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Tag: Creating A Crime Series (Page 1 of 2)


How To Create a Crime Series-1-of-3

 

Psst! Do you want a few tips on how to commit the perfect murder?

 

You do? Okay. But before I advise you on planning the dispatch of your mother-in-law, you’ll want to know why I can help you avoid having your collar felt.

 

Publication History

I’ve had twenty-one crime novels published. Sixteen traditionally (Macmillan; St Martin’s Press (US); Worldwide (US / P/B); Severn House), and the rest Indie.

 

ALT: four mystery books free

Want Four Free Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery Novels? Go to HOME

Background

I come from an Irish Catholic working-class background. I suppose you could say I was one of life’s late developers in the area of personal ambition.

 

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I certainly had no idea what a criminal direction I would end up in. Killing people – and getting away with it – was far in the future.

 

When I took the 11+ examination — which would decide my educational future, I confess, I was far more interested in winning Jimmy Smith’s prize 4-er marble than I was in taking tests.

 

Geraldine Evans's Books How To Create a Crime Series-1-of-3 2020 September 28

From Wikepedia Creative Commons

What can I say? I was young for my age. Still very much a kid. Unlike eleven-year-old’s in 2020!

 

Darlings – I won the marble! But failed the 11+ examination. So it was off to secondary modern for me.

 

Secondary Modern Education

 

For those who don’t know, secondary-modern schools existed to teach working-class kids the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Then send them out into the world at fifteen or sixteen to get low-paid jobs, rather than having an actual career.

Our opinion on this wasn’t sought. As far as the educational establishment was concerned, we were all thickies. We had all been written off. So we could like it, or lump it. Either way–we were stuck with it. 

Our entire future decided before we’d even reached the age of eleven!

A Long List of Dead-end Jobs Followed

I won’t bore you with a litany of them.

Though, funnily enough, that first job was in a public library, where I could indulge my love of reading as much as Billy Bunter enjoyed the tuck shop at Greyfriars. But, like an idiot, I left the library after a year.

Looking back, that job could have provided a fulfilling career.

The last thing I wanted

But, at that young age, more exams was the last thing I wanted. At seventeen, I didn’t have either the wit or self-knowledge to look to the future, and think about a career.

Careers simply weren’t discussed, either at home or school. All that was expected was that I get the same kind of dead-end job as my peers, so I could support myself, and not be a burden. So I did.

Not the Best Start in Life

I didn’t know any better. So I just went with the flow.

But Ambition Found Me

Somehow, somewhere, along the way, ambition found me. I realised that i wanted to do something with my life, rather than fritter it away.

I’d always been a keen reader. So trying to become a published writer seemed a natural step on the road. Fortunately, I was too ignorant to know any better!

 

Oh Boy! Was I in for a Shock!

 

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Photo: Pexels

I first started writing in my early/mid twenties. But I was an amateur. A rank amateur. I knew nothing about research. Nothing about creating characters or plot. I hadn’t a clue, basically. I was a dilettante, and never finished anything.

One of Those Age Milestones

But hitting the age of thirty concentrated my mind wonderfully. I determined to finish a novel, rather than just play about at the edges. And gradually I learned how to write novels—and how to finish them. 

Long Apprenticeship

From the age of thirty, I wrote a book a year for six long years, before I achieved publication with Hale. 

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Photo: Pexels

That book was a Romantic Novel called Land of Dreams (OOP in any edition, and not yet digitalised). 

It was set in the Canadian Arctic (in an attempt to be the same, but different, from what had been previously published).

Robert Hale

After that brief brush with publication, Robert Hale rejected my next Romantic Novel. It was back to Rejection Alley.

Angry and Dejected

By then I was pretty fed up. Nobody likes being repeatedly rejected. My ‘stuff you’ mentality came into play. I felt like murdering someone. So I did.

 

I turned to Crime

Remarkably, my very first crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile, and published. It was also published by St Martin’s Press in the USA, and Worldwide in P/B.

Murderous Methods

I’ve done them all. Stabbings, poisonings, smotherings, bludgeonings. You name it and I’ve done it. I’ve even hanged someone. But that was after they were dead.

So, How Do You Start Creating a Crime Series?

By thinking, long and hard. The first book in a crime series is, I believe, the most difficult and demanding. You have to master the problems of plotting, clue laying, and red-herring scattering.

You also have to learn about police and forensic procedures. And at the same time, somehow, create a cast of characters who are capable of supporting a series.

A Tall Order!

A pretty tall order for a first effort in a genre I think you’ll agree.

There must be many neophyte writers who have fallen by the wayside in attempting to write crime novels. I might have been one of them if I hadn’t decided to do my own thing rather than follow the crowd.

 

Originality

Maybe the word originality explains why so many fail. That single word strikes terror into the hearts of a lot of new crime writers. I know it did mine.

So far, I had a writing history of five rejected romantic novels, followed by the publication of the sixth, and then more rejection. As well as the publication of various articles. Not very impressive.

So Attempting to Write a Crime Novel was an Intimidating Prospect.

Not least because of those crime writers who are regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, god-like intellect and masterly characterisation.

It was enough to have more ordinary mortals, like me, quaking in their boots at the thought of trying to emulate them.

 

So How Do You Set About Creating an Original Crime Series?

All I can tell you is how I went about it.

I suppose you could describe the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery novels, which form my first series, as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and family.

For those who don’t watch British TV, Inspector Frost is something of a bumbler who’s anti-authority, but he’s smart enough to get his man.

And Del Boy Trotter is a market trader (market stall not the stock market), who’s into buying dodgy gear. He’s working-class and a bit of a ducker and diver, but witty with it.

So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear! Though, having said that, I had one reviewer who likened me to Holmes(!).

