THE Scottish-set forensic crime drama Traces returns for a new series tonight.

Starring Laura Fraser and Martin Compston, the gritty Alibi thriller focuses on the work of the fictional Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy (SIFA) in Dundee.

But how true to real-life are the plotlines? Traces co-creator Val McDermid reveals some of the secrets behind the making of the programme.

The inspiration

Traces was inspired by the work of the many remarkable women scientists that McDermid has got to know well over the years.

They include Professor Dame Sue Black, currently at Lancaster University, who is world-renowned for her pioneering work at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification and the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, both created during her 15 years at Dundee University.

The Herald: The cast of TV crime drama Traces. Picture: Alibi/UKTVThe cast of TV crime drama Traces. Picture: Alibi/UKTV

McDermid also spent time picking the brains of forensic chemist and fire expert Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, who continues to oversee the ground-breaking research happening in Dundee, alongside colleague and leading forensic anthropologist Professor Lucina Hackman.

In the TV show Breaking Bad star Laura Fraser plays Professor Sarah Gordon, a forensic chemist at the fictional University of Tayside and director of SIFA.

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Jennifer Spence, known for her roles in Stargate Universe and Continuum, is forensic anthropologist Professor Kathy Torrance, with Three Girls actor Molly Windsor as intrepid lab technician Emma Hedges.

"Right from the start, that was one of the key elements of putting the production together," says McDermid. "Forensic science is so often led by women.

"We wanted to make a drama that put women front and centre. Not just the three scientists, but the producers, the exec producers, the directors and much of the cast are female."

Cutting-edge forensics

McDermid and Traces co-creator Amelia Bullmore spent time with Professor Niamh Nic Daeid and Professor Lucina Hackman at Dundee while working on the latest series.

"The forensic detail is front and centre again," says McDermid. "And it is surprising stuff. We have been very fortunate in that we are working with forensic scientists who are at the leading edge of research and so we are learning about things that are just coming on stream."

The Herald: Val McDermid on the set of Traces in Dundee. Picture: Alibi/UKTVVal McDermid on the set of Traces in Dundee. Picture: Alibi/UKTV

Life imitating art

The plot for the second series of Traces centres on a clutch of improvised explosive devices being set off in and around Dundee.

Was any inspiration drawn from real-life cases? "No, absolutely not," says McDermid. "We drew on the forensic experiences of Niamh and Lucina, but in terms of actual cases, no.

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"It is difficult to say anything about this without it being a spoiler but when people see it, they may jump to the conclusion it is based on something, a real case, but the scripts were all written and in production before that happened.

"That gave us a sharp intake of breath. When life imitates art, it is eerie, but you also have to then ask questions about the material we have and whether it is exploitative in the light of subsequent events."

Traces returns to Alibi tonight at 9pm. To read the full interview with Val McDermid talking Traces, her upcoming ITV drama Karen Pirie and sharing fascinating insight into the world of crime writing and forensics, click here