Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Internal Logic of a Mystery Series.

"Just give us the facts, Madame."

Louis Shalako

I’m just finishing up Speak Softly My Love, the fifth novel in the Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series, and the sixth overall.

The Handbag’s Tale is the novella that started it all off; but not actually a full-length book.

To write a book is not that hard maybe, but it is challenging. It takes time, effort and focus. 

Writing a series compounds that challenge.

That’s because the series has internal logic that links one book to another. In Speak Softly, the action happens in September. Tailler figures prominently in this book. Tailler was first introduced in Blessed Are the Humble. That story takes place in June of 1931, which is mentioned in the text. No real hard dates are mentioned in Speak Softly My Love, however, Gilles is clearly a widower. This is important because of the Madame Lefebvre character, his housekeeper. It is September, and Tailler is there. On some theoretical level, the action in the book happens in September 1931. That’s internal logic at work.

If the wife’s not in the book, then the housekeeper is, essentially. But there’s more to it.

In Architect of His Own Destruction, Gilles hadn’t made Inspector yet. He’s written the exam, and his wife has gone into the sanatorium because she has tuberculosis. She’s not dead yet. He’s physically younger. In Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery, he is recently widowed, and that’s mentioned in the book. This is also where he gets the bad knee, which is mentioned in subsequent stories.

In Speak Softly My Love, there aren’t a lot of external political and historical references. 

However, the author takes pains to solve the case using tools available at the time. It’s interesting to note that expert witness analysis of human hairs has been recently debunked. 

It’s a big controversy. This sort of evidence would have been taken very seriously in 1931, along with fingerprints, bloodstains, eye-witnesses, and the like.

As stated in another mystery story, (I’m pretty sure I wrote something like this), ‘confessions help cops to sleep at night’. That’s probably very true.

I’m just wracking my brains here, but I can’t quite recall when Handbag’s Tale actually happens. I seem to recall 1924. It’s something I picked at random, but that was the first real mystery story I had ever written. I had to figure out how one goes about such a chore. I’m pretty sure Redemption happens in 1927, and Maintenon is recently widowed in that book. 

The internal logic can certainly help the author. It can also be a pain in the butt sometimes. 

Such is life.

With only a few stories written, we can slot new ones in pretty much anywhere we want, as long as we check our internal facts, our internal logic.

In another blog post I mentioned that Andre Levain had a wife and child. I checked out other stories and confirmed their names rather than trust my memory. Nichol is the wife and Maelys is the daughter. I have no idea how old the kid is, but following the internal logic of the series and materials found in other books, theoretically I should be able to figure that out.

As a work of art, each book supports others in the series, and hopefully contributing to a congruent whole.

In Blessed Are the Humble, Emile Tailler is taken on for the first time by Maintenon. At the end of the book he gets his sergeant’s stripes. In the newest book, I refer to ‘detectives’ and even Detective Tailler. Somewhere in there I had to take a second and just clarify that he is in fact just a Detective Sergeant. They’re mostly in plainclothes and rank is not at the foremost of their minds when they’re hard at work.

It’s pretty easy to see that the author of a series could trip themselves up, and it’s important to check things. Once you get a few stories, the internal details slip out of memory.

As an independent writer and publisher, it’s very much writing without a net. You’re very much on your own and you really have to think. You have to raise objections and criticize the heck out of your own story, and there will always be the worry that you might have missed something.

It’s even more so when doing it as a serial.

Publishing a manuscript as a serial, finishing it, and rewriting it, and editing it as I go along throws a few more layers of challenge on there, but it also commits the writer to finishing the thing at all costs.

Learning how to finish things is important.

The serial itself is just plain fun, especially as we got the chance to illustrate it in a way that was a lot of fun but it didn’t cost too much money.


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