Mystery fiction – selecting a sleuth

I’ve loved crime fiction since I was a child, and wrote about my first encounter with the genre – through Stephen Chance’s Septimus and the Danedyke Mystery – here. The hero of that book is a police-officer-turned-vicar. Over the years I’ve enjoyed mysteries with all sorts of protagonists, from police detectives like Ian Rankin’s Rebus and Donna Leon’s Brunetti, to ordinary civilians in psychological thrillers.

And then there are novels that cleverly mix police procedural and crime thriller elements, featuring both investigating officers and bystanders caught up in the action. Sophie Hannah’s Culver Valley Series and Jane Isaac’s books spring to mind.

I also lap up books featuring PIs, like Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels.

In my own books, bystanders and PIs each play a part. I realise I really like the intriguing way the first signs of a crime manifest themselves in this format.

My second novel is set in a house overlooking Midsummer Common in Cambridge

You can’t usually start with a recently murdered victim. That would be a clear job for the police, and they wouldn’t tolerate a PI or civilian stomping about making a nuisance of themselves. So the first signs of trouble have to be less obvious, but lead somewhere just as dark.

Thinking of possibilities can keep me occupied for hours, so it’s a great distraction from shopping or randomly eating stuff: a missing person, a death everyone believes to be accidental, an anonymous letter…

A chance discovery in You Think You Know Me shows something’s out of kilter. My main character finds the man she’s been carelessly chatting with – who seems quite curious about her background – isn’t who he says he is.

In my second novel, due out this December, my main character is house sitting. It’s what’s been left around the home that puts her on high alert, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I love thinking up those first eerie signs that break the surface of seemingly still waters and point to something that’s gone dangerously awry.

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