When you go your own way there’s always a danger that no one will follow.
Fortunately, the Blog Tour for No Bodies, which finished last week, showed a lot of support and desire for something new and fresh. The positive feedback and reviews convinced me the risk was worth taking.
Yet when I started out, I had no idea of the challenges that come with doing something different. I focused on an idea, trying to refine the excitement and enthusiasm into something tangible. But it kept growing and evolving, developing a life of its own.
And that’s when I hit the first of many brick walls.
Crime fiction is packed to the rafters with police procedurals, serial killer thrillers, private detectives and psychological suspense stories. Is there any room for more of the same? Would something new be worth trying?
Based on my love of Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Columbo and Kinsey Millhone, I was looking at a traditional whodunit with a densely plotted, complex story that would keep readers guessing to the last page.
It would need a flawed central character that battled demons as well as the establishment and the baddies, and an intriguing backstory to add colour, depth and additional conflicts and challenges.
Most of all, it had to stand out from the other crime fiction out there.
But what did I know about the way the police worked or the procedures they followed? Could I describe an incident room, create realistic dialogue, incorporating the jargon they used? How did a patrol car handle? What about the hierarchies, the forms and paperwork?
As an environmental health officer (EHO), I’ve used the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), interviewed suspects under caution, taken witness statements and put together prosecutions. But these involved workplace accidents, food hygiene breaches and pollution complaints. Not murder.
It was clear I couldn’t write a police procedural to save my life.
But could an EHO investigate and solve a murder?
The idea took root. Two main challenges occupied my thoughts like squatters –
- How could I get an EHO to solve a murder that would be investigated by the police?
- What sort of character would the EHO have to be to solve a murder?
The answer to the first question was simple – don’t have a murder.
Okay, it flew in the face of most crime fiction, but I was looking for something new and fresh, unique maybe. If there’s no murder, there’s no police investigation. Another brick wall negotiated.
The second question vexed me for years. The character had to mix it with the bad guys, so I made him ex-army, even though I knew less about soldiers than police officer. He had to be a maverick, because that’s what readers like. He also had to be flawed, which proved to be an almost impossible challenge.
The world was full of crime fighters with lousy or broken marriages, problems with alcohol, and vices like gambling, drinking and smoking. Crime fighters were often bad tempered, demanding and difficult to work with, forever fighting personal battles. They ate badly, worked long and difficult hours, and inevitably bent the rules to solve the case.
My early attempts produced gung-ho characters, who took no nonsense from people or managers in pursuit of their principles.
Rambo would never walk into a restaurant kitchen, pull on a white coat and ask to see the temperature records for the fridges.
That introduced the third challenge – credibility. I couldn’t have an EHO breaking the rules, antagonising managers, colleagues and the public without some recourse. When would he find the time in his busy schedule to track down and interview witnesses or suspects? How would he record these activities on his time sheets? What would he tell his boss when she asked why he spent the whole of last Friday in a quarry?
But when I returned to the concept of having no murder, the answer was clear. What if my EHO investigated a fatal workplace accident, only to discover it’s a murder?
No Accident became the first Kent Fisher mystery, published in 2016 after many revisions and rewrites.
Along the way, Kent gained a friend who was an ex Scenes of Crime Officer, based on someone I get to know quite well. As Kent would bend rules and take liberties, I had to protect him from disciplinary action. Giving him a father, who was the local MP and a Cabinet Minister, meant managers and councillors were too scared of his father to take action against Kent.
With nothing to stop him, Kent Fisher solved his first murder. His heroics meant he was available to solve more. This time an old friend of the family wants Kent to find his missing wife. Though the police believe she ran off with a dodgy caterer, Kent takes on the case in No Bodies.
No murder again. And caterers are bread and butter to EHOs, making it easy for Kent to investigate and follow the trail.
But it was far from an easy journey. Being different is always the same. People are cautious and reluctant to take you on. It’s difficult to assess demand and impact. But neither of these challenges is as difficult as finding a publisher that’s willing to consider something different.
But that’s another story.
If you’d like to find out more about the the Kent Fisher novels, please check out my Amazon Author page