Time management is an important consideration for authors of mystery series, even though we don’t always pay it enough attention when our series characters start out on their fictional journeys. I’m not talking here about time management in the sense of how does one find the time to write the books, but rather in the sense of connecting the chronology of the series to real time.
The classic illustration of the problem is the obituary of Hercule Poirot in The New York Times – ‘by conventional reckoning, Poirot must have been over 130 years old when he solved his last case’). Similarly, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford was already a senior cop when his first case was published in 1964. It’s sometimes said that authors should start out with young detectives – but ageism isn’t a great solution to the problem! We need and want senior sleuths to figure in series!
So what is an author to do? My own method – I don’t for a moment suggest it’s perfect, but it’s the best I can do – is to elide time somewhat. An example in the Harry Devlin series is the way I dealt with the passage of time between the events of First Cut is the Deepest, and those of Waterloo Sunset. I acknowledge very specifically the passage of time in Harry’s life, and in the redevelopment of Liverpool. But I reduced (in effect) the length of the interval between books. Harry was 32 when All the Lonely People was published; that was my age when I started writing the manuscript. Suffice to say that he’s aged much better than me.
So far, time pressures haven’t been acute in the Lake District Mysteries. But I am planning to deal with them in much the same way. This is fiction, after all. Of course, I’d be interested in the views of others on this tricky subject – it’s one where, I suspect, the right answer is that there is no right answer.