The Joy of the Series

Sunday, 4 March 2018

My First London Dream is the first in a series of novels following the haphazard adventures of Billy Vehement, bit-part actor and accidental detective. I've always had a soft spot for a crime series. From Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes through to Ian Rankin's Rebus, the history of crime fiction is the history of the series. And holding any series together is that central figure, the detective.

In modern incarnations, this detective will usually owe something to Raymond Chandler: a moral yet disconnected figure, heroic yet partially broken. Walter Mosley has Easy Rawlins, engaged in a perpetual standoff with his violent doppelgänger Mouse. John D. Macdonald has Travis Magee, the pompous, pipe smoking white knight, navigating his way around Florida criminals and vanished seventies sexual mores. Jerome Charyn has Isaac Sidel, cop and political animal, trawling the various levels of New York society. Chester Himes has Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones. Sara Paretsky uses V.I. Warshawski to pick off the masculine tropes of the genre. James Lee Burke plays with Dave Roubicheux like The I Ching, forming his adventures out of runes cast in varying patterns. Beignets in Cafe du Monde. Spearmint snow cones in the park. Drunk dreams of long-necked Jax and schooners of Jim Beam.

Simenon runs this particular county, because of the sheer compulsion involved with his series. With over seventy novels clocked up in his Maigret series, he wrote with a kind of ruthless need, his stolid detective acting as his conscience. And that's another key to the series, on both sides of the page. The reader can't get enough, but the writer is also trapped in the routine. I remember browsing Murder One on Charing Cross road during the early 2000s. A reader had come in for a recommendation, a man in his early fifties. He'd blitzed James Ellroy and wanted something similar. The bookseller gave him a David Peace, recognising a style junkie when he saw one.

My First London Dream dates from my reading of James Sallis, while I lived in Brixton. With tricksy narrative games, and self-conscious, referential tropes, Sallis's Lew Griffin novels form a kind of meta-series. The setting is New Orleans, but I always felt Brixton was burning at the edges of those books, and both are places where the world has pass through and left a bit of itself behind.

The second book featuring Billy Vehement is already finished in draft form, so the series is on its way. Still, in order for there to be a series, there needs to be a first book. Thanks to everyone who has pledged so far. Please share it with others who might be interested, and let's see if My First London Dream can get off the ground.   


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