Early in my writing career, a fellow panelist at a book fair declared that the marriage of the main character meant death to a crime series. To her mind, sexual tension was essential, and once a couple married that was gone. Another panelist agreed. Three of us disagreed, though I was the only one whose sleuth (Owen Archer) had married between books 1 and 2. The others who disagreed felt the sexual tension was superfluous and could arise even with a married character—he or she will still encounter attractive people, after all. All three of us expressed tedium with the whole star-crossed lovers meme, particularly when it extended through many books, requiring increasingly absurd twists to keep the two apart.
But my main argument, that an ongoing tale of a love match provides character depth through all the issues that arise with the household, the in-laws, whether or not to have children, the children and their (mis)adventures, illnesses, the responsibilities of parenthood, the balancing act between work and family. Tush! said the marriage-means-death panelist, see how distracting all of that is? That’s women’s lit. She surprised me with that one. Owen Archer is women’s lit because his heart makes his vulnerable? I laughed at that.
I have never regretted my choices about Owen Archer. The members of his family have enriched the stories. His wife Lucie, her father and aunt, his children, including their foster son, have all played central roles in the books, and they were richer for it—Lucie’s first pregnancy in The Nun’s Tale, her father’s pilgrimage in A Gift of Sanctuary, Jasper’s first experience assisting Owen in The Guilt of Innocents—the books are richer for their involvement.
Owen’s fierce love for his family is central to the action in the 14th Owen Archer mystery, A Fox in the Fold. The second scene in the book begins with his paternal frustration:
“Autumn was in the air, a chilly undercurrent in the breeze. Owen welcomed the excuse to step out into it and away from his troubles. But he could not escape them. Captain of archers; spy, steward, and captain of guards for an archbishop; spy for a prince, now a princeling and his dam; captain of the bailiffs of the great city of York – Owen was, or had been, all of these and more, yet nothing in his experience challenged him as much as fatherhood. He stood in awe of all fathers before him, around him, and in times to come.
“He had of late tripped over his own best intentions, struggling to make sense of a rift between his son Jasper and his daughter Gwen. The young man – for he was almost twenty now, no longer a boy – had burdened his sister, a child of half his age, to keep a secret, and she had done so; yet because Owen had guessed what was afoot, Jasper wrongly accused his sister of betraying him, punishing her with stony silence. His attempts to convince his son of her innocence were of no avail. It was so unlike Jasper that Owen wondered whether he was expressing anger over something unrelated. He’d always been a perceptive young man with a kind heart. Surely he knew that his sister looked up to him, sought to be like him, and would never betray him.
“As a father, Owen could ignore neither his son’s stubborn cruelty nor the secret itself. The romance between Jasper and Alisoun had simmered for years; that their attraction had at last been set to boil was no surprise – if that is what had happened. If so, what should he do? Encourage them to plight their troth? Insist upon it? He was not so old he forgot his own sexual encounters at his son’s age. But as a father he could not condone Jasper’s secretiveness about what had happened in the early morning up in his room above the apothecary, the morning both he and, apparently, Gwen witnessed Alisoun slipping out at the first cock crow. Nor would he tolerate Jasper’s refusal to believe his sister’s loyalty. She had not told Owen of the incident; he had seen Alisoun from his bedroom window and guessed where she had been. When he had asked his son, he had exploded in anger at his sister. What to do? How could fatherhood be so difficult for a seasoned soldier?”
But this trouble is a nit compared with the far more dangerous threat to his entire family when the protagonist’s identity and motivation become clear to Owen. His fiercely protective instincts render him vulnerable; his fury threatens recklessness. He has everything to lose. Yes, the story would still be thrilling without his anguish about endangering his family, but it would be a lesser thing. I hope you agree.
In case you missed it, this time the English language hardcover and e-book will come out worldwide, not just in the UK, on 4 October. Thank you for preordering–it makes a huge difference.
I’m astounded that the person arguing for a “never-ending” romance was not aware that it is precisely that which gets dismissed as “women’s fiction”. Your development of Owen, his family, relations, friends, community, etc. is precisely what makes your work universal. My late husband and I totally enjoyed it and often read your books to one another aloud. Everyone on the entire gender continuum that I have introduced your books to, if they liked mysteries and history at all, LOVES the Owen Archer series. I, of course, am totally addicted and always will be and I’m down with covid and literally begging you to write yet another :)!
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I agree about the neverending romance. But she was adamant. I treasure the image of you and your late husband reading my books aloud to each other. Thank you so much!