It’s well known that Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming all became increasingly tired of their heroes. Conan Doyle famously tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls in ‘The Adventure of the Final Problem,’ but there was such an outcry from his readers that he was forced to resurrect him. Agatha Christie wrote in her diary at the end of the 1930s that she was finding Poirot “insufferable”, and by the 1960s she felt that he was “an egocentric creep”, but her readers, including me, still love them today.
Though Agatha Christie clearly had little love for the Belgian ex-detective, it cannot be said that she gave up on him. Between 1920 and 1975, there were thirty-three novels, a play – ‘Black Coffee’ – and more than fifty short stories featuring Poirot before he made his final appearance in ‘Curtain.’ It seems hard to believable that she could continue to write about a character she disliked for fifty-five years.
Ever since I read ‘The Silver Pigs,’ the first in the series about a first century Roman informer-cum-private eye, in the early 1990s, I was hooked on Lindsey Davis’ Falco novels. One year, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the next one, but it was not to be. Without warning, there was a new protagonist to take over the job of uncovering Rome’s murderers – his step-daughter, Flavia Albia. Had Lindsey Davis grown tired of Falco? After twenty novels perhaps it was understandable. It took a couple of novels before Albia began to win the same place in my affections as Falco but, as regular readers of my blog will know, she and Titus are now among my favourite characters.
I felt a similar despair when Simon Brett abandoned the loveable rarely-employed actor Charles Paris. Much to my joy, after a fifteen-year gap, Charles is back! Hooray.
So what causes writers to abandon their characters? It was a question I put to Simon Brett. His answer was that when the first Charles Paris novel – ‘Cast, In Order of Disappearance’ – was published in 1975, the character was the same age as he was himself and that the books are written in real time with the character aging with each book. Seventeen books later, by 1998 when ‘Dead Room Farce’ appeared, Simon decided that Charles was getting far too old.
At the other end of the scale, I can think of several series characters that I fell instantly in love with and avidly read each new book in the series when they came out, but after the first dozen or so books, I found them too much the same and the characters began to grate on me. All three are comic crime and I wonder if therein lies part of the problem. The characters themselves hadn’t moved on. They were exactly the same in the last novel as they were in the first, seemingly having learnt nothing from their past experiences. If one compares that with Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels we see the difference. DS Rebus in ‘Knots & Crosses’ matures into a more disillusioned figure fighting a few more demons by the time we meet him as Inspector Rebus in ‘In a House of Lies’ the twenty-second book in the series.
As a writer who has series characters, I am beginning to understand the problems of having a series character. It wasn’t because I’d grown tired of my tour manager Fiona Mason that I abandoned her in favour of a new series featuring ancient history lecturer, Aunt Jessica. All my travel mysteries depend on research. ‘Blood across the Divide’ was published at the end of December and our trip to the Rhone Valley, the setting for the next book, wasn’t until Easter. (Though our wonderful holiday to Provence and the South of France did eventually become the setting for the latest Fiona adventure – ‘Blood Flows South.’ ) I couldn’t sit twiddling my thumbs for four months and so our tour of Morocco the previous November was the inspiration for a brand-new series which began with ‘Murder in Morocco.’
I like to think that Fiona does change stepping out from the confines of being a wife, mother and carer to become more her own woman as she grows in her new job. But I do have a problem. Peter Montgomery-Jones. His been something of a thorn in my side from the beginning. He was only intended as a very minor character in book one but somehow, he demanded not only a much bigger part but to return in all the subsequent novels. It’s bad enough that I have to find a terrorism element in every novel to justify him turning up, but there is only so long I can hold off this on-off relationship. In ‘Blood Flows South’ things moved on a pace. Failing some sort of bust up between the two, I’m not sure how the series might develop. Perhaps that’s one of the reason that my work in progress is another Aunt Jessica. This one is set in Japan as you might guess from the title – ‘Undercover Geisha.’ Though I think I might need to give serious thought as to whether these should be called the Harry and Aunt Jessica Mysteries.