“This is your fifth crime novel? I suppose it gets easier, doesn’t it?”
Well, yes and no. The setting of Barbury, a Wiltshire town that’s a bit like Salisbury, only smaller, is familiar to me (and to my readers) and I know the characters better than I did when I set out to create Detective Inspector Jeff Lincoln and his team.
But there’s a weight of expectation on anyone writing a series. Crime novels are defined by key elements such as a murder (or murders) , the investigator, the villain, the victims. Readers expect each book in a series to have a satisfying resolution, although there will be some strands left hanging, to be picked up in the next book and the next, until they are finally tied off when the series ends. Readers need each book to be complete in itself, but also want something to look forward to in the next one. For readers new to a series, and not starting with the first book, it’s vital to give enough background to fill the gaps but without ‘back story overload’.
The first DI Jeff Lincoln novel was The Price of Silence, in which he not only solved the murder of Holly Macleod (among others) but also moved out of a bedsit into a big old house — a move he may come to regret. The novels that followed had different settings within Barbury — an archaeological dig at the Abbey, local government corruption, art fraud at a stately home — but in each one, Lincoln makes a little more progress towards getting the Old Vicarage finished, and comes a little closer to settling down with librarian and single mother Trish Whittington.
In the fifth book, A Strange and Murderous Air, Lincoln’s out of his comfort zone, temporarily transferred from Barley Lane (facing closure) to a larger, more modern police station (the same sort of whiteboard in the Incident Room, but with better quality marker pens.) How will he cope without his usual team around him? Is this going to work — either for Lincoln or for me?
I’ll value the feedback from the Silver Crow team when the time comes to submit the full manuscript. The team will pick up technical issues like punctuation and spelling, ambiguities such as who’s speaking when, and structural problems such as unresolved storylines and actions that seem implausible or unclear. It’s up to me to get the manuscript professionally proofread before publication, but the Silver Crow readers will give me pointers to what needs fixing before it’s ready for the next stage.
Will there be a sixth Jeff Lincoln book? That would be telling, but I suspect there may be!
© Nikki Copleston December 2022