Tag Archives: backstory

Guest Post: James Henry on Writing a Crime Series

Today on the blog, I have James Henry, author of the DI Nicholas Lowry series. James’s books are popular among readers and writers of crime fiction alike.

Whitethroat‘, the third in the series is due out in July and James is here today to give his thoughts on writing a crime series.

My thanks to James for taking the time to share his experience with us.

Vic x

James Henry

Tips on writing a Crime Series

When I start thinking about writing a new crime series, my first rule is to try and write each book in such a way that it works, as far as is possible, as a standalone novel. That is to say, a reader should not have to have read book one in order to understand and enjoy books two, three or four – each should be satisfying in its own right. The point of this, of course, is that you can still pick up new readers with each new book as your series develops – readers who may then dip back to earlier books. If you achieve that, you continue to build your audience.

To do this successfully, remember a few key points when starting out:

Keep a notebook detailing simple things – like description of characters physical traits, their age, their habits and peccadilloes. You think you will remember the simple things; you think you will remember your character prefers white bread to wholemeal; you won’t – but your reader most certainly will… You will thank yourself for having something to refer back to. 

However, I would caution against going overboard on detail too soon: you have a long road to travel, so be wary of packing too much baggage in the early days. You have to carry it all with you. Allow characters to develop gently. The first book in the series should focus on the story, making the plot as tight, engaging and pacy as possible.  

As your series progresses you can allow your characters to develop. The more books you write the more backstory you will accumulate – a sense of shared history involving character relationships, tragic events, celebrations, any number of things. You will draw on this history in your writing, but do so judiciously – too much repetition risks slowly the pace of the story as a whole. Say that book one sees your detective break up from a long relationship, as well as receive a great promotion at work. A long explanation of the reason for their new job in book two may not warrant the page space it takes to tell; but exploring the reasons why they are miserable and drinking more than usual in spite of having an important new job, very well may. 

Remember that as your series develops you have to write with two readers in mind: your new reader, the one who may be discovering this series for the first time; and the readers who have been with you from the start. From now on, think about how you orientate new readers in the world you have created as well as keep things fresh for those who are familiar with it. For instance, you can re-introduce the setting, the landscape – but perhaps you can add some new detail on the geography or history of the area. There is always a way to make the familiar newly interesting.

With all this to bear in mind, the writing may seem hard work, much beyond a one off novel say, but there is a sense of satisfaction in an adding another layer to the world you have created that can only be had by series fiction.

Review: ‘Impostor’ by L.J. Ross

Forensic psychologist Doctor Alexander Gregory is renowned for being able to uncover whatever secrets lie hidden in the darkest of minds and, very quickly, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation.

A killer is on the loose in County Mayo, Ireland and panic has taken hold on the rural community. The Garda are running out of time. Despite swearing to follow a quiet life, Gregory finds it impossible to turn down their desperate request for assistance.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of L.J. Ross’s DCI Ryan series so it was with some excitement that I picked up ‘Impostor‘, the first book in the Alexander Gregory series. 

Despite having insane success with the DCI Ryan series, L.J. Ross has shown she isn’t afraid to take risks by embarking on a new series set in a new location. Ross has clearly done her research into psychological profilers – her portrayal of Gregory demonstrates her depth of knowledge. However, the story doesn’t lose its pace or get bogged down in unnecessary detail. It’s a real skill that Ross has honed – balancing backstory with pace. 

The characters in ‘Impostor‘ are well-drawn with hidden depths. Gregory’s backstory is intriguing and I like how Ross manages to create three-dimensional characters who contribute to the narrative throughout.

Setting ‘Impostor‘ in Ireland gives Ross plenty of beautiful scenery to draw on and she does so with aplomb. L.J. Ross uses the countryside to create an atmosphere that contributes to the tense narrative. 

As usual, L.J. Ross ensures that the reader is kept guessing until the very end. I was convinced I knew who the perpetrator was, only to be blind-sided by the big reveal. 

I’m looking forward to reading ‘Hysteria‘, the next in the series. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Warehouse’ by Rob Hart

Unemployment and bankruptcy have devastated the globe but in America, online store Cloud offers workers paid opportunities as well as homes in their live-work facilities. Spearheaded by a charismatic CEO, Cloud has branded itself as something of a saviour but underneath the supposed wonder of Cloud, something sinister is lurking. 

Entrepreneur Paxton never thought he’d be working for the company that ruined his business but compared to what’s left outside, he figures perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. When he meets fellow Cloud employee Zinnia, Paxton begins to thank his lucky stars but Zinnia has her eyes on another prize: Paxton’s all-access security pass. 

As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place.

It’s fairly clear that Rob Hart has written ‘The Warehouse‘ as a comment on a number of multinational corporations and the abuse they visit on their employees as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs who they regard as competition. ‘The Warehousemight be set in a dystopian future but it’s very easy to see how we could get there.

