They say publishers love novels that turn into a series. The characters in these collections of stories develop their own fan base assuring the publisher of a a steady and increasing audience to gobble up each new adventure as soon as it hits the stands. Still, it’s tricky to write that kind of series because each book has to serve two plots. Each book has a primary, short plot: it finds and resolves a conflict that involves the new characters and most (if not all) of the permanent cast. The second plot is harder because it’s part of the overall arc of the series. This plot creates some incremental change in the lives of the permanent cast and lets them create or resolve underlying conflicts (Continuing characters must evolve from book to book or the reading public gets bored and leaves). Interweaving these two plots in each book is a little like jumping rope double-dutch style: it takes skill, balance and concentration. Thriller/Mystery novelist Val McDermid has created three different detective novel serials, the most popular of which are the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books. Her latest in this series, Splinter the Silence, shows how a good author can make some themes serve two plots at once.
In the short-term plot, silence is what happens when crusading women are squelched. Bloggers, journalists and other feminists who step into public debate have been showing up dead after being attacked in the social media. Each of the deaths look like a suicide and most assume these women died to escape the continual cyber-bullying even though those close to the women all insist the victims never seemed depressed or suicidal. The local police don’t realize there’s a serial killer in the mix and it’s up to profiler/psychologist, Dr. Tony Hill and retired detective Carol Jordan to stop the murderer before more speakers are silenced.
The second silence has been building around central character Carol Jordan for some time. For seven novels, Carol Jordan fought criminals, the media, and her sometimes foolhardy supervisors in the police force in order to bring the guilty to court and speak for their victims. Her weapons in the fight were her anger, brain and drive; her sole release, the relaxation that came from alcohol. Her support staff knew about her boozing but kept quiet since it didn’t seem to affect her work. Then Carol’s brother was murdered and grief drove her from the job and into the bottle. A phone call from jail provides Tony with the opportunity break through Carol’s withdrawal and ask her to get help.
Still the fight against progress permeates Splinter the Silence. As the killer fights the idea of women having independent lives, Carol fights recognizing her dependence on drink, no matter how damning the contrary evidence. Even when she glimpses the how far she has fallen, Carol’s continued sobriety is no assured thing.
Val McDermid never hands out assurances but life doesn’t either. Instead, her books hold out hope for those who keep trying to communicate. As long as her characters engage readers’ emotions, she will be begged for more stories of Dr. Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan.