Hurray for the Series Novel: Val McDermid’s Splinter the Silence

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.

Diary of a Mad NaNoWriMor

Every November for the past 15 years, various aspirants to Literary Lionship have girded on their writing tools and thrown away their few remaining brain cells on what is known as NaNoWriMo – the Nation Novel Writing Month.  The objective of this event is to see if the would-be writer can create a first draft of a 50,000 word novel within 30 days.  What follows is the expurgated diary of one of these self-imposed masochists.  

11/1/15 – Ok, here goes nothing, as the man said.  Got an idea, got a word-processor and the nice people  at  promise that if I’ll just scribble down 1,666 words of this thing every day, I’ll have a sure-nuff 50K  word first draft by the end of the month.   At least Darling Spouse is in my corner.  What would I do without him?

11/4/15 There are thousands of writers using this site and everyone else seems bustin’ loose and making literary history.  I’ve got a first chapter done – I don’t like it, it stinks, but at least it’s done.  I sure am glad six or seven of these people want to be my writing buddies – misery loves company and maybe they can help me figure out a better beginning since all of them seem to be terrific scribblers.  Still I think my “buddy” BigWriteGuy probably started before November 1 – nobody kicks out 12K words on their first day!  Anyway, I don’t need to focus on anyone else’s attempts to cheat.   What I need is to find a better opening to this cockamamie story!

11/13/15 Day 13 and I’m already 2,700 words behind where I ought to be.  Acck!  This is Not My Fault!  First off, a virus killed my link with the internet which meant I lost contact with my writing buddies, my dictionary, my thesaurus and my word count validator.  I got the computer to regain the ‘net by reinstalling the Operating System but the repair ate my word-processing program!  Are they sure Marcel Proust started out this way?  On the good side, my imagination gave me a character named Jeremy and that guy is funny!  No wonder writers like what they do.

11/16/15 Well, I’m a day behind schedule but I’m at the half-way point both in words and plot. You know, I used to laugh at writers on the chat shows who talked about characters that appeared and then took over the story.  They weren’t kidding!  I’ve got to get that  louse, Jeremy out of the story quick – he grabs all the good lines but he’s not advancing the plot!  I’ve tried asking my writing buddies but none of them respond to my emails.  I thought we were going to help each other through this experience!  Well, I need some help getting that little scene-stealer out of my story!

11/20/15 – 6 Thousand words behind schedule and why did I ever agree to do this?  Other people are experiencing the gold-bitten, thrill of November (ok, not my favorite month but right now Purgatory looks like a vacation in the Bahamas compared to this!)  I know why they call this part of the book a pinch point – this is when the reader sees how impossible the hero’s quest is.  Well, I know what happens here at the 67%/ Pinch Point mark and I know what will happen at the 75% point (the plot rounds third base and kicks for home) but damned if I know what happens between them!  That’s roughly four thousand words of story I need to figure out now and I haven’t got a clue!  Tell the truth, I’m not sure I even like these characters anymore.

11/25/15 Oh somewhere folks are happy, traveling to a T-day feast
                     In some spot, Balloons are filling for a 3 mile parade (at least)
                     Somewhere families gather to laugh, love, eat and cook
                     But the only Turkey in this house is this lousy, stinking book!

11/28/15 So this is what the last mile up Everest looks like.  No silly wannabes on the forums at this stage.  Nobody’s talking.  Nobody’s brainstorming.  There’s a fair amount of weeping and wailing in some spots, but that’s got to be expected.  And me, I’m trying to make it up one more step, write one more paragraph, fill in one more hole in this farchadat story.  If I ever say I want to do this again, I want someone to hit me over the head, tie the collected works of Dickens around my neck and throw me in the River!  Now I know why so many writers are warped, drunken, no-good, goof-balls!  They write!

11/29/15  …And the rest is silence.

12/2/15 – Darling Spouse asked today when I was going to start the revisions.  Maybe my next book should be about murder.