Hart has created a number of characters who are believable and easy to empathise with. I especially respected his ability to write one particularly abhorrent character who works as the perfect metaphor for Cloud. 

Weaving the backstory of Cloud, as told by its charming CEO, alongside Zinnia’s and Paxton’s stories ensures that the reader is kept intrigued throughout this story of corporate espionage in a world where everyone has their own agenda. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Hermitage’ by LJ Ross

When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to discover why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective as DCI Ryan has tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.

When I began reading ‘The Hermitage‘, I was staying in a hotel very close to the village of Warkworth, where LJ Ross’s latest book is set. I loved being even more immersed in the setting than usual. However, Ross’s descriptions are so evocative that you’ll be able to picture the locations even if you haven’t visited them before. 

The Hermitage‘ is also unusual in the fact that DCI Ryan is actually out of the UK, we follow him and his wife Anna to Florence. Despite the beauty of their surroundings, Ryan and Anna find themselves fighting for their lives against an intelligent adversary. 

I really enjoyed finding out more about Nathan Armstrong’s backstory, LJ Ross demonstrates an insightful streak by understanding the motives behind his heinous acts. Combined with a keen awareness of her main character, Ross uses ‘The Hermitage‘ to inform her readers about Ryan and his family too. 

I think what continues to make the DCI Ryan series so successful is Ross’s ability to combine some awful crimes with strong relationships between the recurring characters. I particularly enjoy the banter between Ryan and Phillips. 

Ross’s stories demonstrate a duality that most of us experience: that things are rarely all good or all bad. 

I honestly did not want ‘The Hermitage‘ to end, it was utterly gripping. However, DCI Ryan fans don’t have long to wait for the next instalment: ‘Longstone‘ is due to be released on 10th December. Before that, though, is a new multicast drama on audiobook. ‘The Infirmary‘ will be available on Audible from 8th November. I, for one, can’t wait! 

Vic x

Review: ‘Cut to the Bone’ by Alex Caan

Ruby is a vlogger, the heroine of millions of teenage girls. In the world of YouTube and social media, Ruby’s profile couldn’t get much higher but now she’s missing and a video showing Ruby begging for her life is uploaded for the world to see. 

Detective Inspector Kate Riley, head of a new team of policing superstars at the Met, and Zain Harris, the face of multiracial policing, are drafted in to try to find Ruby. Has time run out? Can Kate trust Harris? And more importantly, can she trust herself? As pressure from fans and the media builds, Harris and Riley find out just how dark the web can be. 

After hearing Alex Caan talk about his characters Kate Riley and Zain Harris at Newcastle Noir, I had to read ‘Cut to the Bone‘. 

Alex Caan has written an up-to-the-minute technocentric thriller which will simultaneously terrify and excite readers. This may be a traditional crime book but I have never read anything quite so of its time. It’s clear a lot of research went into Caan’s premise. ‘Cut to the Bone‘ is an intelligent, modern crime novel that covers a number of themes that are relevant to today’s society. 

Combining short chapters with cliffhanger after cliffhanger, Caan manages to keep the reader holding their breath pretty much for the duration of the novel. The intertwining narratives work well to keep the reader engaged. 

Both Kate Riley and Zain Harris are complex characters and I can see them featuring in  book after book. Riley’s backstory, in particular, was very intriguing and original. 

If you’re looking for a fresh, fast-paced police procedural to get your teeth into, ‘Cut to the Bone‘ is for you.

Vic x

Review: ‘Seven Bridges: A DCI Ryan Mystery’ by LJ Ross

When the Tyne Bridge explodes, DCI Ryan’s team face someone calling themselves The Alchemist who won’t stop until every bridge is burned. The time constraints set by The Alchemist make much of this book a literal race against time to stop the bridges being blown up – along with the people on them.

Ryan’s plans to leave Newcastle to track down a killer are put on hold in the wake of the threats. Add a colleague who is in very serious trouble, and there’s no way Ryan can leave Tyneside.

With every DCI Ryan book, LJ Ross manages to surprise. I feel like she is working her way through every sub-genre of crime – and I like it! ‘Seven Bridges‘ combines domestic noir with a very timely terrorist element.

What I really enjoyed about ‘Seven Bridges‘ was the backstory pertaining to DCI Ryan’s former relationship with Detective Chief Superintendent Jen Lucas. This was a great subversion of the typical coercive control representations in fiction and I applaud LJ Ross for shining a spotlight on the damage that can be done.

As always, the plot is tight and filled with tense twists. LJ Ross manages to wilfully misdirect the reader’s attention and keep you guessing until the very end. Packed with exciting action sections and peppered with humour, ‘Seven Bridges‘ will not disappoint DCI Ryan’s legion of fans.

Vic x