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'They are the story'

12 April 2010

'You could argue that all novels stand or fall on how convincing and engaging their plot and characters are, but with crime fiction and thrillers these ingredients don't just underpin the story: they are the story. Choosing your detective character is crucial; a quick glance at the successful crime series of recent years suggests that he (or she, but not so often) should be a loner, a maverick, fiercely intelligent but compromised by some character flaw, a little melancholy, attractive but a bit down at heel, bruised by love but grudgingly open to the possibility...

My one anxiety when I first started writing crime fiction was whether people - including myself - would think I had sold out. But as I began writing and researching the Bruno books, any such worries evaporated. Apart from enjoying the writing process more than I had with any of my previous books - killing people in inventive and grisly ways really is an entertaining way to spend the working day - I began to rediscover my former love of murder mysteries, but with a renewed sense of admiration for just how difficult they are to do well.

The best crime and thriller novels, though they may work within certain parameters, can offer just as much scope for psychological depth, tenderness and a critical perspective on society as "serious" novels.'

Stephanie Merritt, aka S J Parris, the author of Heresy, in the Observer