The customer is always right. So when the customer is your reader you had better take notice.
No-one likes to see their work criticised, even when it is a friendly editor who has your best interests at heart suggesting improvements in private. To be taken to task in the public glare of comments on Amazon can be chastening.
My first Paul Amos detective story, Dead Money, received decidedly mixed reviews on Amazon, some describing it as a page turner and some as mediocre. Well you can’t please everybody and as it happens there were more than 13,000 downloads in the first three months, not bad for a first novel.
It would be foolish, though, to ignore the criticisms. You never learn by turning a deaf ear and I found there was much in the comments that I could put to good use. The main points were that there was not enough characterisation of the two principal police officers and there was not enough that made the story specifically Lincolnshire, where the action is set.
I had deliberately avoided the concept of a raucous, drunken misogynous brawler as my inspector. There are quite enough examples around of brilliant police offers and lawyers whose brains can scythe through any problems at work yet they seem mysteriously unable to cope with their tangled private lives.
The main character can surely be quite normal without being boring. Donna Leon has a very ordinary family man solving crimes in Venice and her books are none the worse for it. Her latest, The Golden Egg, has more atmosphere than action but is riveting nonetheless.
For Unlikely Graves, my second book I have given more detail of Det Insp Paul Amos while staying true to my character. I hope it makes him more rounded and human.
Setting a crime series in a specific area, while necessary, brings its own dilemmas. Should one avoid naming places so they remain anonymous; give fictitious place names; or name real places and risk identifying a real person?
I took the first line in Dead Money but some readers found this too vague. A couple or readers in Lincolnshire were disappointed that there was nothing to really pin the book to the county and the anonymous town where the murder took place could have been anywhere.
I don’t like the idea of inventing place names as it tends to look contrived so for Unlikely Graves I have gone down the reality route. The book is set mainly in Lincoln itself but with one or two other real places such as Skegness and Wainfleet included in the mix.
As the stories are set in the 1990s this has meant more careful research, which is no bad thing. Questions I had to check included: Had the new police HQ been built then? When was the second level crossing in the High Street removed? When were the old swing barriers at the remaining crossing changed to rising and falling?
I feel that the outcome has been a more satisfying sequel, not only in terms of the pleasure of writing it but also, I hope, for the readers. I was amused to see one early comment on Amazon. A reader who had complained that the first book had too little Lincolnshire reckons the second one has too much! You can’t win.
Publisher: Endeavor Press