Today is Day 9 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER. Last stop on the tour is ShotsMag Confidential, where I’m the guest of the remarkable Ayo Onatade, talking about taking the first book in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, from being a standalone into the start of a new series.
Although I’ve said I’ll do three books with CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston for the moment, I’m not ruling out more. And if the response is as positive as it’s been so far, that has become a distinct possibility!
When is a Series not a SeriesThere was Never Going to Be a Second BookWhen my Lakes-set crime thriller, DANCING ON THE GRAVE came out in late 2018, it was fully intended as a standalone novel. In fact, I stated as much in the sub-title of the book.
I’m not quite sure who I was trying to convince.That story is my take on the Washington Sniper incident from back in 2002, but transported to the English Lake District. I focused the story around four of the main characters—rookie CSI Grace McColl; recently transferred Detective Constable Nick Weston; the sniper himself; and the disturbed teenage girl who becomes his spotter.Unlike my first-person POVCharlie Fox series, DANCING ON THE GRAVE was written in close third-person viewpoint, so I could get right inside the heads of the characters—including the perpetrators. That made it feel, to me as I wrote it, unlike the usual police procedural. The story allowed me to explore a number of themes that were important to me, about the abandonment of former military personnel after their service was up, and what seems to be the current obsession with ‘being famous’ without regard to reason.But I didn’t think it would be an easy book to follow up, even if I’d been intending to. Reviewers and readers had other ideas.Such was the response to Grace and Nick that I was eventually persuaded to give them a second outing. (Although, strictly speaking, Grace’s first appearance was in a short story,Tell Me, which you can currently read on the Crime Readers’ Association website.)The basic idea for BONES IN THE RIVER has been with me in some form or another for more than fifteen years. Back in the early 2000s, I was living in the small market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria, while building a house in the Eden valley. Every year in the first week in June, Appleby Horse Fair takes place in the town. It’s been held in one form or another since medieval times, but since the beginning of the last century it’s grown into the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.Held from Thursday to the following Wednesday (but mainly Friday to Sunday) the Fair attracts around 10,000 members of the Travelling community—quadrupling the population of the town. Another 30,000 visitors flock in to watch the spectacle of horses being washed in the River Eden and shown off along the Flashing Lane.Locally, it’s greeted with mixed feelings. There are those who love it for the extra business and revenue it generates. And equally those who hate it for the disruption it causes. Not just during Fair week, but also in the run-up to the event, as the different Romany clans begin to assemble in outlying villages.It is, I was told, a very good time to settle old scores. If one of your neighbours has pissed you off, you wait until the Fair to get your own back, and blame it on the Gypsies. The police are always out in number and trouble is, shall we say, not unknown.So I set my story against this backdrop. It was somehow a metaphor for what was going on in the country at large over Brexit, where outsiders were viewed with suspicion and distrust. My aim was to portray without romanticising or demonising either. People are people, and there are good and bad of all types.I also wanted to look closely at the effects of a split-second bad decision on someone who has spent their life on the ‘right’ side of the law. To see the slow, corrosive consequences as they are forced to compound their sins.And, having discovered the title BONES IN THE RIVER as part of a song by Gillian Welch, I knew I was going to have to make the River Eden as much a character in the book as the people.Once again, you see one crime as it’s committed and I make no effort to hide the identity of the perpetrator for long. But then a second body emerges, and there’s more mystery to the who and why.If people react as well to BONES as they did to DANCING, then it’s a style I hope to repeat. I’ve already promised a third instalment with Grace and Nick. After that, it’s up to my readers. If they like what they see (including the Force Medical Examiner, one Dr Ayo Onatade) then there will be more crimes to come in the wild hills of Cumbria!
Thanks to Ayo Onatade for organising this.
The biggest problem I had when asked to compile a list of kick-ass heroines who should be read, was narrowing it down. There has been an explosion of great female characters in recent years, and the ones I name here are just a few of them.
One of my long-time favourites has to be Lt Eve Dallas of the NYPSD (New York Police & Security Department) in the future-set police procedurals by JD Robb. This series now numbers over 50, including novellas and short stories. Dallas is a tough, damaged and gritty heroine, ably assisted by a cast of great female characters, and Dallas’s impossibly rich, impossibly handsome (and impossibly sexy) husband, Roarke. The first in the series was NAKED IN DEATH, published in 1995.
