Shop Talk: Allowing a Sleuth to Age

“One of the most interesting aspects of [Sir John] Appelby is the way in which he ages and matures so that readers who fall under his spell can have the satisfaction of vicariously living his life. ….no other detective writer has produced for his hero such a well-documented life. … most of us with a serial hero are content to take refuge in the fashionable illusion that our detectives are immutably fixed in the first age we assigned to them….” So says PD James  in Talking About Detective Fiction (Knopf 2009, p. 55) about Michael Innes’s detective and “most of us”, which I suppose includes me.

But of course it doesn’t. And here’s why that passage jumped out at me. It never occurred to me not to age my “serial detective”(s), i.e., Owen Archer and Lucie Wilton. Even with Margaret Kerr, though her story (so far) takes place in a short stretch of time in time, she does mature. I enjoy moving my characters along through time, showing how they absorb their experiences. My fascination with crime fiction is largely about the wake that a crime creates in its path, disturbing the community, unearthing the secrets of many who have no direct connection with the crime. So I’m also interested in how my sleuths are changed by what they learn about life, human nature, the nature of evil. And I enjoy that about the series I read.

How about you?

4 Comments on “Shop Talk: Allowing a Sleuth to Age

  1. I think James is wrong about this. The changes in perspective and relationship as a character ages – even if it’s just over a short period – and some of the most fascinating aspects, a true look into character.


    • I realized when working on my standalones how I missed the luxury of exploring my series characters over time, to a depth not possible in a single book, even one that spans as much time as The King’s Mistress. And I think you’re right, even when a writer isn’t consciously aging the main character, that character does change over the course of the books.


  2. Isn’t the aging process one factor in a character’s development? My own main character, Marcus Aegius, as he ages and takes on new roles, adopts new characteristics depending on his responsibilities. Once a feckless young man with an eye to the main chance, he becomes a “safe pair of hand’s”, especially with promotion and the advent of fatherhood. Age and experience help development ensuring characters are not two dimensional.


    • I certainly think so. What you’ve described with Marcus is exactly what I enjoy both as reader and author.

      I love the phrase a “safe pair of hands.”


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