or: How Robert Crouch found his genre & protagonist, Kent Fisher.
Author Robert Crouch on the start of his crime fiction writing career
It sounds like a solicitor’s practice, but these three characters inspired me to write crime fiction.
The actress, Joan Hickson, brought Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to life on the screen in a series of peerless BBC dramas. I watched in amazement, marvelling at the plot, the characters, the exquisite production values that set this series above the rest.
Inspector Morse, with the wonderful John Thaw, had a rival. I loved Morse, but never wanted to write a police procedural. Not being a police officer and knowing little about how they operated might have contributed to this. Accuracy to me is synonymous with credibility.
Then the penny dropped.
Miss Marple and Morse dealt with right and wrong, justice, fair play, rising up against those who would take advantage – the values that had mattered to me all my life. Maybe I could harness this and write crime fiction.
I began to watch like a critic, analysing the plots, working out how to lay false trails, divert suspicion and disguise the identity of the killer. I learned how to build tension, how to engage the viewer/reader, how to use surprises and twists to wrong foot.
All I required was a flawed but engaging protagonist with a put upon sidekick. Blend in four or five suspects with motives to murder, a victim with plenty of baggage and reasons to be killed. Base it in an engaging setting and I would have my own, distinctive series, ready to run.
But, you have to walk before you can run.
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t create the distinctive character I needed. All the flaws and foibles were already allocated to the detectives in novels and on TV.
The final piece fell into place when the WH Smith Book of the Month Club had an introductory offer of four books at 99p each. I chose a dictionary, an encyclopaedia, The Human Factor by Graham Greene and … what?
I looked through the list of books, but nothing grabbed my attention. Most of the authors were unknown to me. Most of the titles failed to arouse any interest until I spotted a small book in the middle of the crowded page. I’d never heard of Sue Grafton, but the first three of her alphabet novels had been combined into a Book of the Month Club special edition.
Three complete novels for 99p?
Sold to the frustrated writer with big dreams and no budget!
The moment I started reading A is for Alibi, I was hooked. This was a detective series like no other, dominated by Kinsey Millhone, a feisty private eye with a fine repertoire of witty observations that echoed my own take on the world. The characterisation was superlative as Kinsey followed a trail that seemed doomed from the start. But she never gave up, never let anyone down, and put her life on the line for her clients in the mythical town of Santa Teresa on the Californian coast.
I wanted to write complex murder mysteries like Agatha Christie. I wanted a unique detective like Kinsey, only male and English. I wanted a setting like Morse’s Oxford to make my novels distinctive.
I’d never plotted a whodunit before, let alone written one, but it didn’t matter. I was going to be a crime writer – as soon as I created a protagonist that could capture the public’s imagination.
As I hated research, I had to write about what I knew.
A struggling writer with intense natural curiosity and a habit of being close by when people are killed was too much like Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote.
An environmental health officer (EHO) who dreamt about solving murders while he patrolled his South Downs district sounded implausible, even if it was true. Whoever heard of an EHO solving murders? But no one had created an environmental health detective before.
If I could make him credible, he would be unique.
This is how Robert Crouch’s protagonist, Environmental Health Inspector, Ken Fisher, was born. Robert Crouch has so far published three books in the series, No Accident, No Bodies, and No Remorse. His fourth book, No More Lies, will be published May 9th, 2019 – and will be celebrated with a #BlogTour.