When I look at how Michael Connelly has managed to eke out the career of Harry Bosch, I can’t help but wonder whether he looks back now and wishes he’d made Harry younger when he wrote Bosch’s first adventure. Because since Bosch left the LAPD, he has worked as a volunteer for the small San Fernando police force, and has now teamed up with the author’s latest fictional detective, Renee Ballard. Ian Rankin also found it impossible to let go of John Rebus, bringing him back after retirement.
I would never speak my own name in the same breath as these luminary writers and their creations, but in my own small way I look ahead and realise I have my own issues to overcome with DI Jimmy Bliss, currently overstaying his welcome with the Peterborough Major Crimes team. Bliss is in his late fifties, has served more than his 30 years, and for one of a myriad of reasons could be sent out to pasture at any moment.
The first Bliss novel, Bad to the Bone, was set in 2005, when Jimmy was a mere pup at 43. I wrote that not knowing there would be a sequel. The second, The Scent of Guilt, took place in the autumn of 2017, which meant he was now 55. Having made that decision to jump to the present date, I knew I would have to find a way to prolong his career naturally if I wanted to write more about him. One of the ways I was able to extend his career was by setting each case with only a 3 month or so gap in between. If Fear Wins is set in the spring of 2018, with The Reach of Shadows occurring in the summer of the same year.
That’s the thing about writing a series – you have to consider the past, present and future. The fourth book tied together many of the loose strands surrounding Bliss’s past. This was a deliberate move on my part, because I wanted him to be able to dump a lot of baggage so that he could move on. It seemed to me that if he moved on, then the stories would also move on with him. I try to keep them fresh anyway, hopefully ensuring that the reader’s familiarity with the characters and their emotional attachment to them increases, while the storylines are very different from what came before.
When I finished book #4 I went straight into book #5. The storyline had come to me several months earlier, I had it fleshed out, and for the first time in a while I could see the beginning, middle and end of what I was about to write. In fact, the very first chapter I wrote is the last chapter of the book. Exorcising many of Bliss’s ghosts allowed me to focus on other characters, but also to make some subtle changes in style. So, the fifth book, Dead From the Neck Up, contains several more shorter chapters than my Bliss stuff usually runs to. This has the effect of quickening the pace, which in turn has the effect of applying greater pressure to the team. The speed at which the case unfolds is dictated by someone other than them, which also increases the pace. This represents a minor departure of sorts. Many readers enjoy the methodical, procedural element of my Bliss books, with several strands intertwining throughout. But as a writer I believe you have to switch things around occasionally, so with this one I’ve given the team a single prime objective, whilst also removing both the brakes and shackles. I have to say, I’m happy with the result.
Bliss #6 is already in the works, the opening chapter written, and once again it’s a subtle shift for Jimmy and his team. The aftermath of book #5 has taken its toll, and changes are the inevitable result of where things were left. This time, the case comes to Bliss in the most unexpected way, his involvement a matter of chance and circumstance. Even so, he is drawn to this investigation for many reasons beyond his natural desire to do the right thing. It’s not even his case, but his initial contact with a perpetrator leaves him unable to let it go. Prompted by a recent report I saw on our regional BBC news, the idea for this came out of the blue, and the moment it occurred to me I knew that no matter what other plans were already in motion, I had to write this book. I have to say I am genuinely looking forward to getting to it, although I have other pieces to complete first.
So, when it’s written that will be six DI Bliss novels. I’m not one to set a false target now, because I enjoy writing what I enjoy writing, and if further projects happen to include another Jimmy Bliss book, then so be it. On the other hand, I have new and different ideas in the pipeline, other projects worth exploring, new characters to introduce in new settings. I do realise, therefore, that Bliss will eventually have his day. I don’t yet know when that will be, but I do think I know how his final scene will be written. The only thing I can safely say for sure to my readers is that I will not kill him off.
The end of DI Jimmy Bliss will come one day, but not just yet. And when it does, I think he deserves a happy one.