In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of ‘Del Boy Trotter types’. Their leisure-time activities are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing. Or Morse and his Wagner.

The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of equally questionable legality.

And Rafferty’s ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits. She uses emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her.

Having far more than her share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.

 

Don’t Restrict Yourself

Given the above, don’t restrict yourself to what you think are the usual sort of police characters. Like middle-aged men in suits. If something else would come more naturally to you, go for it.

Like me with Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and his back of a lorry, bargain-hunting family – try to find the main character that’s right for you.

 

The Tricky Business of Originality

To get back to this business of originality for a moment, I think we can all agree that being original is a tricky business.

A book that one person considers a true original might be thought of as over the top by another.

While a third person might consider your hard won originality is nothing more than a poor copy of a well-known writer’s style that’s been given a bit of a twist.

So, originality’s a pretty movable feast.

What Publishers Want

Who knows?! Publishers themselves are often pretty vague when they try to define what they’re looking for.

But, even if they can’t tell you what they want, they find it easier to tell you what they don’t want.

No editor is going to be impressed by a writer who’s a copycat. For one thing, it’ll put the publisher in danger of being sued. So—no second rate plagiarism.

 

Ask Yourself Some Questions

Okay, so where do you start? You start by asking yourself a few pertinent questions. About your background, your family, warts and all. And then maybe oomph it up a bit.

 

Unusual Background

Maybe, like ex-British Prime Minister John Major, your family has a circus or funfair background?

Maybe you could have a sort of Gypsy Rose Lee type in there somewhere? A travelling crook detector with her crystal ball ever at the ready!

Outlandish, perhaps, but then wacky might be just your thing.

Or maybe your working background’s a little more conservative? In insurance, for instance.

 

An insurance investigator could get to look into a lot of suspicious deaths. And he doesn’t have to be your average stereotypical insurance worker. Whatever that is.

Maybe he desperately wants to get out of the insurance business and into the world of entertainment. An insurance investigator as comedian, given to cracking tasteless jokes at the crime scene.

A man who’s learned to judge the witnesses as he would judge an audience.

 

Feel Free

They’re just a couple of ideas to get you thinking. Feel free to use them. Or not!

 

Bit of a Scruff

To get back to me, and the choices I made when I was creating my crime series. I decided on the surname Rafferty because I wanted his name to suggest someone who was a bit of a scruff – a rough Rafferty, in fact.

I chose the name Llewellyn for his sidekick because I wanted to give the suggestion of royalty.

Dead Before Morning #1

Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems.

I’ve just started #19 in the Rafferty series. I know–I should have started it months ago.

My excuse is that a modern writer can no longer just concern him/herself with the story. I wish!

 

I had it easy starting before the invention of the internet. Or Social Media / Websites / Photoshop / WordPress / Social Networking / Marketing / Categories / Niches / and a whole host of their brothers and sisters.

 

So, Some Serious Studying was Necessary.

Which is what I’ve been doing, rather than getting on with Rafferty #19.

As well as biting the bullet and accepting that my website needs a complete overhaul.

From start, with this particular website (in 2010) to finish (now, midway through July 2020). Ten years worth of work. It’s enough to send a girl sobbing into her dotage.

To Return to Series Creation

And similarities. I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me, he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do.

Would a non-classical music lover have created Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry writing Adam Dalgliesh?

Well, possibly, i suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life, as I presume those devilish types did.

 

A Character You Can Empathise With

One who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps!

Even though I’m not a man, I made Rafferty male because I felt the relationship with his ma was important. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there would be more scope for humour with a male main character.

You’ll Have Enough Trouble

In creating a plot that conceals as it reveals. With coming up with clues, red herrings, a satisfying denouement and the rest.

You won’t need to increase your difficulties by having a lead character from a totally different social background from yourself as well.

As I said, my background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic) in a Roman Catholic secondary modern. So was Rafferty. I come from a large family. So does Rafferty (four kids in my family, and six in Rafferty’s. What a bunch of breeders!).

There are a few differences, of course. Apart from the differences in gender. But the basic elements of similarity are there. They all help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their background. Something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels.

Unsavoury Habits of Youth

There are a lot of working class policemen out there – just like Rafferty – who have risen up the ranks. Leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family.

Often, they’ll have had to shed or at least conceal, certain aspects of their character. Prejudices of one sort or another, for instance. Or, like Rafferty, a family with a love of dubious ‘bargains’.

But just because our policeman character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean to say his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. And all beyond the lead character’s influence or control.

Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character.

 

Think of Ex-PM

Now, i know we’re talking fictional policemen here, but just think again for a moment, of John Major and his family. Of Terry and Pat, and the trapeze-artist, gnome-loving father.

Nothing criminal there, of course. But still, what ammunition they provided his enemies – of whatever political persuasion. He must have often wished he had been an only, lonely orphan. Rafferty often wishes the same!

It doesn’t take a major (go on – groan!) Leap of the imagination to see that a policeman, in a position of authority, with the need to be seen to uphold the law can easily be embarrassed by a less than honest family. He could even have his career put at risk by them.

I was well into my stride now and decided that if Rafferty was going to be working-class like me, he might as well have other elements of ‘me’. Why not? it not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to the main character and to the past which has helped to shape him

Memories

But in order to have a ‘past’, he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories.

Which is something else you might perhaps care to bear in mind if and when you start creating your own crime series.

I’ll give you an example.

In Down Among The Dead Men, the second in the series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church. There, they would sing Latin hymns without – as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about.

Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life. Which perhaps helps a reader to identify with them, to the point of saying, ‘yes. I remember doing that.’ it helps to make it all more real.

Once i had Rafferty down on paper, i gave a lot of thought to his sidekick. But that’s for the second of my three-parter articles. So tune in next time!

