The fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, Negative Image, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in November 2010 . Kirkus Reviews said Negative Image “…combines the crisp plotting of the best small-town police procedurals with trenchant commentary on such universal problems as love and trust.” Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com
This post, on using the history of the detective novel to hone your own fiction, should be of particular interest to those of you who started following It's Like Making Sausage back in June and July, when I was doing my thirty-writing-tips-in-thirty-days marathon. Actually, I think it's of interest to anyone who enjoys crime fiction, because delving into the history of something you love will almost always uncover information that will make you love it more.
The fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, Negative Image, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in November 2010 . Kirkus Reviews said Negative Image “…combines the crisp plotting of the best small-town police procedurals with trenchant commentary on such universal problems as love and trust.” Visit Vicki at http://www.vickidelany.com/
The Detective Novel – Making the Tradition Your Own
By Vicki Delany
I’ve recently finished reading a very interesting book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It’s a true story about a sensational murder in the town of Road, in England in 1860. Mr. Whicher is Jack Whicher, one of the very first detectives on the London police. One night in July of 1860, a three-year-old boy was removed from his bed, taken outside, had his throat cut, and was stuffed into an outdoor privy (aka outhouse). As the house was tightly locked that night, and there was no sign of break and enter, suspicion immediately fell on inhabitants of the house, family and servants. After an initial incompetent investigation by the local police (which refused, for matters of delicacy, to question the family) a detective from the brand-new Scotland Yard was called.
And, not incidentally, the detective novel was born.
Summerscale explains that Wilkie Collins’s great book The Moonstone was influenced by the Road House case, and Collins’ detective, Sergeant Cuff, is considered to be a fictional version of Inspector Whicher. The Road case contains the staples of mystery fiction as we know it today: the large family with hidden passions and secrets, the nosy villagers, the incompetent (or just outwitted) local police, the big-city detective.
The Moonstone is, arguably, the prototype for all detective fiction being written today.
Including my own, the Constable Molly Smith Series, of which the forth, Negative Image, is being released by Poisoned Pen Press TODAY.
I am a great lover of British Police Procedurals (Ian Rankin, Susan Hill, Peter Robinson, Aline Templeton, Stuart Pawson are among my favourites). When I decided to switch from writing standalones to a series, I wanted to write the sort of book I love to read: the traditional police procedural.
One problem – I have no law enforcement experience whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada. I used to be a computer programmer and then a systems analyst with a big bank, not much police work there. (Although I am qualified to identify potential money laundering and terrorist banking activity!)
As a Canadian, writing a Canadian series, I’m in a somewhat difficult position regarding policing, as most of what I read is either British or American. And Canadian policing can be very different.
Here’s an example. Canadian police are not allowed to carry their guns when off duty. Most Americans, I believe, are required to do so. The British police don’t carry guns normally, and have to take special steps if they need one. At the end of In the Shadow of the Glacier (the first book in the series), Constable Smith isn’t in uniform when she comes up against the bad guy and thus she has only her cell phone, stiletto heels, and considerable wits with which to defend herself.
I’ve heard it said: Don't write what you know. Write what you want to learn. Where could I go to find out about Canadian policing?
I wrote to the police force of the town that’s the inspiration for the fictional village of Trafalgar B.C., explained who I was and what I was trying to do. To my considerable surprise, and delight, they wrote back and said they’d be happy to help.
Over the next months, my contact answered all my questions - he even went around the station taking pictures to send me - and when I arrived in town he gave me a tour of the station (including the cells complete with prisoner), introduced me to everyone, and arranged for me to go on a couple of walk-alongs with the beat constable. I met a female officer who was happy to talk to me about the special difficulties women face on the job.
Later, I met a senior police officer for the town near where I live at a book signing and she arranged for me to accompany one of their officers on a ride-along. I have since been on ride-alongs, observed in-service training, been to the firearms training course (you’ll be pleased to know I wasn’t allowed to touch a weapon), interviewed a dog handler, taken step-by-step though fight moves, and borrowed books on police psychology.
On the other hand, I wrote to the police in the town where I used to live asking for help and got a very terse note back, basically telling me to get lost. I’m sure if that had been my first attempt to get police help, it would have been the end of my writing career.
When I told a writer friend about that, he suggested that in my book I have a character transfer in from said town because he couldn’t stand the incompetence and corruption. I resisted the urge to do so.
I wonder where Wilkie Collins got help for his books.
NEGATIVE IMAGE is published by Poisoned Pen Press. If you’d like to read the first two chapters, please go to: www.vickidelany.com. Most of Vicki’s books are available in Kindle and other electronic formats as well as hardcover and trade paperback, large print and audio.
Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of psychological suspense such as Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior, including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Winter of Secrets which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, (“artistry as sturdy and restrained as a shaker chair”), to a light-hearted historical series, Gold Digger and Gold Fever, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki is settling down to the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.