No Miss Marple

Quintin Jardine
Opinion - Books Monday, 12 November 2018

If you're going to write 30 novels about a character, Quintin Jardine writes, you have to bend the rules a little

When Bob Skinner made his breakthrough from my fevered imagination on to the page, he and I were the same age. Twenty-nine years and 30 adventures along the way he is, at the last count, 19 years my junior.

The first decision I ever made about my new associate - I won't call him a friend - was that he would be a high flier who had already flown. That's why I decided halfway through his debut, Skinner's Rules, to make him an assistant chief constable. It seemed to me even then that every cop protagonist in crime fiction was a genius detective with a 100% clear-up rate, but unpromotable and condemned to see out his career in the middle ranks because of a serious character flaw, be it alcohol, insubordination or women...

Speaking of that gender: if I had possessed foresight, Bob would have been short for Roberta, and I really would have been ahead of my time. She'd have beaten Vera Stanhope by six years, and maybe beaten her to telly too. I can't quite imagine how ACC Roberta Skinner would have progressed as a character, but she'd have been no Miss Marple, that's for sure.

When I made that choice for the big man, I could not predict the longevity that either of us would attain. All I was doing was writing a book at the request (on the instruction) of the wonderful Irene, my late first wife, who had seen quite enough aborted efforts by that time.

I didn't realise that along the way it would confront me with a tough career choice for the man. Should he become a chief constable, or should he continue to run his force in all but name as Jimmy Proud's deputy? It took me a few books to reach my decision, but eventually he moved up, facing me with another problem. How can a chief constable be the main person in a long-running crime series? The answer? By becoming a complete pain in the arse to his head of CID,and finding a way to involve himself in every major investigation on his patch, grooming his proteges and managing to motivate his colleagues rather than undermine them.

That pattern was established and might have progressed satisfactorily had real life not stuck an oar in. I confess to having voted for the Scottish Government that created a single national police force, but I did so for other reasons. I even slipped a passage into a book setting out Bob's view of that potential calamity. Inevitably the day arose when another decision had to be made, but that was a no-brainer. With both of us so implacably opposed to Police Scotland (I don't use the name in the books), he couldn't possibly become its chief.

And so he left, throwing his one-time friend Andy Martin under the bus in the process. (Why did Andy go? I am asked that often. Answer, because he was utterly ruthless, vicious, untrustworthy and amoral, just the guy to have at the head of a paramilitary force.) Since then Bob has made his way steadily through several adventures, helping out friends, as a private investigator for hire, or in a semi-official capacity. Will he ever come back to the police service? Well, yes and no, but you'll have to read Cold Case, which is, incredibly to me, Skinner 30, to find out what I mean by that.

The second decision I ever made about Bob, by maybe half an hour, was that he would not grow old in real time, which now accounts for the disparity in our ages. (I may have seen him as the detective equivalent of Granny Weatherwax, I honestly don't know. Steve Carella of the 87th precinct is a more realistic comparison, although they are dissimilar, Bob being a lot brighter than the ageless Steve. Along the way that has required some sleight of hand. Do Bob's children age at the same parallel universe rate as he? Do his characters fall into line? As far as I have been able to influence it, they do. Indeed there is one character in the series (that I know of) who has grown younger. There are no prizes for working out who that is, unless you can persuade Headline to give you one.

Will Bob Skinner ever reach retirement age? Granny Weatherwax didn't, nor did Steve. Let me give you a clue. If he does, I will be around 110 years old.

Headline publishes Quintin Jardine's 30th Bob Skinner thriller, Cold Case, on Thursday 15 November.

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