 

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Rafferty & Llewellyn-Mystery-Series

Crime Writer Geraldine Evans

I’d forgotten I had written this article about how I set about creating a crime series! It was published in Red Herrings, the monthly magazine of The Crime Writing Association.

Perhaps it will encourage some of you thinking of dipping a toe into the crime fiction pool.

It’s inspired me to get on with my current Rafferty, which has spent so long on the back burner for one reason or another, that it’s in danger of drying up altogether!

Take Eye of Newt: Creating a Crime Series

Beginnings

The creation of a crime series is a bit of a puzzle — in more ways than one — isn’t it? Do you try to create a clone of the fictional British detectives Wexford, Morse, Dalgliesh? Or maybe the publishing world would prefer a bit of all three? Is that a chorus of ‘Yes! Please!’ I hear in the background?

Before I tried my hand at a crime novel, I’d been writing for six years, mainly articles and romantic novels. The articles were (mostly) published, but the romantic novels were all — bar, Land of Dreams, the last of the six — rejected. All with the comment, ‘Too much plot, and not enough Romance.’

So, once I’d figured out that romance writing wasn’t really my bag, I decided to turn to crime.

No Need to Make Life Difficult For Yourself

That decision brought my first dilemma. Because as I’ve already said, most of the really well-known fictional (British) detectives, although very different in temperament, etc, were of a certain type: middle class and well educated.

I assumed I would have to follow suit. Coming from a working-class, Council-house-raised, and secondary-modern educated (sic) background, this was a conclusion that put a damper on my aspirations. How could I possibly hope to write about such characters? Even trying a second-rate clone of one of them was surely beyond my ability (or desire).

I couldn’t write about such people. Not only couldn’t but wouldn’t. I didn’t want to write about such people. Why the hell would I? I had no experience of a middle-class lifestyle.

Back then, I found the mere idea so completely intimidating that I revolted against it; not least because after thinking about those crime writers regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, God-like intellect, and masterly characterisation, I felt as if I should crawl back from whence I had come and not bother the critics – or anyone else – ever again.

But I didn’t follow that first, wimpish, inclination. My natural bolshiness rose to the fore, and I said: ‘To hell with that!’ (or words to that effect…! There might have been a few more common ‘F’*!*!*!s’ in there, somewhere.

Once I’d got that, ‘Bastards!’ stuff out of my system, I decided to do it ‘My Way’. So I took my life by the scruff of the neck, threw out the ridiculous idea of writing about middle-class characters from my Council estate mindset, and created my main detective character from the police majority; the ordinary Joes who have more to do with the reality of the average copper. None of your Fast-Tracking or Accelerated Promotion for this bloke. He’d have to do it the hard way if he wanted to work his way up.

Okay, I pretty much suspected that the cop character I came up with wouldn’t be the style of detective that seems to most impress the critics. My main man would be pretty well the opposite of the critics’ darlings. My copper would be working-class and indifferently educated. Much like me, in fact (that I’ve worked my socks off since leaving school at sixteen to try to educate myself, is beside the point).

This seemed like a far better idea. Especially as I felt it was essential that my main character, at least, should be someone to whom I could relate. If by some miracle, my first effort in the genre was published, I might be writing about this character through four, five, six or more novels (I’d envisaged this as a series of novels right from the start. No lack of ambition here!). No way I’d be able to do that if I wrote about a lead character whose background was totally at odds with my own.

Thus was born Detective Inspector Joseph Aloysius Rafferty. Like me, Rafferty is Council-house raised and secondary-modern educated. Again, like me, he’s Catholic (lapsed), and London-born of Irish parents and is one of quite a crowd of siblings (he’s the eldest of six, I’m the youngest of four, but the similarities are there: very important, those similarities.).

Every Need to Make Life Difficult For Your Main Character

Like many of the working classes who have risen above their roots to get somewhere in life, Rafferty is cursed by coming from a family whose aspirations have not risen with his own.

In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of ‘Del Boy’ Trotter types, whose leisure-time preferences are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing, or Morse’s Wagner. The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined.

They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains of dubious provenance and other diversions of equally questionable legality. And Rafferty’s Ma, the widowed Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in these pursuits, using emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her. Having far more than her fair share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.

Rack up  the Main Character’s Difficulties

To give Rafferty even more problems, I provided him with a sidekick preordained from birth to look with a jaundiced eye at Rafferty’s outlook on life, his theories, and conduct of cases, and his less than law-abiding family. DS Dafyd Llewellyn, the university-educated, only son of a Welsh Methodist minister, is more moral than the Pope and thinks the law should apply to everyone – even the mothers of detective inspectors. Luckily, I spend very little time inside Llewellyn’s head and only mention his interests in passing, so I avoid the problems I’d have if he was my main character.

Place Your Character in an Environment That Resonates

Once I had the basics of Rafferty, his family, and his sidekick sorted out, I had to place my main man in his environment. And after all I’ve said about his background, I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character. Essex. You’ll understand why it seemed his natural habitat.

We’ve all heard of the ‘Essex Man’ euphemism as a term for people who are stupid and common, with criminal tendencies. We’ve all heard ‘Essex Jokes’ (What’s an Essex Girl’s idea of a really classy meal? A wooden chip fork with her takeaway). Politically-incorrect they may be, yet they’ve stuck.

But, unlike the stereotyped depiction of the working-classes in ‘Essex’ jokes, and many of the older British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal, and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, not only in Essex but also amongst the working-classes themselves.

As far removed from the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth as it’s possible to be, Rafferty is the typical, down-to-earth British copper. Okay, he’s not exactly deeply intellectual, or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that’s often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence.

