Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Rebranding My Detective
When my mystery novel The McHenry Inheritance was first published in July of 2012, I described it in shorthand as a fly-fishing mystery. Although that may have been accurate as far as it went, it’s a marketing decision I’ve come to regret.
The regret arises from a growing belief on my part that identifying or describing the book in that way may be putting off some readers who would enjoy it but who have no interest in fly-fishing. Nor does it seem to be pulling in large numbers of readers who have that interest; if a fly-fisherperson doesn’t read mystery novels, he or she is unlikely to wade through the other 190 pages of the book to get to the ten that have to do with fishing.
From the beginning, I saw the book as the first in a series featuring the same protagonist, Quill Gordon. The running theme of the series would be that Gordon goes on a fishing trip, becomes enmeshed in some aspect of the small-town drama at his destination, and plays some part in solving the murder that arises out of that drama.
Lord Peter Goes to Scotland
In many respects, that’s similar to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Five Red Herrings, in which Lord Peter Wimsey goes on a fishing trip to Scotland, becomes enmeshed in the drama surrounding a group of artists who live in the small town where he is staying, and helps the police solve the murder of one of them. No one would refer to that book as a fly-fishing mystery, and while my tome has more fishing detail than Sayers’ book did, the fishing plays the same role: it gets the protagonist into the setting and situation.
Sayers used the fishing device only once, whereas I would be using it in every book. But what my books will really be about is an outsider (Gordon) becoming involved in a community and its issues, and in some way bringing his outsider status and perspective to bear on solving a crime that has disrupted the community.
Several readers of the first book — all male, by the way — have picked up on the outsider aspect and have commented that Gordon reminds them in some ways of Lee Child’s character Jack Reacher. They’re both tall, both loners and they go where they want to go and do what they want to do, but the resemblance pretty much ends there.
Jack Reacher Meets Miss Marple
Gordon is perhaps what Jack Reacher would be if he had a permanent address and substantial investment income — respectable in other words. In that regard, Gordon is something like Peter Wimsey, but he also is like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who travels about and solves crimes, mostly in small towns, based on her life experience and observations.
The Gordon series is more in the classical mode of Christie and Sayers than the modern action-thrillers that Child writes. And it has occurred to me that the classical aspect of the series should perhaps be emphasized more, though exactly how, I’m not sure. But with a new video to make and with having to redesign the Quill Gordon website to work in the second book, I’ll have some chances to work on the rebranding.
If, as I hope, I keep adding more books to the Gordon series, there will be plenty of additional opportunities for redefining what a Quill Gordon mystery is, and maybe I’ll eventually get it right. And there’s always the old fallback. If you tell good stories, which I’d like to believe I do, there will always be readers who appreciate that.