I recently wrote a piece for Time and Leisure Magazine recommending the first books in a number of crime fiction series, each series running to between three and thirteen books at time of going to press. A good series is a fine thing in deep mid-winter, especially when one isn’t going out so much and I know crime fiction readers, in particular, are always on the look-out for ones they haven’t tried yet.
The other prompt for the article was my completion of Opera, the third in my own series and thoughts of what would come next. Will there be a book four, or five? There certainly could be, there’s quite a cliff-hanger at the end and I am, only now, beginning to see what might happen next (in fact, it begins to seem inevitable). Would Claret Press want another Cassie Fortune? Even if they do, will that be what I write next, or do I want a break from her? Do I want to write something else?
Maintaining quality within a series isn’t easy, keeping a freshness is even harder. In ‘detective’ crime fiction the puzzles must differ and the twists must be new, or at least fresh. The contexts and locations can change (at least I can send Cassie anywhere, she isn’t tied to a place or one type of job) but there’s a risk that, in trying to introduce new thrills, dangers and surprises a story can become too contrived, or unbelievable. There is also a delicate balance to be struck, readers want some more of the same, as well as something different.
Many lovers of Plague didn’t like Oracle as much, they found a classic ‘country house’ murder mystery rather than a diabolical big city mastermind causing the deaths of many. Others preferred the second book. The two books were very different. Opera returns to London and is, I hope, a mix of the two styles. Our protagonist, too, is back to her more sympathetic best, but somewhat wiser.
Characters familiar to the reader of earlier books in a series still have to be drawn clearly and the best of them grow and change, think of Rebus, or Morse. Otherwise they become boring to write about too. Famously, Conan Doyle grew tired of Sherlock Holmes so killed him off before being forced to resurrect him ( but then, Sherlock Holmes didn’t change, he was fixed in his character ). Other authors have complex reactions to their characters, Dorothy L Sayers even fell in love with her protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey.
Some of the most addictive crime series are linked by an ongoing and developing relationship, often of a romantic nature. So, when, if ever, will Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott get together? The same goes for Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson (I haven’t read all the books in this series yet). Readers are attracted by the crime puzzle and stay with the series to follow the relationships. Having killed off my potential romantic lead in my first book (and there are readers who still haven’t forgiven me for doing that) and made the central relationship of the next two books as being between two people who can only destroy each other, precludes that from happening to Cassandra.
I’m not tired of Cassie Fortune yet, she has a lot of lessons to learn and at the end of Opera she is beginning to learn them. But there are other considerations.
If you’re interested in the article recommending crime fiction series, you can access it here.