But Rafferty has to work with the partner I’ve given him—Dafyd Llewellyn. Unsurprisingly, at first, Rafferty resents this intellectual copper. He resents his superior education and superior morality. Poor old Rafferty has far more chips on his shoulder than in his takeaway supper where Llewellyn’s concerned.

Unlike Rafferty, Llewellyn likes to examine the facts of a case immediately, rather than go off on flights of fancy. Worse, he tends to run a coach and horses through Rafferty’s favourite theories, which are often outrageous, and tend to indulge his various prejudices to the full.

Rafferty, of course, thinks the more politically-correct Llewellyn takes all the fun out of police work. What’s the point in having the usual working-class prejudices, he thinks, if you don’t occasionally indulge them? Besides, it’s amusing to tease Llewellyn, who needs taking down a peg or two.

Of course, this series began life in the early Nineties, before Political Correctness came into its own. Nowadays, to survive in the modern police service, Rafferty has had to learn to bite his tongue and push his prejudices underground, though, as he has come to trust his tight-lipped partner, Llewellyn still gets the full force of his ideology.

You could say the pairing epitomises the famous George Bernard Shaw saying, with which I shall take a bit of artistic license. You know the one: ‘It is impossible for a Brit to open his mouth without making some other Brit despise him.

Yet they manage to rub along together, helped by both Rafferty’s overactive Catholic conscience and Llewellyn’s stern Methodist moral code. As the series and the cases progress, so does their relationship. They both come to agree that a man consists of rather more than his accent.

Anyway, all this furious thinking produced Dead Before Morning from the steamy cauldron; a crime novel which features a woman bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor, and an idle hospital porter, who had a few ‘nice little earners’ of his own.

In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID. His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester, the old Roman town where that original Essex girl, Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions.

Sub-Plots

Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which poor Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-created problems. My eighteenth Rafferty & Llewellyn (Published Feb 2018) Game of Bones (ebook), like the previous seventeen, has poor Rafferty embroiled in more trouble than a Victorian lady of the night sans the morning after pill.

Location. Location. Location.

Apart from Rafferty’s working-class background, and his family’s teeny-weeny tendency to ignore laws they didn’t like, there was another reason I chose to locate him in Essex. And that was because of the county’s historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And because of its port links, the entire area has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe.

A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle, Rafferty is against religion of any persuasion as a matter of principle. So it’s no wonder he feels at home in an area with such strong dissenting traditions.

One of the reasons I wrote the kind of crime novel I did is that my mind has a natural tendency to see the humour in a situation; especially a situation that contains a large dollop of Sod’s Law. In Rafferty’s – and my – experience, Sod’s Law really does Rool OK. So why fight it?

I must have done something right, because, on only its second outing, that first Rafferty & Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published. It was also published in the States in hardback and paperback, by St Martin’s Press and Worldwide, respectively.

But after eighteen novels published the traditional way, in 2010 I decided to split from my publisher and become an indie. Although difficult at the time, involving sleepless nights and plenty of anxiety, it’s not a decision I’ve had cause to regret.

I took a chance and did it ‘My Way‘ when I created that first Rafferty & Llewellyn. I also took a chance and did it ‘My Way’ when I became an indie. But both decisions have paid off. With my sizeable backlist becoming an indie was a no-brainer.

And, let’s face it if we weren’t independently-minded cussed, types, set on doing it ‘Our Way’, I think the publishing – and the reading – world, would both be a lot poorer.

PUBLICATIONS:

Rafferty & Llewellyn British Mystery Series: https://www.amazon.com/Geraldine-Evans/e/B009W1W0N8/

Dead Before Morning #1

Down Among the Dead Men #2

Death Line #3

The Hanging Tree #4

Absolute Poison #5

Dying For You #6

Bad Blood #7

Love Lies Bleeding #8

Blood on the Bones #9

A Thrust to the Vitals #10

Death Dues #11

All the Lonely People #12

Death Dance #13

Deadly Reunion #14

Kith and Kill #15

Asking For It #16

The Spanish Connection #17

Game of Bones #18

Casey & Catt British Mystery Series

Up in Flames #1

A Killing Karma #2

Standalones

Reluctant Queen: Biographical Historical Novel About Mary Rose Tudor, the Little Sister of King Henry VIII

The Egg Factory: Medical Suspense Set in the Infertility Industry

Land of Dreams: Romance

The Wishing Fountain: Romance

Strangers on the Shore: Romance

Short Stories

A Mix of Six

Pond Life: A Rafferty & Llewellyn Short Story

The Monarch’s Gift: A Rafferty & Llewellyn Short Story

The Station Thief: A Rafferty & Llewellyn Short Story

Non-Fiction

How to Format a Novel for Amazon’s Kindle

Lovers’ Life Guide (Life Guide Series): Palmistry for Lovers

Writing Woes: How to Avoid Them and Get it RIGHT Next Time (pseudonym Gennifer Dooley-Hart)

Articles

Various, mostly about Writing, Historical Biography of People and Places and New Age.

 

EXCERPT: Death Dues – Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery Series

DEATH DUES

REVIEW ‘Lively and fun, with absorbing interplay between DI Joe Rafferty and sidekick Sgt Llewellyn. Replete with strong protagonists, infused with British atmosphere, and filled with intrigue and personal concerns alike, Death Dues is a fine detective saga.’ D DONOVAN, eBOOK REVIEWER, MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW http://www.midwestbookreview.com/mbw/jan_14.htm#donovan

 

 

ALT: Book Cover Death Dues #11 Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery Series

BLURB

When one John ‘Jaws’ Harrison is found with his skull caved in, in an alleyway backing on to rundown Primrose Avenue while on his way to collect debt repayments from the residents, Rafferty and his intellectual partner, Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn, imagine the case will be easily solved. Armed with a list of local debtors, they begin their investigations. But they hadn’t counted on the conspiracy of silence amongst the residents — most of whom had good reason to want Jaws dead.

