Bryant & May: In For The Long Run Part 3
As any series extends, its effects diminish. We come to expect certain things from characters, we recognise the writer’s stylistic tics, we feel we can see where the plot is going, we grow tired and want something new.
But there are many exceptions, from Batman to Doctor Who, because they’ve ceased to be a series and become just stories with a continuous character. This is ideal for a crime series, because the emphasis is on the mystery, not just the person. I could not put a number on how many crime novels I’ve read; the format is infinitely adaptable. So that’s my job at this stage – is to keep things fresh.
And it’s why, in the last book, ‘The Lonely Hour’, I subverted expectations by removing much of the humour and streamlined the plot to hinge around a single event seen from several perspectives. This made it much harder to construct, but paid off in terms on emotional investment.
When you have a small moment in a story that becomes a key component, you’d better have the details right. When Akaky invests so much attention in his threadbare clothes and pays for the finest coat in St Petersburg (albeit with a cat-fur collar) you know that tragedy will follow in Gogol’s ‘The Overcoat’, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
The trouble is that I generally have so many topics pinballing about in my head that settling on one is a struggle. When I was a child I drew endless volumes of comics that had absurdly complex, epic storylines. The first one, written aged eleven, was set in Cadiz, a place I had only barely heard of in a country I had never visited.
Many readers like simple emotional tales and many crime novels play to their tastes. Some are lazily written in first person present tense and telegraph their storylines beat by beat as they move toward a get-out-of-jail-free ending.
And there are a few writers who defy all attempts to pigeonhole them and create marvels. At the moment I have a list of about ten names, writers of the uncategorisable. Few are as successful as they should be.
For my next mystery novel I can’t attempt the same trick of the last one, so it will be more in the style of ‘The Burning Man’ – a large-scale romp, this time based on the theme of fake news. And so I hope the series continues with fresh ideas. There are two new characters, new problems and dramas to deal with. Of course, if I reach a point where readers suggest it’s time to quit I’ll do so. Luckily, with a psycho in the White House and a delusional racist in Downing Street there’ll be plenty of material to feed from…