Towards the end of Someone Else’s Skin (the first in my Marnie Rome series) there’s a moment when Marnie considers giving her DS a pep-talk about guilt, but she decides it can wait. Three books on and it’s still waiting, partly because her DS (Noah Jake) has moved on but largely because guilt is at the heart of the series, and delayed gratification’s one of my favourite things.
Yes, I’m that person—who rations herself to two episodes of a boxed set per night, the better to enjoy the ride. But one of the tricks, I think, to writing a great series is to simultaneously satisfy and whet your reader’s curiosity. Too much satisfaction and they’ll move on elsewhere, too much curiosity and they’ll end up frustrated. You want them hooked, but happy.
Long before I started writing a series of my own, I was a fan of reading and watching long-running crime series. The boxed-set might’ve been invented for me, and binge-watching is a hobby I take very seriously. I love the layers that go into the construction of a series. Solving a crime in 400 pages or over eight episodes, while at the same time telling an infinitely slower and more nuanced story about loss and discovery, survival and redemption … Like a Greek myth, a great crime series has a flavour of the epic.
Does it matter that I don’t plot? No. The guiding principle is that everyone changes, everyone must change otherwise you’re cheating. But characters grow; it’s part of the alchemy of writing. You set them down, and off they go.
At the heart of the series lies the mystery of why Stephen Keele murdered Marnie’s parents. In each book I force Marnie to decide how much she’s willing to risk in order to solve it. In Quieter Than Killing (Headline, March 2017) I throw a fresh curveball by suggesting that she’s been asking the wrong questions for six years. And that maybe her quest’s about something else entirely. (Call it my ‘Luke, I am your father,’ moment, if you like. I shan’t mind.)
Like any good book, a crime novel is made of questions. A crime series has an underlying puzzle that won’t be solved at the end of the first, second or third book—and nor should it be. You keep reading to find out the answers, and because you enjoy the company of the main characters. I’m as invested as Marnie in her quest, but I want to go on the journey with her rather than simply pointing in the right direction. I hope readers feel the same.
The toughest thing about writing a series? Deciding how much to reveal and when, and the constant fear that you might be revealing too much too soon, tricksy little details that you won’t be able to go back and alter as the plot thickens and unfolds.
I asked my teenager, ‘What’s the best and worst thing about reading a series versus a standalone?’ and I was told, ‘The best’s the depth. The worst is the wait.’
You only have to wait until March 9th for Quieter Than Killing.
After that? Watch this space…