Wednesday, 2 November 2011

An especially good series hero with real problems is the key to creating a good crime novel


DI Andy Horton in my marine mystery police procedural crime novels has been described as 'an especially good series hero, a likable fellow with plenty of street smarts and the requisite personal baggage - an abrasive supervisor (DCI Lorraine Bliss) and an antagonistic soon to be ex wife.' Booklist (USA). Heroes in detective novels usually have their own set of problems and the key to producing a successful crime novel is not necessarily that the hero saves the world, aka James Bond, although I like a crime novel where the hero gets his guy, but that he also learns something about him or herself by the end of the novel.


At the Bouchercon 2011 crime fiction convention in St Louis last weekend, crime authors agreed that they like to create ordinary people as heroes with real problems and that they write the stories they’d like to read, knowing that it will inevitably strike a chord with readers. That has always been true for me. I write the sort of crime and thriller novels that I like to read, good characters and an intriguing plot that get me thinking. I don't do gratuitous violence. I am not out to shock the reader but to entertain him or her and get them rooting for my hero, even if they do occasionally get frustrated by his actions.

The reason for putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances is to build more tension. Readers tend to support characters in which they recognise certain traits they have themselves. In my thriller, In Cold Daylight, Adam Greene is a reluctant hero who throughout the novel has to do things he'd rather not. He has to face his own demons before he can discover the truth about his closest friend's death, fire fighter, Jack Bartholomew. Adam is ill equipped to take up the dead hero's quest to get to the truth behind fire fighter's deaths from cancer, but he finds he has no choice. The aim is to make the reader think would I be strong enough to do that?

An author needs to get the reader caring about the hero and I certainly get great satisfaction when people ask me is Andy Horton going to get back with his wife, Catherine? Will Andy find out the truth about his mother's disappearance? Who is Andy's father? These are not the main strands of the novels - six now in the series with number seven being published in the the New Year - but they are the things that have shaped Andy Horton and made him what he is and therefore affect his decisions and his interactions with his colleagues and the villains.

One of the conclusions from Bouchercon this year was that the crime genre can show us the realities of ordinary people in everyday lives. Readers want to learn about people, and in my view they also want to get stuck into a good crime to solve, a puzzle. They want to feel for the characters, and urge them on just like you do when watching a good movie. And no matter the format of a crime novel, printed book or e book, that will always be the case.


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