After writing four novels in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series, set in France in the 1960s, it was a bit of a wrench to hear from my agent that the publishers didn't want a No 5. The reviews had been good - some of them great - and they seemed to be doing well overall.
But clearly not well enough.
However, that's the way things are in this game; if your books don't get the expected level of sales, it's goodbye Vienna (or, in this case, au revoir, Picardie).
Instead of wallowing, which I don't do very well, I decided to get on and write more books, which was my way of saying 'ya-boo'. As therapy it works rather well for me, soothing disappointment and a couple of other unwelcome emotions and offering potential in other directions.
The first of these, 'Close Quarters', (Severn House) due out in April (signed editions will be available from Goldsboro Books), is the sequel to 'The Watchman', the opener in the Marc Portman spy series. This has done very well indeed, especially in the US, and seems to have caught readers' imaginations, so I hope this follow-up will take the series from strength to strength. It's certainly great fun to write and Severn House, the publishers for this and the Harry Tate spy thriller series, have been hugely enthusiastic about it.
The other book I wrote was a slight punt, because I wanted to go down a different track. It's called 'The Locker' and is the start of a brand new series which has, thanks to my agent, David Headley, been picked up by an American publisher. It's a thriller with a female lead character... but I'll write more about that later.
In between these two books - and editing, and writing magazine articles and a lot of DIY (we moved house a year ago and I've got the scars to prove it) - I decided that I wasn't going to allow Lucas Rocco to vanish in the mists and marshlands of Picardie and the Somme Valley, a victim of statistics. Besides, the books are still selling and I want to keep the name bobbing along out there rather than have him quietly forgotten.
The simplest way (bearing in mind that I invariably seem to be writing two books in any one year, so my writing time is in short supply) was to put together a short story and issue it on Kindle. That way I figured it might keep up the interest in Rocco and his cast of characters, as well as gaining new readers for the existing series.
The important things for me were to keep alive the atmosphere of the series, add a touch of real history on which to hang the story, while keeping the main players in useful employment on the pages without overloading the story with walk-ons. Most of all, though, I wanted to maintain the characters as I'd grown to enjoy writing them - and as many readers had enjoyed reading about them. It's easy to lose track a little of what you've written about if you leave it too long between books;
the characters' voices can end up sounding a little different, influenced by your other
writing, and details can change slightly – both things which keen-eyed
readers will notice.
Anyway, the result is 'Rocco and the Snow Angel' (publ. Cecil Court Press), and came out at roughly 20,000 words. Not so much a short story, then, more a small novella. It brings together Rocco, Claude, Commissaire Massin, Rocco's boss, his busy neighbour Mme Denis, and others, and takes Rocco on a hunt for a killer from the past.
As usual for Rocco, nothing is without political ramifications and interference. But he has a job to do and will allow nothing to stand in his way.
He's cool like that.
Picardie, n. France. A former village priest is found shot dead, execution-style, in a snow-covered field. The killing re-opens memories of a wartime scandal around the villages of Poissons-les-Marais and Fouillmont, when a young infatuation led to a spate of coldly efficient assassinations. But who's responsible for this particular murder? And why so long after the event?
For Inspector Lucas Rocco, it means pushing aside the veil surrounding old Resistance activities and fighting dangerous political connections to track down a deadly, long-range killer with the ability to hide in open countryside.
'Rocco and the Snow Angel' - available on Kindle right here.
If you read it, I hope you enjoy it.