Rafferty is forced to make some unorthodox decisions and stretch his intuitive powers to breaking point to find the solution.

PLEASE SHARE. TELL YOUR FRIENDS. TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO LIKES MYSTERIES (ESPECIALLY ONES WITH A BIT OF HUMOUR). ESPECIALLY IF THEY’RE FREE!

 

EXCERPT

Chapter One

 

Detective Inspector Joe Rafferty riffled through the quotes from caterers and venues, photographers and florists, and thought, Why so expensive? It’s only a wedding, not the Second Coming.

When he’d proposed to Abra the previous Christmas, he’d been astonished that she’d said yes. His beguiling, spirited Abra could have married anyone, yet she’d chosen him. He’d wafted around in a rose-pink cloud for days. Then it had been all hearts and roses. But now the cold reality of a modern wedding hit him in the face with the force of a frozen kipper.

He ran a hand over his unruly auburn hair and muttered under his breath, ‘I can feel my credit cards wincing from across the hall.’ And he hadn’t even looked at the honeymoon brochures yet.

Abra reached across the breakfast table, took his face in her hand and forced an involuntary pucker. But she didn’t kiss him. Instead, she said, ‘You won’t be a tightwad about it, will you, Joe? We don’t want a hole-in-the-corner wedding. People will say we’ve something to hide.’

With no kiss forthcoming, Rafferty eased his head out of her grasp, picked up the stack of papers and let them drop again. ‘If we fork out for what this lot are charging, we will have something to hide. Us! From friendly, neighbourhood bailiffs.’

Abra tossed her chestnut hair. She slid around the table onto his lap to poke him slyly in the ribs. ‘Aren’t I worth it, then, love?’

He buried his face in her long hair and breathed in its just-washed lemon scent. ‘Of course you’re worth it, my little peach melba. But I’m not Rockefeller. Only a humble copper still paying off the re-decoration of the flat.’

‘That’s another thing.’ She gave him a lingering kiss which put him on his mettle, before she said, ‘I think we ought to sell this place and buy a house.’

‘But we’ve only just decorated,’ he protested. ‘All the new furniture!’

‘Exactly. That’s the most sensible time to sell. When the flat’s looking its best.’

‘I’d prefer to enjoy it looking its best myself,’ he said, disgruntled. ‘Anyway, I thought we were discussing the wedding, not moving home. Isn’t getting married big enough?’ It’s certainly stressful enough, he thought.

‘Where’s your ambition?’ she challenged. Then immediately softened. ‘Sorry, love. I’m being mean. But try to look at it from my point of view, Joe. This flat’s not mine, and it never will be. I want a place that we’ve chosen together. A place that’s ours. Is that so unreasonable?’

‘No,’ he conceded. ‘But we still haven’t settled a date for the wedding, poppet.’ Rafferty pushed her hair behind her ears and kissed her nose.

‘What about May?’

Rafferty nodded with relief. ‘May’s fine.’ That was one thing sorted. He eased her off his lap onto his chair as he stood up from the table. ‘And now I’ve got to get to work.’ He slid his arms into his jacket and straightened the frayed cuffs. ’Earn the money to pay for it all.’

Abra looked up at him with a winner’s grin. ‘Love you.’

‘Reckon it’s my money you love, you hussy.’ He bent and kissed her. ‘But I‘m pretty keen on you, too. Just try not to put my Mr Plod salary in too steep a debt spiral or we’ll be climbing out of the pit from here to eternity.’

As he picked up his raincoat and felt in his pocket for his keys, he shook his head. These wedding costs were getting seriously out of hand. Abra seemed to hope for the pomp of Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding—but look how that marriage turned out. His lovely fiancée had been taken over by an alien being—a mischievous wedding sprite, and he didn’t know how to get her back.

Abra shuffled the wedding quotes into a neat pile. ‘I’m off work today, so you can leave these to me. I’ll whittle them down. Some are charging way over the odds.’ She flashed her dimples. ‘I’ll ring round and see if I can’t knock them down a bit.’

Rafferty swallowed the sigh with the thought: A lot would be better. He bent once more, gave her a lust-filled kiss and made for the hall.

He only hoped this marriage worked out better than his first.

 

The weather was playing tag with Rafferty. A fierce wind blew his hair into that just-out-of bed look that was so fetching on Abra, whipping his raincoat into a veritable Irish jig as rain lashed him from all sides. He wished he was feeling as lively as his raincoat. He put down his head and dashed to the car, trying to restrain his flapping mac. Please God, let nobody get themselves murdered today. He didn’t fancy hanging around street corners in a downpour, musing on the type of house Abra might choose in her current mood. Buckingham Palace? Windsor Castle?

He hoped she hadn’t meant it. It wasn’t as though the flat wasn’t big enough. With three bedrooms, it could easily house a family. His Abra might long for Princess Diana’s fairy-tale wedding, but Rafferty—like Prince Charles—was no Prince Charming. And Rafferty lacked that princely income.

He threw himself into the car and slammed the door against the wind and rain, then glanced at his watch. His work day not even begun, and he was already behind.

Elmhurst was an attractive Essex market town that even the grey day couldn’t make ugly. Its quirky, individual architecture seldom failed to cheer him. Rafferty sped through it, quickly correcting as his back wheels aquaplaned through a puddle that had overwhelmed the drains and slid around a corner. He pulled into the car park off Bacon Lane, the police station’s back entrance. Naturally, the car park was full. Even the Super had beaten him to work today, his shining Lexus parked in the bay nearest the station’s rear entrance, a space sanctified by both Superintendent Bradley and, presumably, God. Rafferty had trespassed once or twice on its holy space and been roundly rebuked.