The Big Store (Part 9)

     Those next hours were the worst and the longest I’ve known since Ponder died.  I kept struggling to move forward with Jerry’s arm around my neck, his bad right foot banging against my left like we were the last pair in a three legged race. We walked through fields a good five yards away from the road and tried not to stumble.  The hot still night hugged my right side and Jerry hugged the left.   Sweat and blood brought out ever biting bug and they got every inch of us that wasn’t covered by clothes or each other. As we rocked along like some old, drunken couple, I heard myself singing under my breath:

“Leaning, leaning, leaning on the ever-lasting arms of God”
“Leaning, leaning, leaning on the ever-lasting arms of God”        

    Jerry threw back his head and laughed “Viola, I’d never have picked you as a holy roller!”  Well I’m not but I’d gone to church enough to learn the old hymns.  Jerry must have too because he joined me on the chorus after we hit the paper mill smell.

     On and on, over and over, I put one foot out and then the other, dragging Jerry forward by pulling his arm around my neck.  I didn’t worry about the drug dealers any more.  I didn’t think about the car or those dad-gum dishes I couldn’t live without.  My mind didn’t reach that far.   All I could do was get Jerry to move one step further through the night, one step closer to that hotel. 
     I kept singing and the bugs kept biting but the worst of the heat finally wore out and Jerry started to shiver against me.  More and more of his weight was on my shoulders now and I couldn’t help but notice his bad leg was dragging more.  I couldn’t see behind us to see if we left a blood trail and I didn’t dare stop to look.  Neither one of us could have made it to our feet again if we sat or laid down here.
     Jerry changed the hymn to “Church in the Wild Wood” one of my mama’s favorites.  The words seem to keep us going.  I never thought about religion much but I could almost see that little church we sang about.  It was just a bit ahead of us and it had a side-yard statue of Jesus standing with his arms held out to us.  I’d think about that and then pull Jerry through the next step. 
     I didn’t recognize the first light I really saw.  It was too small and high to be a car’s headlight.  When I tried to look at it, sweat ran into my eyes so I dropped my head back down.  That light had been shining on us at least ten minutes before I saw the corner of the hotel roof ahead.

     “Jerry” I panted.  “Is that it?” 

     I tried to look at him but couldn’t really see Jerry’s face.  He didn’t speak anyway, just moaned. 
     It took another twenty five minutes to reach the back of hotel.  I pulled Jerry up a concrete slope they put in the sidewalk for wheelchairs and supply dollies.   We were at the corner of the hotel when Jerry collapsed on the sidewalk, nearly taking me down with him.
     “Jerry!” I hollered, but that didn’t wake him.  The lights didn’t show any color in his cheeks and the smears and drops behind him said he was still bleeding, probably had been for two hours.  “Jerry!” I yelled again, and started banging on the windows and doors of the hotel rooms close to us.  “Help somebody, I need some help out here!”  Just then I heard a child’s scream “Daddy!” and little Casey was running past me, barefoot and wearing pink pajamas.   “Daddy!” she screamed again and I turned around to see her at her father’s head.

     I said “Casey, please get your Mama”.  Then, my breath seized up in my chest and my heart seemed to swell up and choke off my airway.   I leaned against a pillar.  “Ponder, you help me on this,” I thought. “That little girl doesn’t need to see her father dying; I don’t want her to have that on her memory.”  Casey was crying and had her father’s head in lap, her little fingers wound in his hair.  She kept saying “Daddy, wake up, I need you.”

     A light flashed on by one of the room doors and I saw Jerry’s hand rise alongside of his body. “I’m all right, Baby.” I heard him murmur.  I closed my eyes and slid down the wall myself as I heard a strange man’s voice yell “Myrna, call the cops!  We got wounded people out here!”   Then I heard running footsteps and Gennine’s voice telling Jerry he would be all right, he and the girls were safe.  People were tending to me but I didn’t care.  I was thinking about how tomorrow would be, if I lived to see it. I would spend time with a wrecker and the police trying to compare discount dishes and a leather purse to the life of a man who helped strangers.  It didn’t make sense.
Now, if I live long enough to apologize to Gennine and give her Hazard Pay that will make me happy.   After that, I’ll catch up to Ponder and tell him how rich he made my life.  Then, I’ll look up Jerry’s grandma and tell her what a fine boy she raised.   Mostly I’ll thank the Lord for good friends and the smell of evening honeysuckle and the way a child smiles up at her dad.   Those are the things I care about now.  Everything else is just trash.

Well, that’s Viola’s story.  I hope you liked it.  Thanks for sticking with her (and me) until the end.  LLG