The continued popularity of crime fiction is driving authors to find something new and different to tempt readers and feed their voracious appetites.
It was no different twenty years ago when I created Kent Fisher. The competition was not quite so intense then, but the desire to find something fresh and to stand out from the masses was just as strong.
Driven by a love of murder mysteries by authors like Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter, I wanted to create a detective as unique as Miss Marple or Morse to solve the most baffling cases. I also wanted to remain faithful to that familiar favourite, the classic whodunit.
No pressure then.
The idea for an environmental health officer (EHO) who solved crimes crystallised over many months while I was out on my district in the South Downs of East Sussex. EHOs are enforcement officers who deal mainly with environmental and public health issues, including the safety of the food offered to the public, health and safety in the workplace, pollution and substandard housing.
It’s a wide-ranging remit, but one that offers opportunities. People die from food poisoning and accidents at work. Frustrated residents have shot their neighbours for playing music too loud.
Unfortunately, working for a local council is hardly glamorous.
And let’s face it, you wouldn’t nip down to the town hall, ask to see an EHO, and report a murder, would you?
But how about a murder disguised as a work accident that’s investigated by an EHO?
Now that’s an entirely different proposition.
No Accident became the starting point for the Kent Fisher murder mystery series. Once he’d solved a murder, he had earned his stripes. He was then open to requests from family friends to track down a wife who had gone missing. (No Bodies).
The variety of businesses and premises EHOs visit offered possibilities – theme parks, luxury care homes, restaurants and hotels, public houses, caravan sites, children’s homes, farms, estate agents,. These have all featured in the murder mysteries.
Then there’s his life outside of work. As an environmentalist, I wanted to make this a key driver in Kent’s life. The animal sanctuary where he lives offers more possibilities to push environmental and welfare themes, setting Kent apart from other detectives.
I hoped his work, the backstory and the characters involved would make the stories more interesting to readers.
He adopts one of the dogs he rescued – a West Highland white terrier, who becomes Columbo in honour of Kent’s favourite TV detective.
Kent Fisher was certainly different, if not unique, but would readers embrace him?
A strong element of humour might help. Ask anyone who works for a council or in the public sector and they’ll tell you a sense of humour is essential.
That left the plot. I wanted to give readers a traditional murder mystery with the usual crop of suspects, red herrings and a complex investigation that would keep people guessing till the exciting climax and reveal.
After all, that was the starting point, what I wanted to write.
Imagine my delight, and relief, when No Accident was first published in June 2016. Crime Fiction Lover posted the following review.
“Expect sharp dialogue and irreverent humour in this whodunit which manages to pay homage to the traditional murder mystery, while striking a contemporary and irreverent note.”
This was music to my ears.
Feedback and reviews told me readers loved the backstory and characters. What I didn’t realise at the time was how significant they would become.
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