Monday, November 1, 2010


Standalones vs. Series

I thought it might be fun to take a step back and have a look at the most basic structure of the mystery novel. Standalone or series. There are, bacically, two types of mystery novels: standalones, in which characters appear once, never to be seen again, and series, in which characters feature in book after book.

As a reader as well as a writer, I am torn as to which I prefer. I believe that in real life a person, unless they’re a secret agent or bodyguard to a crime boss, has only one great adventure in them. Police officers will tell you that the job’s pretty boring most of the time, and crimes, even murders, are mundane things, easily solved.

A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them. Or not.

My first books were standalone novels of suspense. In Scare the Light Away the main character confronts, for one last time, the debris of her traumatic childhood. In Burden of Memory, the protagonist faces down the ghost of a past that is not hers, but is still threatening what she holds dear.

Then I switched to writing a series. And found that series novels present a different problem. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.

It can be a challenge to keep the main character interesting and growing and changing but to do it so slowly that the reader’s interest in the character can be maintained over several books and several years.

In the Constable Molly Smith novels (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Winter of Secrets), set in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia, Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancĂ©, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on. By the time we get to the fourth book in the series, Negative Image, Molly has put Graham’s death behind her, and said her good-byes. Now that she has a new man in her life, new problems arise.

Here’s a sample:
She threw up her hands and walked out of the kitchen. “Insult me. That’s what it was about, isn’t it. He insulted me. Are you defending my honor? I don’t have any goddamned honor to be defended.” She turned and faced him, her anger boiling up inside her.
He looked like a little boy, a six-foot four, two-hundred and twenty pound little boy, trying to explain why he’d been in a fight in the school yard.
“Do you think I don’t know what Dave Evans thinks of me? Do you think he doesn’t know what I think of him? But we go out on the streets every day, and we do our jobs, and we watch each other’s back. Because we’re cops first and being cops is the only thing that matters. Now you’ve gone and made it personal.”

Negative Image asks the question: What would you do if you believe the person you trust most in the world has betrayed you? What would you do if you discover that the person you trust most in the world believes you capable of betrayal? Because the question involves the series co-protagonist, Sergeant John Winters, and his wife, Eliza, the consequences of their actions in Negative Image will continue to resonate throughout the following books. He sipped at his tea as his heart thudded in his chest. He didn’t know if he could live without her.

Series or standalone? Ultimately it is up to you and me, the readers to decide.
I suspect we’ll vote for both.

Negative Image is being released TODAY, November 2nd, by Poisoned Pen Press. If you’d like to read the first two chapters, please go to: Vicki will be touring extensively throughout November and December; for dates and locations please go to

Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of psychological suspense to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior, to a light-hearted historical series, (Gold Digger and Gold Fever), set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki is settling down to the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.

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