Todaay I am delighted to invite Sarah Hilary to my blog to talk about her Marnie Rome series. I am a huge lover of crime fiction, so I was very excited to find out what the author's secrets were!
It's winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie's family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it.
Suddenly, events seem connected, and it's personal.
Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.
Dial M for Murder: the secrets inside my Marnie Rome crime series
As soon as I started writing crime, I knew I wanted to write a series. I love standalones (many of my favourite books are one-off psychological thrillers), but there’s something addictive about a series. I can’t imagine ever tiring of Highsmith’s Ripley books, for instance. Each one peels another layer from Tom’s character, or adds a layer. You can get hooked on a se-ries; maybe it’s the obsessive in me that loves them so much.
Much of the thrill in writing my debut, Someone Else’s Skin, came from knowing it would be the first in a series; I’d be spending a lot of time with these characters. I wanted readers hooked enough to keep reading, wanting to go on this long journey with Marnie, Noah and the team. To do this, I needed layered characters and plenty of mystery. As a story-teller, I have to perform a balancing act between intrigue and empathy. But I love a chal-lenge.
Can we get close to a character who is keeping secrets? Doesn’t closeness require trust, full disclosure? This is where the balancing act comes in. Marnie Rome is keeping secrets from everyone, including herself. She’s even keeping secrets from me; it’s one of the reasons I find her fascinating to write. In fact, the whole series is predicated on secrets. As it says on the front of Someone Else’s Skin: “Some secrets keep us safe, others will destroy us.” I must admit I’ve become a bit obsessed with the secrets Marnie was keeping. In each book, we learn a little more about her, but she does a mean line in double-bluffing. At heart, she is be-coming softer (and stronger) as the series progresses. This, for Marnie, is growth. She started out so prickly and unapproachable. She’s had to learn how to make herself vulnerable.
This, for me, is the secret of a good crime series: the gradual discovery of the central character(s) through an ever-varied set of challenges. Of course, plenty of long-running crime series do splendidly without a notable character arc for their heroes. Sherlock Holmes, whom
I’ve loved since I was ten, changed very little over the course of his adventures, but each time there was a flash of something new in his character—those were the moments I cherished. When Watson takes a bullet, for instance, in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs and we suddenly see how very much Holmes loves him). The depth and breadth of the character arc in the Dexter series is another great example.
For my Marnie Rome series, I aim to pick my crimes with care, so that the solving of them will bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in Marnie. The second book, No Other Darkness, is about lost children. We learn about the kind of person Marnie was when she was sixteen, and the ways in which she’s changed. In book three, Tastes Like Fear, Marnie becomes close to an angry thirteen year old girl. And in my latest book, Quieter Than Killing, she must fight to save a brave but terrified ten year old boy.
We’re told as writers to put our heroes up trees and throw stones at them. Well, in the next book, Marnie might wish she was up a tree being pelted with stones, in preference to the fixes I’ve landed her in. Maybe in time she’ll give up all her secrets, but I can’t help wishing she won’t. I’m having far too much fun hunting them down.