Appropriately, and more by elegant accident than design, we have a Valentine’s post for you today. It’s by Murder Room author Deborah Valentine. And it’s about love and other less edifying relationships – and specifically about how the tension between her characters drives her plots.
Love. It’s what makes the world go round, according to lyricists. It’s what all the songs sing about, isn’t it? They don’t sing about hoeing corn. Little did I know when I started the Kevin Bryce crime series, it would also be its driving plot force as two independent, naturally solitary people – Deputy Sheriff Bryce and the artist Katharine Craig – attempt to merge their lives.
I’ve often been asked: what sparks off the inspiration for a story? The answer: a tension point between two people. Things balloon from there. In the case of the first Bryce book, Unorthodox Methods, the kick-off tension was between Katharine and her manipulative cousin Jonathan. Their twisted relationship is the dark heart of the story. Then in strides Bryce: ginger-haired, barrel-chested, with a voice as mellifluous as Richard Burton’s and a secret sideline as an author of picaresque literary fiction.
Having fathered a son while still an adolescent himself, responsibility has toughened him. As a cop, responsibility has become his profession. And when he meets Katharine, he’s inevitably intrigued. A tall, striking woman, she’s a creative (like him) and has a seemingly carefree footloose existence (unlike him). Familial warfare has left her talent for elusiveness as deeply ingrained as her talent for art, and she appears to view most conversation, much less direct questions, as a grave imposition. She’s someone who doesn’t, in any sense, like to be pinned down, whose cool demeanour hides a multitude of complexities.
But Bryce has theft and murder to solve, and knowing that, however inadvertently, she is key to this investigation he is as persistent as rainwater wearing away at stone. He will have his answers and he doesn’t care what he has to do to get them. But he gets more than he bargained for when the scales are tipped and their mutual attraction nearly costs Katharine her life and most definitely costs him his heart.
I know a surname like Valentine can conjure up the notion of a sweet and slushy turn of mind. But, in fact, I believe even the best loves are not nicey-nice with a happy ever after. Love always has a dark side – passion, possession, insecurity. It is the most territorial instinct human beings have, bound up with the survival of the species and the drive to pass on genes. With that boiling beneath the surface, it can never be clean and neat, or consistently comfortable.
Love brings changes, profound changes for both Bryce and Katharine. Not all of them are greeted with open arms. Katharine cannot be the free-spirited artist she once was, and the careful structure of Bryce’s previous existence is smashed. But, no matter what, Bryce is always a cop; he can’t help but treat love as an investigation. In the end, it is what motivates him to get involved in every crime drama after their meeting.
When he is no longer part of the police force, having absconded to Ireland after the scandal of their affair, Katharine is the catalyst for Bryce to become involved in the dirty dealings of A Collector of Photographs. When artist Roxanne Gautier’s model apparently commits suicide Katharine packs Bryce off, in the belief that a little off-piste investigation is what he needs to stave off the possible boredom of civilian life.
It is a blatant risk, throwing him into the path of the seductive, amoral Roxanne and her noir world. Taking such a risk can be interpreted many ways, and it is difficult for Bryce to be certain of her motives. Is she doing him a favour? Doing her best to look after what she suspects fuels her man’s deepest needs? Or trying to get shot of him?
And it is their ever-present communication problems that land him in a tense partnership with the Irish Garda Síochána when, after an argument, Katharine goes missing and it is feared she has been kidnapped by a renegade IRA member turned freelance thug. Signals can be understood and misunderstood, and insecurity scrambles perceptions even when you’re in full possession of the facts. For Bryce and Katharine, this full-scale signal failure sends them flying in opposite directions and into sources of violence that turn out to be revelatory for them both.
Love can be born from great need, as was the case for Bryce and Katharine. Or of brotherly affection, as with Katharine and her childhood friend (and Bryce’s writing cohort) James. Or of a corruption in the soul, as with Katharine and the villain of Unorthodox Methods. In A Collector of Photographs, Roxanne’s narcissistic love for her model, Taylor, manifests itself in abominable betrayal. In turn, her husband’s idealised love for her triggers further tragedy. In Fine Distinctions the theme of love gone sour riddles every thread of the story until the ultimate foul act.
Many songs pose the question: is love a crime? Well, in the world of Kevin Bryce, it can certainly lead to one.
Deborah Valentine is a British author, editor and screenwriter. In addition to her Kevin Bryce series, available in The Murder Room, she is a prolific writer of articles, screenplays and a new series of novels with a supernatural theme. You can follow her on Twitter @knighthuggermug or find her on her website or on Goodreads.