He parked in the last open space on the street and ran head-down and splashing through puddles to the station’s rear entrance. He opened the door and hurried dripping up the concrete stairs, leaving with each squelching step little slippery droplets to catch the unwary. Perhaps the sainted Super would have reason to come down shortly and injure his dignity. Rafferty smiled. A man can dream.

As he walked along the second floor corridor, he wrung out his hair and raincoat, wishing, in spite of the wedding arrangements, that he was still at home, in bed with Alba with her long, chestnut hair let down and her silky nightie soft under his hands. He quelled the thought. Inappropriate for work, isn’t that what they called it these days? He opened his office door.

His sergeant, Dafyd Llewellyn, was already at his desk, as usual. Llewellyn looked both industrious and bandbox-smart, also as usual, with a workspace as neat as conscientious industry could make it.

By comparison, Rafferty felt like something the cat dragged in. He glanced at his own desk and almost laughed as he realised that, like Llewellyn, he too was a good match for his workspace. Sometimes even the usually restrained Llewellyn’s fingers gave in to the itch to straighten the towering piles of papers, folders, and other impedimenta that covered the surface and threatened to spill over the sides.

Rafferty smoothed his unruly hair into some sort of order and sat down, shaking out the soggy ends of his trousers. ‘So what have we got, Dafyd? Anything exciting today?’

‘Not yet,’ Llewellyn replied evenly. ‘Unless, of course, there are any further muggings.’

‘Less of the fate-tempting, if you please.’

‘There’s still that report Superintendent Bradley wants you to read and initial.’ Llewellyn’s voice had the slightest tinge of disapproval. ‘It’s been on your desk nearly a week.’

Rafferty pulled a face. ‘I suppose you’ve read it?’

Llewellyn nodded.

‘Give me the condensed version, then, there’s a good chap. You know how wordy these bloody reports are. Mostly bumf.’

Llewellyn proceeded to explain the lengthy report in his calm, level manner, but as he proved almost as wordy as the report itself, Rafferty stopped him at Section 3 Subsection iv c. ‘Can you simply nod if the powers-that-be have ordered another meeting to discuss their preliminary findings?’

Llewellyn nodded.

Rafferty sighed. ’Meetings and more meetings. It’s a wonder we have any time to solve crimes. I’ll initial it. They’ll still be discussing it come Doomsday. Anything else?’

‘Superintendent Bradley asked for you to pop in to see him, if you haven’t arranged a prior appointment.’

‘What’s the old bugger want now?’ Sarky git, he thought. Trust the Super to assume he was given to making spurious appointments so as to avoid him. He’d only done it twice. Or it might have been thrice. But even so—Rafferty thumped the weighty report. ‘Not to discuss this, I hope.’

Llewellyn’s lips twitched slightly. ‘I think not. I understood him to say that he wishes to speak with you about the recent spate of muggings against moneylenders’ collectors.’

‘He wants to know what I’m doing about it, I suppose?’ Truth was, Rafferty wasn’t doing a lot. The local loan sharks’ collectors were nothing more than bullying thugs adept at putting the frighteners on little old ladies. Mugging was too good for them. ‘Throw a few grand-sounding phrases together for me, Daff. You know I’m no good at that sort of thing. Loads of long words and Politically-Correct bollocks. The Super’ll like that.’

Llewellyn raised dark eyebrows that were as neat as the rest of him. Rafferty swore he plucked them. ‘Something along the lines of: “We’re proceeding with our inquiries and have a number of promising leads,” you mean?’

‘That’ll do for starters.’ He felt in his pocket for some change. ‘But before you do that, can you get the tea in? I’m gasping. You can think up a few more bunches of bullshit while you’re in the canteen instead of chatting up the lovely Opal.’ Rafferty stifled a grin at his sergeant’s blush. Opal was a Caribbean lady of lilting accent, ample charms and an irrepressible sense of fun that believed flirtation should have a dangerous edge. She had taken a fancy to Llewellyn and seemed to find his puritan soul a challenge. ‘One of the muggers was thought to be Asian, so perhaps you can work in something about ethnic sensitivities.’

‘Wouldn’t it be easier to investigate the muggings?’

‘Probably. But I hesitate to interfere with anybody making the streets of Elmhurst safer. Oh,’ Rafferty shouted just before Llewellyn closed the door. ‘Fancy a hot-cross bun?’

Mock-serious, Llewellyn frowned. ‘I think you’ll find it is now called a hot-lined bun. Religious symbolism is also on the veto list.’

‘Veto my arse.’ Rafferty slammed the door for added emphasis. But he knew that no matter how many PC-worded explanations Llewellyn came up for his lack of progress , he’d have to do something about the muggings eventually.

Llewellyn was back in the office within minutes, a cup of tea in each hand and hot cross buns balanced precisely dead centre.

‘Managed to escape Opal’s blandishments again, hey?’ Rafferty teased.

Llewellyn placed Rafferty’s cup on a folded paper napkin which he’d earlier had the prescience to clear some space for on Rafferty’s cluttered desk.

Rafferty pulled a thin file on the investigation towards him. He began to read, liberally scattering crumbs across his front, his lap and his paperwork.

He was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.

‘Ah, Rafferty. You’re in, then?’ It was Superintendent Bradley.

The intimation that he’d been late wasn’t lost on Rafferty. He crossed his fingers behind his back. ‘Bright, shining, and ready to go, sir.’ Hey paused to swallow more tea before adding, ‘I’ve put in a couple of hours’ working from home.’

This brought a stunned, disbelieving silence, and across the room Llewellyn shook his head.

‘Right.’ The Super’s voice barked unexpectedly, so that Rafferty almost dropped his tea. ‘You can start by coming along to my office. I’m sure Llewellyn told you I wanted to see you first thing.’

