I’m a fan of whodunnits and crime procedurals with a special lust for a good series. It’s critical the mystery of the murder be compelling in some way—no anonymous muggings—and clues woven in with the chance to solve it, but I love that surprised frisson I get from a solution I hadn’t seen coming. It’s the characters though, that keep me coming back for more (or waiting for the next book which takes patience as a writer should be allowed some time).
It’s been said that good series characters become dear old friends; these are people you’d like to spend time with. I agree, sort of. I love Beckham’s Skelgill—what an odd and intriguing man—but I’m not sure I’d want him over for the holidays. I wouldn’t know what to say to Miss Marple. I would however, be thrilled to spend a weekend at the beach with Forster’s Finn O’Brien and Cori Anderson—they’d be a blast. Regardless, I love all my favorites simply because they are beautifully drawn characters who’s worlds are well worth sharing.
I’ve worked with several clients as they develop a series character and build a complex crime plot. It’s the NYT crossword of plot building. It’s hard work, which (as usual) means rewrite and after rewrite. It’s easy to play at though. That’s what I do when I’m waiting for the doctor or dentist—plot the murder of a fellow patient by another, build up motive and means and then the nurse calls my name. It passes the time more artfully than an ancient issue of People though I’ve been caught staring—awkward, so I’m good at a passive shrug and an innocent smile. But this morning—at 5 am to be precise—we had a real murder in the house.
A baffling, ferocious racket wakes us. My eyes fly open to meet Tom’s, one look enough to know we both know whatever it is, is in the house. Tom shoots up. I follow more cautiously into the living room to see my solid, sturdy couch rocking and pulsing like a thing possessed. A scruffy bit of fur whips frantically from beneath only to be pulled back in. A thumping commences and then a deathly silence, finally broken by the sickening crunch of breaking bone.
Hesitantly we upend the couch and Max, our maniacal Siamese, turns up triumphant blue eye and finishes the last bit of gopher, bones fur and all. In my house. In the structure of my couch. Is this murder? If you’re a gopher, yes. If you’re me, no. We have a horrible gopher problem and it’s Max’s job to sort it. But in the house? Sheesh. I contemplate killing Max.
So it’s not technically a murder. It isn’t even as good as an anonymous mugging. There is a series character though, only he’s the (serial) perp, not the detective and I like him so much he lives in my house. But there is a mystery: who didn’t lock Max’s cat door after sundown? Tom thinks it’s me but you and I dear reader, know otherwise.
Every writer is subject to the influences of their time, influences that shape their work in some way. From Stephan King’s brand of horror—which he’s said was influenced by the pervasive fears of the cold war — to the oh so mannerly and delicately choreographed plots of Regency era literature, a reader can feel the spirit of the author’s era.
“All stories are about wolves. Anything else is sentimental drivel.” Margret Atwood.
That’s a strong statement – lots of ways to interpret it. I love it because to me, it says that all stories should have a villain.
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