cath is also a scriptwriter, creator of ITV's hit police series, BLUE MURDER, which ran for five series from 2003 - 2009 starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. BLUE MURDER has been sold around the globe in places as diverse as Fiji, Iceland and Yemen.

Cath writes for radio and created the Legacy drama series which features a chalk-and-cheese, brother and sister duo of heir hunters whose searches take them into the past lives of families torn apart by events.

Cath was short-listed for the CWA Dagger in the Library in 2006. She is an avid reader and reviews for 'Tangled Web' and 'Deadly Pleasures'. She has also been commissioned to write a series based on the popular Scott & Bailey ITV1 crime drama.The second of these, Bleed Like Me, was published in March 2013. The first in the series, Dead to Me, came out in April 2012. 

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