Rafferty kept shtum.

‘I want to talk to you about these muggings.’

 

Superintendent Bradley was in lecturing mode. ‘You’ll have to do better than this, you know, Rafferty.’ The Super waved a thin sheaf of papers under Rafferty’s nose. ‘Your reports are sparse—very sparse.’

Rafferty began his explanatory spiel. He wished the Super hadn’t rung before he’d had time to get Llewellyn to prime him with the correct verbiage, but he hadn’t, so Rafferty did his best.

Superintendent Bradley interrupted him almost immediately. ‘It won’t do, Rafferty. It won’t do at all. I’ve had the Deputy Chief Constable on my back about these cases. He’s a golfing buddy of one of the moneylenders whose collector was assaulted. Man by the name of Forbes. That’s the wrong side of the brass to be on, Rafferty. Which makes it the wrong side of me. Do I make myself clear?’

As crystal.

Rafferty nodded glumly and made his escape.

He’d barely got back to his office when the phone went again.

It was Abra. ‘Hiya. Missing you already.’

‘Ditto, darlin’. The Super’s really not up to the job of standing in for you, more’s the pity.’

‘He’s dragged you into his lair already, has he? Poor Joe.’ Abra paused tellingly, then said, ‘I’ve been ringing round a few of the venues, and I simply can’t get them to drop their prices. I wondered—’ A more delicate pause this time.‘ How much might I spend?’ She named a figure that made Rafferty’s eyes water.

‘For a measly chicken salad and a few olives thrown in?’ He didn’t even like bloody olives. ‘What do they do in their spare time? Rob graves?’

‘It’s a normal quote, Joe. What did you have served at your first wedding? Sausage butties all round at the corner chippie?’

‘Abra, darling. You know I’d rather nip up to Gretna Green and forget this whole thing.’

‘I suppose Gretna Green is good enough for a man who’s been married once already. But this is my first—my only—wedding.’ The note of tears in Abra’s voice worked its magic. In truth, they’d never been far away once she set sail aboard HMS Romance. ‘I want to do it properly with all our family and friends there to wish us well.’

That was two people Rafferty had upset, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning. ‘All right, sweetheart. But can we talk about it tonight? I’m up to my eyes here.’

‘Tonight, then. Promise, Joe?’

‘Cross my heart. Love you, Abra. I’ll see you tonight.’ Rafferty had just set down the phone when it rang for the third time right under his hand. He braced himself.

‘Inspector Rafferty? This is Constable Smales. There seems to have been a murder, sir. Just called in.’

‘Where?’ Rafferty sat up straight, knocking his bun to the floor.

‘An alleyway adjacent to Primrose Avenue.’

‘What happened?’

‘Constanble Green, who’s on the scene, reports it as blows to the back of the victim’s head. Quite a mess, sir.’

‘Any idea of the victim’s identity?’

‘Not yet, sir. His wallet’s missing. Lizzie Green thinks he’s a man called John “Jaws” Harrison. Works as a collector for Malcolm Forbes, one of the local loan sharks.’

Oh great, thought Rafferty. Now he really would have to take action.

‘All right, Smales. I’ll be out there right away.’

Rafferty gulped his lukewarm tea, picked up his bun from the floor and dusted it off, before cramming its remains into his mouth. Muggings were one thing. But now they’d escalated to murder he knew he’d have to do more than a ‘little something’ He’d likely need the bun’s sustaining carbohydrates during the following busy hours.

DEATH DUES IN STORES:

