I started reading a Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) novel, The Brimstone Wedding, a couple of nights ago and it reminded me at once of one thing in particular that makes for a really excellent fictional crime story.


It can be easy as a writer of crime and mystery stories to focus all your attention on the actual crime and its subsequent resolution. You need to line up a suitable cast of suspects, have a plot that feeds a few red herrings to the reader all while giving them a fair chance to work out who did it, and, of course, you need to think about your detective (professional or otherwise) and the validity of their working practices. That’s a lot to get a grip on and there’s more besides all that.

However, what Ruth Rendell is always so brilliant at showing is the over-arching importance of your characters and the interaction between them. So much of what she writes is not overtly related to any crime, rather it’s all about building and developing a set of characters the reader can learn to understand and engage with.

Rendell’s ability to identify and understand the smallest details about her characters is remarkable. Little things that might, on their own, seem inconsequential, and yet turn out to be pivotal later on. Of course, what this is all about is building a picture that allows the reader to acquire an understanding of the motives of her characters.

Another one of my favourite crime authors who has the same skill is PD James. They were both leading lights in the school of ‘why did it’ rather than ‘who did it’.

They are an object lesson for all us crime and mystery authors in the importance of developing great characters and if I ever get even remotely close to the level set by the likes of Ruth Rendell and PD James, I will be a very happy man indeed.

The Brimstone Wedding









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