Monday, March 19, 2007

The Series Conundrum

He's finally arrived: a new detective on the murder mystery firmament.

The hero: Bruno von Leuwen, a police detective in Amsterdam with a chronically ill wife.

The murder: A 12-year-old boy, under mysterious circumstance.

The mysterious circumstances… lead van Leuwen to an obsessed, Nobel Prize-nominated anthropologist who researches New Guinea cannibalism…

Another thing about Van Leuwen: his wife is dying from Alzheimer.

That's what I like most about Van Leuwen: his melancholic, tragic, dark touch: His wife is dying from Alzheimer. It suits not only a detective, but the detective's writer, whose name is Claus C. Fischer – a good friend of mine with a dark side of his own.

This is new ground for Claus. Not because it's a thriller, or because it plays in Amsterdam, but because it's a series: He's already sold another three books with Van Leuwen.

Claus C. Fischer has been writing books for ages. He's an example for me – a working writer, a writer with a penchant for story, for narrative, for yarns; his books are exciting and human, epics sometimes, often thrillers, even love stories. His big early critical success was a dark historical fantasy called "Goya's Hand", "Die Wälder des Himmels" is an epic about multiple generations of a gypsy family; "Sushi in Paris" is a love story on the streets of Paris. His "Das Ende aller Tage" was very successful and he often writes TV-thrillers.

Now, if you write thrillers, there are two ways to go about it: The Michael Crichton Way or the Patricia Cornwell Way.

The Michael Crichton Way is to write a big bestseller and establish your name as the "brand" – from then on, you can write anything thrillerish and it will sell. The Patricia Cornwell Way is to write a series. The books don’t necessarily sell big, but they sell steady, and with each new book you become more and more established, the old readers keep coming back, they recommend you to new readers, etc. It's a slow build-up.

Up to now, Claus has been going the Michael Crichton Way (and his books are just as well-written and catchy as Crichton's). Now he's finally decided to try the other way – he's created a new detective/hero in the current trendy European mode, a jaded, tight-lipped detective in a small welfare-state (the most popular representative so far for his kind of European murder mystery is the books of Swedish writer Henning Mankell).

On the one hand, it's a great experiment: Is a series better than a one-off? Will it trap him into spending too much time with one character, will he get tired of Van Leuwen? (That seems to be the fear writers have about a series, though frankly I don’t know why – a jaded detective in Amsterdam… what more could a thriller writer want? If I could write thrillers, that's exactly what I'd do.)

I think this is it: the success he deserves will come with Van Leuwen. And I think it will go international.

Congratulations Claus, you deserve it.

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