Pauline Rowson discusses using timeframes in crime novels

Time frames in novels, and particularly when writing a series, as I do with the Inspector Andy Horton novels, and more recently with the new crime series, featuring Art Marvik a former Royal Marine Commando, now undercover investigator for the UK's National Intelligence Marine Squad (NIMS), are a tricky thing. There is ‘real time’ and there is ‘fictional time’.

In ‘real time’ I write one Inspector Andy Horton and one Art Marvik crime novel a year whereas in ‘fictional time’ the novels are set over a shorter time frame. Andy Horton was thirty nine when I created him in Tide of Death in 2006 so by now he should be nudging on fifty. However, in ‘fictional time’, thirteen novels later, he is only forty. The novels take place not over eleven years but over eighteen months, which means for Detective Inspector Andy Horton there are an awful lot of murders in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, his home patch, making it worse than Midsomer Murders on a good day!

It's said that Agatha Christie regretted making Hercule Poirot sixty when she created him because by the time she finished writing about him he would in ‘real time’ have been about a hundred and eight! In ‘fictional time’ Poirot stayed more or less the same age. I'm not saying that will happen to Andy Horton or Art Marvik, they may age yet.

Following 'fictional time' allows the author to develop the back story. In Andy Horton's case it allows me to chart his marital break-up, his fight to gain access to his daughter, and his search for the truth behind his mother’s disappearance when he was child.

With Art Marvik there is his struggle to adjust to civilian life and, from the second in the series, Dangerous Cargo, there is the mystery behind the death of his parents when he was seventeen. His mother, a marine archaeologist and his father an oceanographer were killed in an underwater tremour while diving in the Straits of Malacca. It was thought to be an accident but was it?

In my crime novels I try to avoid mentioning the current year if I possibly can, leaving it to the imagination of the reader. The other problem with real time is that technology changes and so too do the names of police departments as they are merged, re-organised and cut back. I started by writing about the Serious Organised Crime Agency which in October 2013 became the National Crime Agency. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with all the name changes and often by the time the novel is published some of the police departments mentioned no longer exist in that format and that name. I'm not sure the same happens in the USA but it certainly does in the UK.

With regards to technological advances, being bang-up-to-date in one novel can mean being grossly out of date in another written a year or two later. MySpace, which was once all the rage, has been overtaken by Facebook in popularity, which in turn may very well also fade into the distance, just as the iPad could become but a distant memory as something else replaces it. All a powerful argument perhaps to writing a police novel or murder mystery crime series set in the past.

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