Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The case of the lazy detectives - or how to make a crime story pay.

I don’t usually write crime so I had to consider how I was going to approach Daughter of Baal. I decided, as in the kid’s game Cops and Robbers, I should simply choose a side and be one or the other. So, was I going to write from the goodie or the baddie’s perspective? Who had the more fun?
I couldn’t really answer that. Both sides of the coin seemed cool to me. I had to consider other things.

Okay, so who got the most air time in the type of closed room murder mystery I wanted to write? That had to be the detective type gal. And as I wanted to write a murder mystery set in the roaring Twenties, then she might as well be a woman of means. A socialite, a flapper, a thoroughly modern Modern. She might as well be a lady — Lady Margo.

Now, that’s not very unique. Margo needed a sidekick. Someone to do the dirty work (and who knows what that might entail?). And the sidekick might as well be a dark, brooding soul to counterbalance my fiery bearcat of a leading lady. So I went in the opposite direction and opted for a six-foot Navajo woman called Jones.

That’s how I filled in my main cast. I looked at the era, the social and historical context, and dreamed up two extremes from either side of the Atlantic. Hopefully, they would generate some chemistry between them.

Murder, suspense, mayhem. How to clue into a plot line from my cluttered desk and equally cluttered mind. The word count had to grow, the deadline was a looming big red X on the calendar. My manuscript was going nowhere. 

What would Patricia Highsmith do?

Highsmith wrote one of my favourite books, The Talented Mr Ripley sitting on the edge of her chair. That’s how Ripley would have sat, she decided.

She began the book in great faith and high spirits but by page seventy-five realised the draft wasn’t going in the direction she wanted it to go. The writing was flaccid and unengaging. What was wrong?
First off, she was too relaxed and far too happy in her little rented cottage in Massachusetts. She had several successful books behind her and no money worries. She was not in a depressive slump. Life was good.

Her writing reflected her inner relief at being in a good place…and the problem was that Tom Ripley, well, he was not in a good place. Tom was not a happy man.

So into the bin with the first draft and start over.

This time she was fraught, dissatisfied, squinting backwards at life’s little disappointments and frustrations like Lot’s wife. It worked. She got inside Tom Ripley’s head, or maybe he got inside hers.
Interesting then, that Tom has to perform the same dance to assume Dickie Greenleaf’s identity and embezzle from his trust fund. I suppose we all do what you have to do.

Highsmith always said Tom Ripley wrote that book. All she did was type it out. Lady Margo was not so obliging.
 I tried the Highsmith method and drank Gin Fizz and did a little Charleston on the parlour rug.  Lady Margo sat off to the side filing her nails waiting for my knees to buckle.
Jones wasted my time looking for Navajo cuss words before I finally discovered Navajo’s don’t swear.

These two were laughing at me. I considered murdering them. The victim count was rising anyway and it would be an interesting twist to murder the detectives and have the butler solve it.
That caught their attention. Margo and Jones sat up and began to read the clues, ponder the conundrums, and at last do some bloody work.

It took some time but we got there and hit the deadline. And I didn’t have to sit on the edge of my chair - but I did have to type every word.

Next up on The Law Game blog tour is Jessie Chandler, author of the award-winning Shay O'Hanlon series over at on 24th August. See you there, folks.


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