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AMAZON

Alt: Death Dues #11

Rafferty & Llewellyn Mystery Series #11

CRIME FICTION: CREATING A CRIME SERIES 3 OF 3

When I left you last time I was about to reveal what location I had chosen for my Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery series and why I chose it. I’ll start off by saying that I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character as working-class DI Joe Rafferty and his ‘bargain’ loving family. Essex. Anyone reading this who isn’t British will understand why it should seem his natural habitat after reading the following.
The Brits out there will all have heard of the ‘ Essex Man’ euphemism as a term for people who are stupid and common with criminal tendencies. Politically incorrect it may be, yet it’s stuck.
You may recall some of the ‘Essex’ jokes that were popular some years ago. Jokes like:
Q         what’s the difference between Essex and Mars?
A          there might be intelligent life on Mars
Or
Q         what is an Essex girl’s idea of a really classy meal?
A          a wooden chip fork with her takeaway.
Get the picture?
But, unlike the stereotyped depiction of the working classes in ‘Essex’ jokes and many of the older British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, Not only in Essex, but among the working classes themselves.
As far removed from the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth as it’s possible to be, Rafferty is a typical down-to-earth British copper. Okay, he’s not exactly deeply intellectual or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His working-class background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that’s often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence. And with a family attuned to picking up ‘bargains’ of the dubious sort or to getting into bother of the criminal sort, he’s often thankful for this street-wisdom which helps get him out from under.
Anyway, all this furious thinking produced Dead Before Morning, a crime novel which features a prostitute bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor and an idle hospital porter who had, like Del Boy Trotter from Only Fools and Horses fame,  a few ‘nice little earners’ of his own.
In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID (Criminal Investigation Department, the plain clothes branch). His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester in Essex, the old Roman town where that original ‘Essex Girl’, Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions.
Apart from Rafferty’s working-class background and his family’s teeny weeny tendency to dishonesty, there was another reason why I chose to locate him in Essex.And that was that Essex has lots of interesting historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And, because of its port links, the entire area Has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe.
A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle, Rafferty is against religion of any persuasion as a matter of principle. So it’s no wonder he feels at home in an area with such strong dissenting traditions.
Whatever the critics made of it, I must have done something right, because on only its second outing, that first Rafferty and Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published. It was also published in hardback and paperback in the States. In December, I also published it as an ebook.
I took a chance and did it my way when I created that first Rafferty and Llewellyn novel but it paid off. I’m now an established author from being a no-nope nobody whose formal education ended at the age of sixteen. It just shows what a bit of determination can do.
You can see now, I hope, how one decision about a character helps you make other decisions, not only about the lead character himself, but also about the other characters who will populate your series. And about where in the world they’re going to play out their roles.
To help me keep details of streets, pubs, etc, I drew my own detailed map. Which is something you might perhaps consider doing. It certainly saves a feverish hunt through an entire previous book or typescript trying to find where such and such a pub was situated. Or even what it was called. You can base it on somewhere real if you like. As I have said, my fictitious town, Elmhurst, is roughly based on Colchester in Essex. I have taken some elements of the town, like the castle and made up others. Now I’m not even sure what is real and what is made up! It’s all got so woven together.
You will understand from all this that my Rafferty books have a strong vein of humour running through them.
Now, strongly humorous crime novels are not to everyone’s taste. This sort of crime novel isn’t always highly regarded by critics.
But this was my book and this was how I wanted to write it. And given the perennial difficulties in the publishing world, it’s something to say that rather than making thecommon mistake of following either the herd or a fading trend – I did it my way – and actually got published.
The choice is yours. Do you want to be ‘original’ and do your own thing? Or do you want to be the same as what has gone before?
One of the reasons I write the kind of crime novel I do is that my mind has a natural tendency to see the humour in a situation. Especially a situation that contains a large dollop of Sod’s Law’. In Rafferty’s – and my- experience – Sod’s Law really does Rool OK.
Maybe your experiences are the same. If so, why fight it? In the end you have to be true to yourself.
Dead Before Morning, that first novel in the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery series, was published in 1993. Altogether, I’ve had eighteen novels published with another just finished, seventeen of them crime, fourteen in my Rafferty & Llewellyn series and two in my Casey & Catt series.
Yes, there have been disappointments along the way, but that’s part of the life of the average writer. And the disappointments make the good times so much sweeter.
Who knows, if I hadn’t done it ‘My Way’ back when I created my first Rafferty novel, the publication of all my other novels might never have happened
I wrote the kind of book I liked to read. The kind where the writer makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me wait, even, but most of all makes me care about the characters. Admittedly, that’s just my preference. You might prefer your crime novels to concentrate firmly on stimulating the brain rather than the funny bone. But i didn’t see any reason not to try to do both.
This approach provided the bonus that I had far more fun with Rafferty than I imagine the more high-minded writers have with their characters.
And writing is meant to be fun, isn’t it? It’s meant to be enjoyable. If it isn’t why do it?  After all those dead-end jobs I mentioned in my first post I was determined that I would end up doing something I liked.
There’s no reason why, just like me, you shouldn’t ‘do your own thing’ and attract a publisher who goes ‘mm. This is different.’
So, go and have fun. And give me another crime novel that provides the occasional chuckle. If you do you’ll be guaranteed one fan.
Oh. I forgot to tell you how to commit the perfect murder as I promised in the first post of this three-parter. First you –
Oh! Darn it.  Look at the time. I must fly! Till next time.

CRIME WRITING: CREATING A CRIME SERIES 2 OF 3 POSTS

I said this post would be about sidekicks, so here goes. It’s also about this sidekick’s effect on my main character.
As I said in my last post, my main character, Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty, is an Irish Catholic, working-class man who comes from a large family. A family who are into buying bargains of dubious origin and other pursuits of questionable legality. And Rafferty’s ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in these pursuits. So, as a sidekick, I wanted someone who was Rafferty’s polar opposite. Opposites always provide conflict. A genuine conflict, stemming from character and upbringing.
So Dafyd Llewellyn was born. The intellectual, university-educated, only child of a welsh Methodist minister who thought the law should apply to everyone – even the mothers of detective inspectors!
Llewellyn is a sidekick preordained from birth to look with a jaundiced eye on Rafferty’s outlook on life, his theories and conduct of cases, and his less than law-abiding family. Thank god i spend all my time in Rafferty’s head!
Dafyd Llewellyn is an upright man, with morals as high as an elephant’s eye. Certainly he’s not the type to turn a blind eye to ma Rafferty’s love of illicit bargains should it ever come to light. Which gives Rafferty something else to worry about.
The words duty and responsibility feature strongly in Llewellyn’s life, though his character is leavened with a sense of humour so dry Rafferty isn’t sure it exists at all.
Unlike Rafferty, Llewellyn likes to examine the facts of a case immediately rather than going off on flights of fancy.
Llewellyn has a tendency to run a coach and horses through Rafferty’s favourite theories, which are often outlandish, outrageous and tend to indulge his various prejudices to the full. Rafferty, of course, thinks the more politically correct Llewellyn takes all the fun out of police work. What’s the point, he thinks, of having the usual working-class prejudices, if you don’t occasionally indulge them. Besides, it’s amusing to tease Llewellyn, who needs taking down a peg or two.
You could say the pairing epitomises the famous George Bernard Shaw saying, with which i shall take a bit of artistic licence. You know the one:
‘it is impossible for a Brit to open his mouth without making some other Brit despise him.’
Yet before the end of Dead Before Morning, the first book in my fifteen-strong mystery series, they have learned to more or less rub along together, helped by both Rafferty’s overactive Catholic conscience, and Llewellyn’s stern, Methodist moral code. As the series and the cases progress, so does their relationship.
Once i had the basics of Rafferty, his family and his sidekick sorted out, I had to place Rafferty in his environment. And after all I’ve said about his background, Ii felt there was only one place i could use as a setting for such a character.
But this, Location, is the subject for the third and last part of this three-parter.

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