This is the story of two sleuths – Professor Lizzie Stuart and Police Detective Hannah McCabe — and the men in their lives. Or, not.
With the good news that my Lizzie Stuart books may soon be available again, I have started writing the sixth book in the series. Lizzie is a crime historian. She is the director of the Institute for the Study of Southern Crime and Culture. She was last seen in a short story (EQMM, July 2014).
Lizzie loves her work. She also loves John Quinn. In the sixth book, they will go to Santa Fe to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his family. This first meeting with her future in-laws occurs in the early chapters of the book. Then Lizzie and Quinn head home to Gallagher, Virginia, where she plunges into trying to solve a disappearance that happened the night before they left.
That Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe raises a question that both readers and writers of crime fiction debate. Should mystery writers avoid romantic subplots? With female protagonists, does romance tie a good sleuth down (no erotic pun intended)? Does having a long-term partner – especially if it leads to marriage – make it more difficult for a female sleuth to concentrate on the crime-solving at hand? Does the relationship raise real-life questions she needs to deal with –children, a house, life insurance, a will?
I grew up reading both literary classics and genre fiction. I read both romances and mystery novels. I loved romantic suspense. It was perhaps inevitable that when I wrote my first mystery, my female protagonist would encounter an attractive male character. In the book I was working on when I joined an old friend for a vacation in Cornwall, England, the male character was the police chief of Gallagher, Virginia. Lizzie was in Gallagher as a visiting professor, doing research on a long-ago crime. As a writing exercise, I transported my two characters to Cornwall and plunged them into an Agatha Christie-inspired murder case. John Quinn became a Philadelphia police detective, who was visiting his retired partner.
My vacation pal read the first draft of the book that she had seen me scribbling and expressed her doubts about how Lizzie and Quinn parted. After they had worked together to solve the crime, she had been expecting a “pay-off” at the end. She thought other readers would, too. I revised the final scene. Instead of “nice to have met you,” they kissed. When the Cornwall book was bought and published as the first in the series, the question I heard from readers was, “What’s going to happen with Lizzie and Quinn?”
What happened was that Quinn ended up in Gallagher, Virginia. Over the course of five books in a series that has moved slowly and is still in 2004, they have fallen in love and gotten engaged. Falling in love with Quinn and adjusting her life to accommodate his presence has made Lizzie a more interesting character. He has certainly been useful as a source of information and access. But Quinn’s presence has presented plotting challenges. I’ve had to avoid having Lizzie end each book as a “woman in jeopardy” who is saved by her male lover. Quinn has his own career. He was out of town during a portion of one book. In another book, he was delayed in arriving in New Orleans when Lizzie went looking for her long-lost mother – and then the poor guy came down with stomach flu. I would never kill him off, and it is fun to watch the two of them negotiate their relationship.
However, when I sat down to create another female protagonist – Detective Hannah McCabe – I gave a lot of thought to whether or not she would have a serious involvement. In fact, in the first book, The Red Queen Dies, there is only one brief scene that reveals she is seeing someone. In What the Fly Saw, her attractive, slightly younger partner tries to find out about her love life when she teases him about his. She is a private person and is evasive. But, later, over a glass of wine, she shares with one of her other colleagues how her last relationship ended. She is trying to cheer him up about his relationship with his ex-wife.
Hannah McCabe is a woman in a profession that is still male-dominated (even in my near-future, parallel universe). Most of her challenges have to do with solving crime. But she is the bi-racial daughter of a liberal white father (a retired newspaper editor) and a (long dead) radical poet black mother. She works in and is a part of a traditional police culture that is paramilitary and conservative. And then there’s her relationship with her brother, Adam, a brilliant scientist. who has recently returned to Albany. When McCabe was nine years old, she shot an intruder – but her brother ended up in a wheelchair.
Hannah McCabe is a complex woman – compassionate, good at her job. There are several men in her orbit. But for now McCabe is content to share a house with her father and focus on her case-load.
Whether McCabe will have a man in her life raises some intriguing questions. Is a strong, competent woman who has romantic relationships without long-term commitments a character that readers of mystery/detective fiction can embrace? Or, do readers, particularly women readers, like to see a protagonist evolve and grow and deal with the challenges posed by being in love. Readers do often complain when characters who are attracted to each other are kept apart by the author. But are the same readers prone to boredom when couples commit and settle down?
What do you think? Should a female sleuth keep her options open or settle down with one romantic partner? Is it a matter of allowing relationships to develop naturally as they would in real life?
Criminologist Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September, 2013. The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw came out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.
Website URL: http://www.frankieybailey.com
Amazon: What the Fly Saw