It’s a lovely sunny Saturday morning, made even better by Robert Crouch who has come to pay a visit to my blog to tell me all about the joys of writing a series. I have really enjoyed the Kent Fisher Mysteries series so far and will soon be reading Robert’s latest book, ‘No Mercy’.
Over to Rob now.
The joys of writing a series
When I began I had no idea if I could write one novel, let alone a series.
I’d never written a murder mystery before.
Plot seemed the logical place to start. A whodunit where the reader had to work out the killer required a clever plot, full of twists and red herrings.
It also required a detective to solve the mystery. Miss Marple, Inspector Morse, Kinsey Millhone all sprang to mind. Did I want a detective inspector or a private eye? Each brought its own challenges.
How would my detective stand out from the myriad of fictional and TV detectives? The choices were limitless, it seemed. Male or female? Young or old? Loner or team player? Maverick or by the book?
Then I considered flaws. Every detective had to have one, maybe more. Drinking, gambling, infidelity and broken marriages were common flaws that made detectives more human and sympathetic.
How about personal traumas? This was an emerging trait to make readers care more for detectives and lead characters. There were wives or children who disappeared, siblings who were killed or committed suicide, colleagues who died, detectives with addictions or mental health problems.
It soon became apparent that creating characters was more challenging and interesting than developing a twisting plot. And as no character lives or works alone, a strong supporting cast was essential – more so if you wrote about private eyes, who usually worked alone.
It took me several years for my protagonist Kent Fisher to ‘leap off the page’ as one agent demanded. I didn’t make things easy by shunning both private eye and detective inspector in favour of an amateur sleuth.
I wanted someone for today’s world – a person who cared as much about the environment and animals as he did about justice and fair play. He cared about his health, eating sensibly, exercising regularly.
Not very rock and roll, you might say, but this guy was also a hunt saboteur. He chained himself to trees to stop developers destroying the countryside. Though not a policeman, he was still a law enforcement officer – an environmental health officer (EHO), like me. He preferred animals to people and only had to get up in the morning to attract trouble.
As EHOs don’t investigate murders, he had to be drawn in by accident – literally in the case of his first outing.
This allowed me to give readers an insight into environmental health and the world he occupied. The characters around him took shape – like Danni, the fast track boss who felt threatened by him. Her PA, Kelly, was the font of all knowledge and gossip, delivering some of the funniest lines I wrote. His assistant Gemma helped him solve the murder and provided an unrequited love interest.
To make up for not having a police team to help him solve murders, his best friend Mike was once a Scenes of Crime Officer.
With the exception of Gemma, they were minor players in No Accident, the first Kent Fisher mystery. It was his show. Yet readers and reviewers were as interested in the characters as the plot. Some liked Gemma and wanted her and Kent to get together. Others thought she was bad for Kent and urged him to stop dreaming about her.
Then there was Columbo, the West Highland white terrier rescued by Kent. Readers loved this little guy, who seemed to steal most of the scenes he was in. Come the follow up, No Bodies, Columbo even had a hand in capturing the killer.
The story followed the original template, except Kent’s animal sanctuary and family issues grew in importance. We saw more of the world he lived in. Gemma played the same role once more, but with more authority and confidence, prompting readers and reviewers to be more vocal about their relationship.
The third novel, No Remorse, showed another part of environmental health, developing new characters. Danni was still there, struggling to manage Kent, but their relationship was developing and changing as more was revealed about their pasts. Kent had a new love interest to challenge his feelings for Gemma and vice versa.
Suddenly, as I began to think about each new murder mystery, the characters, work and animal sanctuary dominated my thoughts and planning. There were stories, running threads and unresolved issues to consider and continue.
By now readers and reviewers seemed to enjoy the backstory and characters as much as the murder mysteries. Kent, who had started out as the kind of maverick EHO I could never be, developed as a character, revealing the defining insights from his past.
With each novel, he becomes less like me and more his own person.
The same could be said of the characters, who develop with each story. The relationships change and shift as characters face new challenges. New characters have joined the cast, such as Detective Inspector Ashley Goodman, who investigates as a police officer, adding a new dimension and conflict.
But as the first draft of Kent Fisher #6 is completed, the backstory continues to produce subplots, challenges and emotional conflict that keep the stories fresh and moving forward, while remaining loyal to the classic whodunit.
Work continues to get in Kent’s way, but reflects the challenging times of public spending cuts and underfunded services. His relationship with Gemma has more twists and turns than many of the murder plots. Columbo continues to enchant readers and steal every scene he’s in. The animal sanctuary continues to grow and develop.
When I started, I envisaged one, maybe two novels. Never in my wildest dreams, did I think the characters would grow and develop to add a second layer of interest to make my stories as well as my protagonist distinctive.
Thanks to the series, I’ve grown to love the characters. I care deeply about what happens to them. They are like a family to me and matter as much as the complex murder plots I create.
Without these guys, there would not be a series.
‘No Accident’ the first book in the Kent Fisher Mystery series is currently only £1.99 on Amazon. Here is the blurb.
A former gangster is dead. It looks like an accident. Only Kent Fisher suspects murder.
When the police decide Syd Collins’ death is a work accident, they hand over the investigation to environmental health officer, Kent Fisher, a man with more baggage than an airport carousel.
He defies a restraining order to enter Tombstone Adventure Park and confronts the owner, Miles Birchill, who has his own reasons for blocking the investigation. Thwarted at every turn, Kent’s forced to bend the rules and is soon suspended from duty.
He battles on, unearthing secrets and corruption that could destroy those he loves. With his personal and professional worlds on a collision course, he knows life will never be the same again.
About Robert Crouch
Inspired by Miss Marple, Inspector Morse and Columbo, Robert Crouch wanted to write entertaining crime fiction the whole family could enjoy.
At their heart is Kent Fisher, an environmental health officer with more baggage than an airport carousel. Passionate about the environment, justice and fair play, he’s soon embroiled in murder.
Drawing on his experiences as an environmental health officer, Robert has created a new kind of detective who brings a unique and fresh twist to the traditional murder mystery. With complex plots, topical issues and a liberal dash of irreverent humour, the Kent Fisher mysteries offer an alternative to the standard police procedural.
Robert now writes full time and lives on the South Coast of England with his wife and their West Highland White Terrier, Harvey, who appears in the novels as Kent’s sidekick, Columbo.
Website – https://robertcrouch.co.uk
Twitter – https://twitter.com/robertcrouchuk
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/robertcrouchauthor
Instagram – @robertcrouch_author