Writing a crime series and keeping it fresh

Writing a crime series and keeping each novel fresh is always a challenge for crime writers. There are now nine in the DI Andy Horton series and number ten, Death Surge, is being published by Severn House on 30 September 2013.  So DI Horton has come a long way since first appearing in Tide of Death in 2006.

So how does a writer keep the series fresh and the central character of interest to readers?

Readers buy my books because they enjoy the style, the setting and reading about the same characters, but the challenge is how to keep faithful to my readers and make each novel fresh and different?

For me creating a central character with a back story, which can be progressed with each new novel, is one way of introducing a fresh element.  DI Andy Horton has the continuing mission, along with all the accompanying internal strife, of trying to discover why his mother (Jennifer) abandoned him at the age of ten, where she went and what subsequently happened to her.

It is suspected that she was involved with a master criminal code named Zeus, who the Intelligence Directorate, Europol and Interpol are keen to get their hands on and who are eager to enlist Horton’s help in finding, but as the series progresses it is clear that there is more to her disappearance than Horton has been led to believe.  (I won’t reveal what and spoil it for new readers).

Then there is the question of Horton’s father. Who is he? Where is he?  Is he still alive? Along with this there is Horton’s continuing struggle to gain regular access to his daughter, Emma, from an antagonistic former wife.

While these elements must not be allowed to dominate the novel (and not all of them are in every novel) they keep the reader wondering what might happen and allow the development of subplots and other sides of Horton’s character to be revealed.

The main character’s personal life does, to some extent, have an impact on the plots, but each novel contains a new murder mystery to be solved and that mystery is resolved at the end of each book.

In addition, DI Horton is based in CID with an abrasive female boss, DCI Lorraine Bliss, who is introduced in novel three – The Suffocating Sea – but it is the Major Crime Unit which deals with the homicide cases so there has to be a new way of getting Horton drawn in to each investigation, which makes it challenging and interesting.

I also introduce officers seconded from other units, which in turn alters the chemistry between the characters and the ensuing dialogue.

Setting is another key element in the Horton series. In the Solent there is plenty of contrast and action, both on and off the water, and this helps to create variety, conflict and keep the stories fresh.  Added to this is the fact that Horton lives on board his yacht, so he can always up sticks and travel – on holiday, or for a day out sailing… and who knows what might happen? (Blood on the Sand)

I enjoy writing a series and seeing the characters’ lives unfold, and publishers like a series because more sales can be generated as the readership grows with each new novel. I’m currently writing the eleventh DI Andy Horton and also working on a new series featuring a new hero. So a lot more to come yet.

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