The first novel by Seeley James featuring ex-athlete, Pia Sabel, was THE GENEVA DECISION, now part of James’ Sabel Origins set. A former soccer star, Sabel takes over her father’s private security company and is soon joined in the series by unstable military veteran, Jacob Stearne, who might or might not be receiving divine guidance from the winged god, Mercury. (Or he may simply be bonkers. You decide.) Either way, the books are great fun and well worth reading.
One of my favourite kick-ass female characters is a sidekick rather than the main protagonist in her own right. Lee Child first featured former Army Master Sergeant and military police operative, Frances Neagley, in BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE. She’s cool and dry, rarely impressed and sometimes scary (according to Reacher himself.) She has made half a dozen outings in Lee’s work, and even one in my own Charlie Fox novel, SECOND SHOT. How come? Because the real Frances L Neagley is a huge mystery fan who regularly bids to be a character in authors’ books in charity auctions at conventions like Bouchercon.
And I guess, shuffling my feet awkwardly, I should put in a mention here for my own kick-ass heroine. A former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox was described by Paul Goat Allen at the Chicago Tribune as “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic – and coolest – heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”
If the character of Frances Neagley suffers from haptephobia (fear of being touched) then Harry Bingham’s DC Fiona Griffiths of Cardiff Police has far stranger hang-ups which lead her to identify more strongly with the dead than the living. Her first appearance was in TALKING TO THE DEAD, which was turning into a two-part Sky TV drama starring Sophie Rundle. A great and unusual heroine who can kick some serious ass when required.
By contrast, Lori Anderson in Steph Broadribb’s DEEP DOWN DEAD is a single mother bounty hunter, who by a combination of circumstances has to take her young daughter with her to collect a fugitive from out of state. As you might expect, trouble ensues, and Broadribb gives her tough heroine added depth by adding ferocious maternal instinct into the mix.
Ex-cop turned Chicago PI, Georgia Davis, is the heroine of five novels by acclaimed author Libby Fischer Hellmann. Tough, smart, principled and tenacious, Georgia first appears in a cameo in Hellmann’s Ellie Foreman series novel, A PICTURE OF GUILT, but plays a larger role in AN IMAGE OF DEATH, then steps squarely onto centre stage in EASY INNOCENCE.
I have long been a fan of the late Robert B Parker’s spare style of prose and sharp action scenes in his Spenser and Jesse Stone series. With Boston PI Sunny Randall, he combined everything I liked most about his first two series, but with a female protagonist to root for. She’s as smart and capable as Spenser, and still surrounded by a wonderful cast of subsidiary characters, but perhaps with more emotional depth. The first book in this series is FAMILY HONOR.
I was already reading Rachel Amphlett’s Dan Taylor thrillers before she began her modern spin on the police procedural with SCARED TO DEATH, featuring Detective Kay Hunter of Kent police. Hunter is as driven as you would expect, but her resilience is also tested as she fights a personal vendetta against her as well as the villains of each particular instalment.
Another memorable subsidiary character is that of DI Roberta Steel in the Aberdeen-set DS Logan McRae crime thrillers by Stuart MacBride. Steel has a major role to play in all the Logan McRae books, right from COLD GRANITE onward. She’s politically incorrect, a chain-smoker, foul-mouthed and over-the-top, and you can’t help but love her for it. Clearly, MacBride did too, because he wrote the spinoff standalone NOW WE ARE DEAD featuring Steel in a leading role.
And finally, one of my all-time favourites is Kinsey Millhone, the heroine of the alphabet series by the late Sue Grafton. Millhone is prickly, fiercely independent, and a skilled and methodical private detective in the fictional Santa Teresa, a thinly disguised Santa Barbara in California. The ending to the first in the series, A IS FOR ALIBI, still blows me away, years after I first read it.
Zoë Sharp is the author of twelve books in her award-winning crime thriller series featuring ex-Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. Lee Child said: “If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox.” Sharp has also written a joint novella with espionage thriller author, John Lawton, numerous short stories, and two standalones, the latest of which is DANCING ON THE GRAVE (July 2018) which is her take on the Washington Sniper attacks, set in the English Lake District. Find out more at www.ZoeSharp.com.
Dancing On The Grave by Zoë Sharp
ZACE £9.99 mmpb ISBN: 9781909344402 ebook ISBN: 9781909344396