You probably won’t like Don Shirley when you meet him in the opening scene of my latest mystery, Deadlier Than Fiction. I don’t blame you. Don is LOSING IT, and the target of his ire is the protagonist of my Cluttered Crime mysteries, Crystal Ward, a professional organizer who is helping her client, Barb Shirley, convert her grandchildren’s playroom into an adult space that both Barb and Don can enjoy. Crys’s session is going well until Barb’s husband appears, red-faced and screaming at Crys about the old, dusty novels she’s donated to a charity.
No, Don’s not at his best in this scene, but when you understand what’s at stake for him, I hope you’ll have a little compassion for the man.
When I create characters, I picture their physical appearance, sometimes finding a picture on the internet that matches the image I have of them. Next, I decide what their key personality traits and values are. However, characters really start to have more dimension when I consider their relationships, both past and present. Who were their parents? Do they have any siblings? Who most influenced them to become the people they are today? Are they married and what is that relationship like? Who are their friends and who are their enemies? Many of the background stories I create are never shared with readers, but they help me to understand what drives my characters and whether they play well with others—or not.
Back to Don Shirley, the red-faced husband having a major meltdown and yelling at poor Crys. Don’s relationships are really to blame for that moment, not that I’m excusing his behavior. Don and Barb, who are long married and busy with careers, don’t communicate much about household matters. It would have helped Crys if they’d consulted about the book collection before Barb okayed the donation. But why should they? The bestsellers from the seventies had sat undisturbed in a bookcase for years. Then there’s Don’s relationship with his older brother, Bob, whom he both idolizes and fears. The strong bond between the two brothers has ensured that a deadly secret is kept for decades. Those dusty books? They’re hiding more than bestselling plots. Add into the relationship mix Bob’s greedy wife, some old elusive buddies of his, ex-cons that Barb is employing to do yard work… Like entwined cords, these relationships start to unravel even faster than Crys can untangle them, leaving more mayhem behind than an Arthur Hailey disaster novel.
Meanwhile, Crys has her own relationship issues, especially with her husband, Rick. A detective with the Chicago Police Department, Rick was paralyzed five years ago when he was struck by a bullet that damaged his spine. He struggles with the idea of his wife going into strangers’ homes and makes her promise to keep him informed and not protect him by keeping her problems to herself. Crys is agreeable, but she is also ready to take her business, Organizing Chicago, to a wider client base by advertising on the internet and social media. Unfortunately, Rick isn’t yet onboard for that step. The more Crys finds out about the Shirley’s, the more concerned—and curious—Rick becomes. Unless Crys can convince him to become a more active partner in both her business and sorting out this mystery, their relationship will continue to be a battle of wills.
Relationships. We can’t live without them, and in mystery novels, they can be deadly. I hope you’ll enjoy reading Deadlier Than Fiction and will continue to follow Crys and Rick in the Cluttered Crime mystery series.
Even if you never do like Don Shirley.
About the author.
Carol Light is an avid reader and writer of mysteries. She loves creating amateur sleuths and complicating their normal lives with a crime that they must use their talents and wits to solve. She’s traveled worldwide and lived in Australia for eight years, teaching high school English and learning to speak “Strine.” Florida is now her home. If she’s not at the beach or writing, you can find her tackling quilting in much the same way that she figures out her mysteries—piece by piece, clue by clue.