Dorothy Cannell here. A few weeks ago my husband Julian mentioned that he was joining the Masons. Mentioned – not announced, let alone confessed. To say I was shocked to the core puts it mildly. If he’d said he’d decided to become a Trapist monk I would have been more like to say – “Oh, really?” In all our years of marriage he’d never once expressed any leanings in the Masonic direction. As a schoolgirl at a Roman Catholic school, I had gleaned the information that membership was forbidden by the church meaning members went to hell without passing Go and collecting two hundred dollars. But this was not what now bothered me. What other deep yearnings, I asked myself, had the love of my life been keeping from me?
“Why?” I asked. “You’ve never been one for organizations.”
“A friend invited me.”
“Well, isn’t that nice!” I beamed. And of course it was. “I know they do a lot of good work.” I was about to add I hoped he’d enjoy himself but decided might not be one of the objectives.
I mention this occurrence because in real life people often surprise us by acting in a way we regard as wholely out of character in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable with a series character in fiction. Several years ago, I had been equally amazed when Julian broke the news to me that he was growing a beard. He’d formerly disapproved of them when worn by fellow lawyers. Then there was the abrupt change of attitude to his car, going from wiping off anything verging on a fingerprint and expecting passengers to wear slippers, to allowing it to look like an abandoned orphan. But try imagining Miss Marple suddenly announcing she was giving up knitting and taking up horseback riding instead? Or Poirot announcing that all the stuff about the little gray cells was bunk and what counted in detection was getting in touch with one’s feminine side? Or Lord Peter Wimsey firing Bunter because of an overwhelming urge to do his own housework and cooking. Couldn’t be done without enraging the reader, unless causing him or her to take the compassionate view that the author, not the character, had gone batty. Assumption: Credulity can be stretched much further off the page than on. And yet it is expected in the modern mystery series that the main character should evolve over the course time. Question: How to accomplish this in a manner that is not contradictory but satisfying and enriching manner?
I am thinking about this while getting ready to start the third in my series set in the nineteen thirties featuring Florence Norris. It would be easier if she were young, but she is a woman in her forties. Making for a challenge. In the meantime I’m writing a short story. Opening line: “My dear, such stunning news! Mr. Bartlett has joined the Masons. His poor wife never had an inkling he had any such intentions!”