Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome Vicki Delany, author of the Constable Molly Smith mysteries set in Trafalgar, British Columbia. The fifth book in the series is Among the Departed (Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011 Hardcover, 978-1-59058-924-3).
Today, Vicki writes about standalones and series crime novels. And she's also providing our readers with an opportunity to win a copy of her book. Visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Vicki Delany: The Molly Smith Mysteries" contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code (6710) for a chance to win! (One entry per person; contest ends 05/18/2011.)
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Photo provided courtesy of Vicki Delany
I thought it might be fun to take a step back and have a look at the most basic structure of the mystery novel.
Standalone or series.
There are, basically, two types of mystery novels: standalones, in which characters appear once, never to be seen again, and series, in which characters feature in book after book.
As a reader as well as a writer, I am torn as to which I prefer. I believe that in real life a person, unless they’re a secret agent or bodyguard to a crime boss, has only one great adventure in them. Police officers will tell you that the job’s pretty boring most of the time, and crimes, even murders, are mundane things, easily solved.
A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them.
My first books were standalone novels of suspense. In Scare the Light Away the main character confronts, for one last time, the debris of her traumatic childhood. In Burden of Memory, the protagonist faces down the ghost of a past that is not hers, but is still threatening what she holds dear.
Then I switched to writing a series. And found that series novels present a different problem. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.
It can be a challenge to keep the main character interesting and growing and changing but to do it so slowly that the reader’s interest in the character can be maintained over several books and several years.
In the Constable Molly Smith novels (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Negative Image), set in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia, Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancé, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on. By the time we get to the fifth book in the series, Among the Departed, Molly has put Graham’s death behind her, and said her good-byes. Now that she has a new man in her life, new problems arise. Here’s a sample:
They’d been walking through the quiet, rain-slicked streets back to the truck. Adam made a joke and Smith laughed and he grabbed her and held her close and kissed her deeply. And then… and then…
His truck was parked outside a jewelry store. As she headed for the passenger door, Adam pulled her into the shop doorway. The babbles on display sparkled in the lights of the windows, a row of gorgeous engagement rings front and center.
“See anything you like?”
She looked up at him, a joke forming on her lips. The words collapsed back into her throat. His dark eyes were serious, his handsome face intent.
She’d wondered why he parked on the main street when plenty of parking was available nearer the concert.
“Molly,” he said, his voice very deep.
She turned her head quickly. “They’re all beautiful. Dreadfully expensive I bet. Let’s go. I’m beat.”
She dashed for the truck, and whatever he had meant to say remained unsaid.
At its heart Among the Departed is a novel about love. Old love, new love, unrequited love, comfortable love, forbidden love, and fatal love. As well as dealing with the crime that makes the book a mystery story, all of the series regulars must deal with their personal relationships.
Sergeant John Winters’ marriage is recovering, abet slowly, from the events in the previous book, Negative Image, that drove him and his wife Eliza apart. Molly’s mother, Lucky, discovers, to her considerable surprise, that she has been adored from afar for a very long time.
The series format allows me to slowly and gradually explore all of those people’s complicated relationships while at the same time the police are working to find a killer.
Saying that, the books in a series mustn’t flow into each other so much that new readers will be lost as to what’s going on. It can be a balancing act, to create a plot that’s self-contained within each individual book, but still allows the characters to grow and to change over time.
Now that the fifth Molly Smith book is out the door, I’m taking a break from Trafalgar and writing a new standalone. New book, new characters, new challenges.
Series or standalone? Ultimately it is up to you and me, the readers to decide.
I suspect we’ll vote for both.
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Vicki lives in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she rarely wears a watch and can write whenever she feels like it. She is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, and Capital Crime Writers, and is on the board of Wolfe Island’s Scene of the Crime Mystery Festival. Visit her website at VickiDelany.com; you can follow Vicki on Facebook and on Twitter.
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About Among the Departed: Fifteen years ago a young girl by the name of Moonlight Smith went to her best friend Nicky Nowak’s house for a sleepover. Moonlight joined the family for breakfast the following morning and was then picked up by her mother. Shortly after, Mr. Nowak went for a walk.
He was never seen again.
Autumn has arrived on the mountains above Trafalgar, B.C., and the promise of winter is in the air. Constable Molly Smith is cuddled by the fireplace with Adam Tocek of the RCMP when Tocek and his dog Norman are called to a wilderness camping ground to join the search for a little boy who snuck away from his family looking for bears.
The child is found, dirty, terrified, weeping, but unharmed. Then the inquisitive Norman digs up something else: human bones.
The ID isn’t positive, but it is enough to have Sergeant John Winters of the Trafalgar City Police pulling old boxes from the basement to re-open the Brian Nowak investigation. He finds a family shattered beyond recognition by the disappearance of their husband and father. Mrs. Nowak is an empty shell of a woman, dressed in pajamas, never leaving the house. Her son Kyle haunts the streets of Trafalgar at night and spends his days creating beautiful, but highly troubling, art. Nicky Nowak lives in Vancouver and has grown up to be gorgeous, charming, elegant. Yet behind that facade lies a woman whose heart has closed so tightly against human relationships she comes to Trafalgar trailing in her wake a terrifying threat to another innocent family.
As the investigation into the life and disappearance of Brian Nowak grows, old secrets are brought to light and new ones struggle to remain hidden.
You can read the first two chapters of Among the Departed on Vicki Delany's website.
For a chance to win a copy of Among the Departed, courtesy of Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Vicki Delany: The Molly Smith Mysteries" contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code (6710) for a chance to win! (One entry per person; contest ends 05/18/2011.)