Who IS This Person on My Page?
In the spring of 2021, it was time for one of THOSE conversations. No, not with my kids; with my long-suffering editor.
I’ve never been a writer who was satisfied with writing one set of characters, even if they are Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes. Plus that, the Russell series generally involves foreign travel research, and covid was making that pretty tough. So, I said to my editor, what about something closer to home? I’d played with an idea for another Kate Martinelli story, but the last full novel was published in 2006, which is long gap for maintaining a series. Plus that, by now Kate had to be getting close to retirement age for the SFPD, right?
What about Martinelli’s world—but with someone new?
Kate Martinelli was a cop. Granted, she was not entirely comfortable with the somewhat paramilitary nature of any big-city police department, but basically, with the help of her partner Al Hawkin, she came to find a home in the Homicide Detail.
This time, I wanted someone who didn’t fit quite so comfortably. Someone definitely square-peg to the Department’s round hole, but whose abilities made her fellow officers, albeit grudgingly, willing to put up with her quirks, because she could do things no one else could. Things like notice details no normal person would. Or catch a fleeting microexpression that betrayed a lie. Or use those subtle betrayals to manipulate her suspect into giving himself away.
But maybe this young cop could also use a mentor like Al Hawkin, who had always been a much rounder peg and was now comfortably semi-retired into the SPFD Cold Case unit. In fact—why not make her mentor Al himself? Her opposite in so many ways, he even tended to break suspects using warm sympathy rather than prod them with analytics.
Sounds great, says my editor—go for it! So I went for it, diving into these new characters and their cold-case investigation.
I finished the first draft of Back to the Garden, sent it off, let it sit for a while. But when I sat down for a cold read before the rewrite, I found myself puzzled by Inspector Raquel Laing. My first drafts always lack detail, because I write by letting the story grow unedited. But in this case, Raquel’s almost complete lack of backstory, her elusive personality, even the reason she’s in the Cold Case Unit to begin with were all things I had set aside to fill in when I knew more. And now that the time had come to do so, I couldn’t find the right way to do so.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have a personality—she was every bit as complex and colorful as a writer could want. However, she didn’t really want to talk about it.
It took a while to dawn on me, although I imagine many of you reading this are already there.
The reason Raquel Laing was playing hard to get not because I didn’t understand her, but because I understood her so very thoroughly. After all, I’d been writing her in a different guise for more than thirty years.
Readers are told next to nothing about the character Arthur Conan Doyle spent the most time writing. Sherlock Holmes has a brother, a vague family, an even vaguer past. His physical description, education, tastes, friendships are given as quick sketches alone. We learn about his habits and interests only when a story requires it.
In a nice bit of irony, I realized as I looked at my first draft that I had even mentioned Inspector Raquel Laing’s colleagues mocking her as “the Sherlock of San Francisco.”
I guess I didn’t get far from Mary Russell, after all.