By guest blogger Vicki Delany
Today the Femmes welcome the highly-prolific Canadian author Vicki Delany. Vicki’s newest novel is Negative Image, the fourth in the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the village of Trafalgar, deep in the mountains of British Columbia. Vicki also writes a light-hearted historical series, Gold Digger and Gold Fever, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush, and standalone novels of psychological suspense. She lives in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.
A small community has always been a popular place to set a mystery novel.
Small towns and villages work particularly well for the sort of story or series where people are connected and relationships are complicated, where day-to-day associations between the protagonists and their families and friends (and enemies) are important. Having a small town setting allows for situations where people know each other well and relationships can be highly interconnected.
Which in real life is not always a good thing if you have a secret you’re trying to keep. And secrets are the life blood of the mystery novel.
The type of novel that is as much about the personal and family life of the protagonists as their jobs, that is more about human relationships and love and loss than international terrorism or guns-for-hire, thrives in the small town environment.
As a reader, I don’t like too much coincidence in a book. I can usually let the author get away with one coincidence in the name of moving the plot forward, but more than that and I start to lose the suspension of disbelief. From there it’s often a downward spiral into putting the book aside, unfinished. But coincidences do happen in a small town that wouldn’t be believable in a large city. Here’s a true-life example: In doing research for the Constable Molly Smith books I spend a lot of time with police officers. One night I was walking the beat in Nelson, British Columbia, pop 9,000 (Nelson is the real-life inspiration for Trafalgar, the town in my novels) and we went into a bar.
My daughter said, “Hi, Mom”
I introduced the officer to my daughter and son-in-law.
The very next day my son-in-law is driving into town without bothering to do up his seatbelt. He gets pulled over.
Same cop he met last night.
In a big city that might be a bit too much of a coincidence to swallow. But it can, and did, happen in a small town.
In addition, I have a very specific reason for setting my books in a small town. Veracity is important to me, as a reader as well as a writer. Molly Smith is, I believe, unique as the main character in a police procedural series: she is only twenty-six years old, a brand-new police officer. In In the Shadow of the Glacier and Valley of the Lost, the first two books in the series, she’s still on probation. She’s young, green, somewhat naive. In a big city police force she’d spend her time writing traffic tickets. But working in a small police department allows her to become more involved in major crimes, and allows me to make that believable. She’s a local and the detective sergeant’s a newcomer: he has to rely on her for local knowledge.
I’m often asked why I set my books in a fictional town rather than a real one. Particularly as my town of Trafalgar is a not-at-all-disguised version of Nelson. I do it mainly because it can be tricky dealing with places where prominent people such as the mayor or the chief of police are known as people as well as just their job titles. The mayor of Trafalgar is, well, dead, and the Chief Constable (i.e. the Chief of Police) smokes too much and is in love with the mother of one of his officers. I don’t want anyone thinking I know things about the chief that I don’t. Or about the state of the mayor’s health, come to think of it.
From a purely practical point of view, I don’t want to have to be worried about putting a restaurant where the bank is or misnaming the streets. And last of all, real places can be limiting. In my newest book, Negative Image, it is a major plot point that the room service waiter goes into a hotel room. There isn’t a hotel in all of Nelson that has room service!
Sometimes, of course, real-life has to take a back seat to the interests of a good story. No one in Nelson can quite remember when the last murder was. In Trafalgar, there are rather a lot.
As always, Sherlock Holmes said it best:
“The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” Sherlock Holmes, Adventure of the Copper Beeches.
“Do you know what Sherlock Holmes said about the countryside?”
“’The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.’ The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.”
“The great detective never came to Trafalgar, sir. I think he’d find it peaceful here. Most of the time.”
“I’m not interested in what happens here most of the time.” Sergeant Dick Madison and Constable Molly Smith, NEGATIVE IMAGE.
The first two chapters of Negative Image are posted on Vicki’s web page at: www.vickidelany.com