Please welcome guest blogger Kirk Russell, whose third novel with San Francisco homicide inspector Raveneau is on its way to the publisher. Kirk has also written four novels with an undercover California Fish and Game warden protagonist, and the fifth of those novels is in progress.
Kirk lives in Berkeley with Judy, his wife, who has a restaurant called Zuni Café in San Francisco. In Kirk's words: "That’s how Raveneau got his name, borrowed in admiration from a French wine maker. The girls are grown so it’s just the two of us and a few cats that do absolutely nothing all day, yet are tired and hungry at the end of a long one. It’s hard out there in the sun on your back on the gravel, though it sometimes it looks tempting and sometimes I wonder who really has it all figured out."
Welcome, Kirk, to the LadyKillers!
From Good To Bad To Worse
Spring is the start of training for the longer cycling rides of summer, the century rides and mountain climbs. The guys I ride with are all in their fifties now, graying and sometimes carrying winter fat, but it’s like riding with wolves. They’re a tough group. They go quiet on the climbs and they get lean again quickly.
On a recent ride I was mulling over where I’m at in a novel I’m writing, or was trying to. It’s the third with a San Francisco homicide inspector named Raveneau, my run at the big city detective, and in it Raveneau is pretty sure early on that he’s onto the right suspects. Of course, that’s not the same as having evidence and proof and so the novel builds toward triggering events that lead him home. Whether those later chapters are credible are not will depend on whether the reader believes a handful of characters are capable of doing what they eventually do. You will either drop the novel on a table and walk away saying, that’s so lame, or you’ll go, you know what, that guy could do that.
Same old same old in trying to make a believable crime novel, except this time I’ve got a foursome, and it’s more complicated. I don’t have a reliable sociopathic murderer running around, rather a small tribe with questionable characters. Some of what they reveal about themselves needs to come from otherwise normal events. That’s where this cycling anecdote ties in.
That morning the ride up Mt. Tamalpais was drop-dead beautiful, no fog, clear blue, the mountain green with spring, creeks flowing, flowers blooming, the whole bit, and three of us clipping right along. As we started to climb we came up on a rider more or less our age, chatted a moment, and kept going, as in passed him. Something he apparently didn’t approve of. A few turns later he’s chasing us, though if we hadn’t shown up my guess is he would have ridden his pace happily the remaining two miles to the ridge.
What we got to see was a bit of his character that he probably doesn’t show to everybody. I wouldn’t. It was a little raw for general consumption. He caught up, passed us briefly, fell back, and then way back. He looked angry and was dripping sweat when he reached the ridge. Maybe it was competitive instinct in a guy who already agitated about something else entirely and using us as an outlet, or maybe he doesn’t know himself as well as he thought. Whatever it was his reaction though striking in its intensity was still believable. It was unnecessary. It was too intense. But it was believable.
That’s what I’ve got to get and hold with these characters in this new novel, take them from normal or near normal and then somewhere beyond in a believable way. Work them off each other and keep ratcheting it up. As in, what if the bike chase led to an argument and the argument led to the lone rider going back for his car. I’ve got four characters going bad, too many for any self respecting crime novel. When they get together they generate the fervor of the true believer, though in this case it’s not about religion although it’s the same certainty ours is the one and true path.
But they didn’t start there. They had it in them, sure, but they evolved to it, and fed off each other and got used by each other. How they reveal themselves and move from seemingly normal to something other is a little like the guy on his bike on the mountain but with much larger stakes and far deeper character issues. At its core character may be very malleable. Studies suggest it’s not so fixed and strong and stable as hoped. He was a good man until he did that. No one saw it coming. No one saw it possibly because it wasn’t coming yet.
Kirk's latest Raveneau novel, new this month!