Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sophie's Question for Vicki Delany
How have reader expectations of a police procedural series changed in
the last decade? What elements are most prized now, especially for
someone considering launching a new series?
It’s difficult to speak generally about what readers are looking for, but for me, speaking as a reader as well as a writer, I am looking for a police procedural series that is as much about the lives of the characters as it is about their jobs. I want the police to be complex characters with normal human flaws and normal human relationships that take up a lot of their time and energy. I want the character to move through time as the series progresses while his or her children grow, their parents die, they get married or divorced (sometimes both) and experience all that human stuff we all go through.
As a reader I want the bad guys to also be multifaceted people with motivations for being ‘bad’. I look for a book that needs character and background to explain why the crime has happened and why this person has decided that the answer to his problems is killing someone. A villain who is just ‘bad’ or just in it for the money or just because, doesn’t make for a very appealing story.
I love the sort of police procedurals that are coming out of Britain. Susan Hill is probably my favourite writing today, also Stuart Pawson, Aline Templeton and many, many others. Interestingly, some of the best (in my opinion) North American writers such as Peter Robinson, Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George have created British police characters. I wonder why that is? Perhaps because American cop novels are (sometimes) more about firepower than about psychology.
I suspect that the remarkable, sudden success of Louise Penny shows that this is the sort of police novel mystery readers are hungry for.
I think readers in general, and mystery readers in particular, are very fussy about accuracy and believability. In movies and on TV the plots can get absolutely ridiculous, but not in books. People want to believe that what they are reading, even though it is fiction, is plausible. Most police procedural writers go to great length to ensure that their policing details are as accurate as they can make it. I’ve had to fudge a couple of things for the sake of the story, but I try as hard as I can to make it accurate.
I have no law enforcement experience whatsoever, but I’ve found that police in general are more than happy to help you out and answer questions. I’ve been on foot patrol in Nelson and on ride-alongs in Ontario.
My advice to anyone contemplating writing a police series – if you don’t know, ask the police department closest to you (or where your book is set) how they do things. You can’t make this stuff up out of nothing.
Vicki Delany’s newest novel, Winter of Secrets, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said, “she uses…artistry as sturdy and restrained as a Shaker chair.” Vicki writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory) to the Constable Molly Smith series, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Winter of Secrets), to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush. Vicki lives in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she rarely wears a watch. Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com. She blogs with five other mystery writers at http://typem4murder.blogspot.com and about the writing life, as she lives it, at http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com