Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Oh what a tangled web... by Cathy Ace

How much air time do you give to secondary characters? Have any threatened to take over a book? Choose one of yours that you particularly enjoy and share them with us, including a snippet of text that gives us their flavour.

Oh, this is a good one…and something I was asked about on a panel in which I participated at CrimeFest in Bristol, UK a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I’ve been “on the road again”, and it was a blast! Anyway, I won’t go on and on about how wonderful it was to spend time with my tribe (though there are some photos to show how fun it was!) because I could chatter on all day…so…to the question!

"Long running series" panel: Caro Ramsey, Peter Guttridge, Kate Ellis, Andrew Child, me

I always planned the Cait Morgan books as a series where each story would take place in a different setting, with only Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson being in every book, but, even though I’m writing fiction, I aim for relatable circumstances that allow readers to happily inhabit the worlds I’m creating…so there are folks who pop up more than once.

Jack and Sheila White are a case in point: Jack was something of a mentor to Bud during his early days with the Vancouver Police Department, and the two men built a friendship based upon mutual respect that lasted beyond their retirements. The Whites also have acreage where Marty, Cait and Bud’s tabby black Lab, can stay when they are off on their mystery-solving jaunts (which is handy!). Thus, Jack and Sheila have appeared briefly in several of the books, and they finally took center stage in The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, when they stayed with Cait and Bud at a private resort in Jamaica…which is where we find out a good deal more about their backgrounds.

With Barry Ryan, of  Free@LastTV, the company
producing the Cait Morgan Mysteries TV series

Another recurring character is John Silver. Yes, he’s tall…which leads to the inevitable nickname…and he’s also quite mysterious when we first meet him: he arrives in Amsterdam in The Corpse with the Garnet Face as a “facilitator” with links to international intelligence-gathering services, and his presence allows us to discover more about Bud’s links with similar organizations. But I didn’t want John Silver to end up being no more than a cypher…a cut-out character who allows the plot to move forward by mysteriously revealing key background details about suspects…so I allowed him to also be the person upon whom Bud relied when Cait completely disappeared in Budapest, in The Corpse with the Ruby Lips; this time it’s Bud taking the lead, with John in support. In The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, John joins the house party in Jamaica as a guest, bringing with him his newly-acquired girlfriend, and we discover that maybe his overall judgement isn’t quite what his secret-squirrel job might lead us to believe it should be! Then, in The Corpse with the Granite Heart, I’m sorry to say I left poor John Silver completely undone…and questioning his entire future. I do have a plan for John, but won’t say here what it is…but the fact that he and Jack White are about the only people Bud trusts 100% (as well as Cait, of course) means he’ll be back, but maybe not in the way readers might expect.

I’ve enjoyed illuminating John Silver, and allowing the light cast upon him to reflect onto Bud, allowing his character to be revealed more and more too, which I think adds dimensions to one of my leads it would otherwise be difficult to communicate: judging a person by the friends they choose works well in fiction, as it does in life.

As requested, here’s a passage where John Silver is playing a central role. The set up? Taken from The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, Cait and Bud, Jack and Sheila White, and John Silver are “enjoying breakfast”, when John’s questionably youthful plus-one, Lottie, has openly “accused” John, Bud, and Jack of visiting Jamaica to carry out some sort of secret operation…including investigating the death of the man who owned the resort where they are staying – Freddie Burkinshaw.

Sheila and I exchanged a glance as Lottie’s comments hung in the heavy air, then we looked at our respective husbands. They, in turn, were glaring at John, who’d puffed out his cheeks, snapped his napkin onto the table, and pushed away his plate.

He said, “Right-ho, this obviously needs to be addressed. Lottie dear, you don’t know anything about any operations that Bud, Jack, or I may, or may not, have been party to. Cait and Sheila are married to two wonderful men who’ve put in their years for Canadian law enforcement and have both now retired from that life. I, as you know, have a desk job. Yes, I work in Whitehall, and, yes, I have to travel within my role, on occasion. But I can guarantee you that – if I ever had been involved in that sort of undertaking – I would now be well past the age when I would be called upon to carry out any ‘secret squirrel’ work, as you so quaintly described it. I know that Rusty, Sir Roger Rustingham, is professionally involved with a particular branch of British security in a senior role, but he does have friends and acquaintances from other areas of his life too. I got to know him when we worked together on a couple of charity committees. Where I also met your father, I might add. It’s all totally innocent, and above board.”

“Well, that’s a pity,” replied Lottie with a wry smile, “because when I spoke to Daddy on the phone earlier today he said he’d known of Freddie Burkinshaw, and had always wondered if he’d been dispatched to Jamaica to ‘keep an eye on a few local chaps’. Apparently, Freddie arrived here just around the time independence was granted, and was pretty close with Ian Fleming – and we all know what sort of a war he had, and what he got up to after it, don’t we, children?” She rose, and swooshed her chiffon scarf around her firm, young throat. “I’m off for a shower now. It’s so dreadfully humid. The rain’s stopped at last, I see. Thank you for a delicious…egg thingy, Cait, Bud. See you in a bit, John. Maybe someone will be kind enough to let me know what sort of place we’re dining at tonight, when you’ve made the arrangements, so I can dress accordingly. Bye-ee.”

And she was gone. Leaving us all a bit flummoxed, and – in my case anyway – fixated on the fact that I’d just heard several potential reasons why someone might want Freddie Burkinshaw dead. It seemed he might not have been the innocent octogenarian without an enemy in the world we’d all thought him to be, after all.

BSP: find out all about John Silver - and Cait and Bud - here:

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