I’ve said many times that ideas are as important to a novel as setting, characters and plot. The books I’ve written so far, except for one, take on large ideas–elitism, racism, sexuality. The exception is The Black Owls, a thriller that has several little ideas, but was written mainly to entertain. The “detective” novel I’m writing now, The Onyx Unicorn, is along the same lines. In fact, the hero of The Black Owls makes an important cameo in the new book.
I believe that “classical” detective fiction, past and present, suffers from the mass communications, the interconnectiveness, of our modern world. Who can imagine a lonely country house, or an isolated island, when all she knows is the 24-hour onslaught of “news” about herself and everything else? And, unless a reader’s interested only in the “puzzle,” the (intentionally) flat characters may not hold his attention. Finally, the “formula,” if held to rigidly, might put some readers off.
Accordingly, The Onyx Unicorn attempts to overcome those problems while remaining true to the spirit of classical detective fiction. Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter stories are my model with dashes of Christie, Stout and Conan Doyle thrown in. The “detective,” for instance, is an amateur like Wimsey and Jane Marple. The principle setting is a cruise ship (Christie’s Death on the Nile took place on board a boat) that isolates the characters without cutting off the outside world–computers and cellphones abound. The action revolves around a small (and, hopefully continuing) cast of well-rounded characters, like Watson and Mycroft and Lestrade or Archie, Felix and Lily Rowan.
Most importantly, the “puzzle” remains. Murder is done, clues are left for reader and detective alike, and the crime is solved. I’m working on what I hope will be an unique way to reveal the killer and explain the case to the reader. The style–the rhythm and music and words–will be the same as my “serious” novels, but there’ll be more fun. And maybe Unicorn, and the books that follow, will restore a little order to the Garden.