On writing a murder mystery series – 1


I grew up devouring murder mystery paperbacks, almost all British, mostly located in English villages. I loved – love – Agatha Christie, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers – the ‘queens’ of mystery writers and I always secretly wished I could join their ranks. But I hold them in such high respect, I didn’t dare try to emulate what the queens could do: writing a classical mystery with all its requirements, not overly long in length, good character development that would interest readers over several books, drama that did not – ever – rely on car chases or gory detailing and a pace that was just right. No getting caught in a rush of adrenaline with one impossibly horrific scene after another for the queens; instead a flow of ideas, solid detection, being alert to clues and red herrings that lead up to a satisfying climax followed by a denouement that ties up loose ends. So gratifying. Utterly delightful. And I so love the detectives they created, often amateur, otherwise of engaging character, all ages, both genders and of various body types with nary a nod at political correctness.

The big question: could I write a murder mystery that fulfilled my own stringent requirements? Did I dare try?

You’ve guessed it. I finally screwed up my courage and put fingers to keyboard. Yes, I have been busy writing a murder mystery series. So far there are three books written and being readied for publication featuring former probation officer and newbie estate agent, Madeleine Brooks. Maddie has two grown daughters and an ex-husband as well as an ex-career. She’s recently relocated from suburbia to a small village in the Oxfordshire countryside, thus satisfying one of the criteria I especially love about many of the queens’ locations: the British village.

Luckily, at one time I lived for almost five years in Oxfordshire. I commuted by train into London where I was a researcher at Imperial College London. In fact, it was there I started writing – not mysteries, but the domestic thrillers you may know. Now I can use that real village where we lived and its neighbouring villages as models for the villages I’ve created in the Madeleine Brooks mysteries. In fact, the cottage where Maddie lives is modelled on the cottage next door to where we lived. Did I use real places? The three main villages, Woodley Vale, Woodley Bottom and Courtneyside are a combination of imaginary names and real topography of various villages in South Oxfordshire. There are some clues where those villages are located by the proximity to real places such as Goring–on–Thames and, indeed, Reading, both of which feature in the stories.

Am I enjoying writing these books? Absolutely. I’m busy writing the fourth mystery right now.  I’m really enjoying writing this series.

Not just enjoying – loving it!

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