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As the Grey Dust Settles

Maverick House launched my latest novel, the cosy crime Grey Motive, back in May, and as I work away now on its sequel, I’m scratching my head at how I have come to be writing detective fiction. Writers, by nature, tend to be loners and that’s exactly what my previous protagonists tended to be; Grey Motive breaking that mould, as well as casting off my usual darkness for one of sweetness and light! It’s like we authors have no control over our characters at all!

In truth, characters come to me, almost as invisible friends, and I get to know them before they present a plot. Writing often comes more from the subconscious than as a disciplined idea. So it was a surprise when an array of light-hearted characters arrived and demanded I tell their story. It was also a challenge; and one I struggled with at times during the writing process. I’m struggling now, as I begin Detective Inspector Les de Freitas’ next mystery.

My previous three novels had only one main character, who in turn had just one problem to resolve, a battle they fought alone. When it concluded, their drama was over. No loose ends, no sequels.

In Chantilly Dawns, the disgraced young jockey, Marcel, lost his job and his status when charged with gross misconduct. His challenge was to prove his innocence, rather than detect the guilty party. The enemy he battled were his own inner demons and, ultimately, his career became less important than his journey to find himself.

In Gala Day, Pete’s demons were very much real and physical. Poles apart from the insecure and vulnerable Marcel, Pete was comfortable in his skin, aware of his shortcomings and happy to work harder to achieve his fading ambitions. When the corrupt side of horseracing raised its ugly head to stand in the way of ambition, he reluctantly stepped up to literally fight for what he desired. It was a battle he hadn’t expected but reluctantly took on when forced to; again, it was up to him alone to resolve his problems.

And then we have Sainte Bastien, where Nick’s problems impacted on his son Dominic. Or is it that Dominic’s problems impacted on his father? Inextricably entwined, the trauma of grief and loss escalated the collapse of what was already a strained relationship; each the demon to be fought in the other’s eyes.

Joy’s problem, in Grey Motive, seemed simple enough. She was suspected of the theft of a large amount of money from the betting office in which she worked. Money might be the root of all evil, but as I quickly found out, it’s no “inner demon”, or outer physical one for that matter. Suddenly, Joy’s problem was out of her own hands and the police were involved. Short of transforming into a Miss Marple type of character to catch the culprit herself, which the perfectly average working wife and mother Joy was very much not, the resolution of her own predicament was totally out of her hands. All she could do was sit and wait.

Authors don’t do sit and wait very well; in fact, it’s our Nemesis. Action and consequence are what readers demand. As it turned out, Joy didn’t do sit and wait very well, either, but that wasn’t my challenge. Suddenly I had a detective on my hands, the kindly DI de Freitas, and the problem he was challenged to solve was not his own demons either. Joy couldn’t resolve her problem and the problem de Freitas was charged with solving was not his own. Quite a new recipe!

I wrestled my own inner literary demons and got there in the end, taking a leaf out of my characters’ pages, doing it typically all on my own, of course. But the conclusion of the Grey Motive story wasn’t the conclusion of DI de Freitas’ story. It had never been his personal drama; and life, for him, continues.

So now de Freitas is away again, trying to solve the problems of others. His is not an angst-driven dilemma, just a good old nine-to-five. I can understand now why so many, if not all, of our fictional detectives have troubles of their own. You may blame the writer for that!

Just as Pete Allen in Gala Day is content with his lot, so de Freitas is content in his life and I can allow him that. He’s doing me no favours, though! Marcel, Pete, Nick, Dominic, they all turned up in my imagination, wringing their hands in despair and bringing me their problem. We writers love a good plot dropped in our laps! DI de Freitas, though, he has no problem to bring me. He sits at his desk waiting for the next mystery to fall into his in-tray and seems to think it’s MY job as the writer to present HIM with the problem. Writing doesn’t work like that, I tell him; but he’s a detective, not an author.

And so I soldier on, trying to imagine a crime he can get his teeth into. Luckily for me, he is a detective, after all, and I’m beginning to think he’s unearthing more to this little incident I’ve handed him than meets my eye, at least. I just have to trust him as I follow him blindly on his journey, through the problems of others. Whodunnit? I’m not sure yet. But I can guarantee it wasn’t the Author.

Posted by John on 4th October 2023