Further Secrets Of Bryant & May Part 2
With a collection of Bryant & May’s missing cases out in just over two weeks and a new novel on the horizon, I thought it would be worth taking another look at some of the things I build into the series that perhaps go unnoticed by casual readers.
First, when I set out, I had only planned to write one novel and move on, as I do with every other genre I dip into, but Bryant & May proved too rich an area to give up so easily. I’ve always planned in long story arcs – I had planned the novel ‘Plastic’ as a trilogy, but had great trouble selling the idea of a female noir to a major publishing house, so I cancelled the follow-ups. The plans for Bryant & May involved a story arc of six volumes, which I carried out and ended with ‘The Victoria Vanishes’, so that if you look back through the books you’ll find references to the Ministry of Defence suicides throughout, although I was careful to keep these from the main plots in order to avoid limiting the enjoyment of casual readers. The deaths of a number of Asian workers all by drowning is still unexplained and has now been shoved under the carpet.
The next six books did the same thing, developing the idea of government control further and providing a bigger backstory that you only notice from a distance. What I didn’t want to do though was just end up with a huge government conspiracy, because such arcs never go anywhere.
Meanwhile the characters grew. Liberty DuCaine had to be the one to go because basically he was performing the same function as Colin Bimsley. The character of Raymond Land was modelled on the Sultan in ‘The Thief of Baghdad ‘ – useless and overlooked – but gradually I became interested in him, and now he’s evolving quite nicely into a more rounded figure, annoying and confused but an occasional hero when push comes to shove.
With the recommissioning of the books I decided on an arc involving other more personal aspects of the lives of the characters, so that the ending of ‘The Burning Man’ shouldn’t come as too big a shock to anyone who spotted the clues which are peppered throughout the preceding volumes. I had finally got the mysteries and the personal lives of the characters in better balance, and it made writing easier. I also decided to make the books more topical, so that the banking riots were reflected in ‘The Burning Man’ and the Syrian refugee crisis provides a start-point for next year’s novel.
Something else happened that made me continue; as believability is important, massive strides in medical practice and changes in social attitudes made it feasible to have detectives still working well past their retirement age. It also helped that I had started to fall back in love with London, and was discovering the city anew; something which is managing more than anything else to keep the series fresh. I plan well in advance; in one of the future books the plot at first appears fantastical and farcical – but it’s nowhere near as bizarre as the true life case that inspired it (I may publish the original case as an addendum). My problem is that the case is currently going to court, so I’m hoping it will be resolved by the time I reach that novel.
I feed off strange things that happen here all the time. Last week in London, a Venetian art thief who stole a Tiepolo from a church was tied to a shopping trolley and drowned in the canal right outside my window as his fellow thieves punished him for betraying them. When things like that happen in your neighbourhood, you don’t have to make much up.
Writing a series is like plate-spinning – how long can I keep this thing in the air? Well, some authors tackling detective series manage 20 to 50 books. I won’t do that but I’ll keep going until public appetite suggests I should stop. ‘London’s Glory’ gave me a chance to test-drive the pair in short stories; something all classic crime writers have tried in the past. As well as gathering together ten missing cases artist Keith Page added a cutaway drawing of the PCU, and I added the contents of Arthur’s bookshelves, plus a book-by-book breakdown of the story so far and an essay on crime. Bryant & May therefore becomes a sort of repository for all the ideas I have about London…