Promo: The Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries by Helen Hollick

I'm thrilled to welcome my author friend, Helen Hollick, to Ruins & Reading today. Helen is chatting about her fabulous murder mystery series set in the early 1970s. Intrigues galore!

Check out Helen's Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries! I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, and I'm looking forward to reading the third book in the series.

Creating Characters

by Helen Hollick

What makes a good story? The plot, obviously – it has to be interesting. Not necessarily exciting and full of action – a plot can be slow-paced but extremely thoughtful. The writing style? Well that depends on the author and the type of novel. A thriller will be different from a romance, a science-fiction different from a literary work, but accepted writing styles have changed, even during the thirty years that I have been a published author.

‘Back in the day’ fiction was expected to be on a par with BBC standard ‘Queen’s English’. Now, regional accents and dialects are far more acceptable on radio and TV, while spelling, grammar and punctuation is expected to be correct in a novel, to a certain extent the narrative can tend towards being more relaxed, written to fit in with modern speech and ideas. I tend to write as I speak. (North London accent, Secondary Modern, second-class education.)

So what does make a good story? I’d say: the characters. No matter how well written, how engrossing the plot, poor characters are not going to engage with the reader. Characters must be believable, do, say, think, feel, as if they are real. Reality creates believability – have unbelievable characters you’ll have an unbelievable story.

And that is what fiction is all about: taking the reader into a believable world where, no matter how fantastic the plot, the story feels real, the characters step out of the page to an extent that you wouldn’t be surprised to see them physically walking into your living room.

For many authors (just ask a few of your favourites) their characters are real. Fictional? What! You mean my characters do not really exist? Pah! Of course they exist!

Leaving aside historical fiction where many of the main players were alive in the past, and we are retelling their stories in the format of a novel, for many an author their fiction characters just appear in our minds. I have several that I’ve not yet written about (just haven’t had the time!) and I can clearly see them sitting together on a wall in the sunshine, their legs swinging, happily chatting to each other. Every so often one of them will look up, look at me with a raised questioning eyebrow...

“Ready for me yet?”

“No, not quite.”

“O.K. I’ll go get another glass of wine. Maybe a sandwich as well...”

My pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, from my nautical adventures, the Sea Witch Voyages, came into my life while I was walking on a rain-dreary beach in Dorset, England. My characters in my cosy mystery series appeared in the early hours of one morning during the first few weeks of the first Covid lockdown.

I’d decided to write a light-hearted murder mystery set in the 1970s with the main background being a north London suburban public library. That bit was easy – I’d worked in such a library from leaving school in 1969 to the early 1980s. I had my basic plot in my head, (it’s amazing what you can think about as the Dawn Chorus is tuning up!) but my characters had not ‘appeared’.

Then, in walked Jan. I knew her instantly. Aged 18, brown hair, a little on the plump side (“Do you mind? I prefer ‘cuddly’!”) Very much like I was at that age: shy, naïve, lacking in self-confidence. I also instantly knew that her full name was January Christopher. ‘January’, for the month she was prematurely born, and that she used it as little as possible. Her parents were dead – she’d been orphaned as a young child and adopted by her father’s brother, Tobias, or Toby as he prefers. He is a DCI – Detective Chief Inspector, a policeman as Jan’s father had been. Behind Uncle Toby his wife breezed in. Pretty, slim, cheerful mid-forties, a distinct air of elegance and capability. Madge, short for Marjorie. I had the impression that she could be formidable when roused but more prone to laughter than anything else. A great cook (unlike me and Jan) and the proverbial ‘rock’ to her family.

Jan’s face lit up when her uncle’s new Detective Constable arrived. Smartly dresses, twenty-five, looking very much like a young Cary Grant.

“Hi,” he said, “I’m Lawrence – Laurie – Walker.”

Maybe I wasn’t awake. Maybe I’d dreamt them all. The detail doesn’t particularly matter, my lead characters had stepped into my life and the pages of my Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery series, and they are now, very much alive and here to stay!


A Brief Excerpt from the First Book in the Series:
(edited for this short excerpt)



Interlude: DC Laurie Walker

I liked DCI Christopher right from the start. He was welcoming, respectful and expected me to do my job to the best of my ability, as, equally, he expected to do his. He took his job seriously. The rest of the men at Chingford Station seemed decent as well, possibly because of Tobias Christopher’s influence. No one on his watch messed about – in the break-the-rules department, I mean. In the laughter category there was plenty of it abounding in a friendly, camaraderie atmosphere. And because of it, the work got done with a will and a sense of pride.

For my own pride, I was honoured on my second day to be given the keys to the DCI’s Jaguar, along with the post of officially becoming his bagman and driver. It was his injured DC I was replacing, so I was automatically slotted in to the role, but I think I would have been chained to a desk if Christopher hadn’t, reciprocally, taken a liking to, and trusted, me. I was well aware that I had to ensure I lived up to that liking and trust.

The first week was routine stuff, but on the Friday we looked into what seemed to be an organised effort at stealing petrol from cars parked at the railway station, which, through a tip-off, led us to questioning the landlord of one of the pubs in South Chingford. He was lying through his teeth about the stolen petrol, but with nothing concrete to go on, there was not much more we could do. For now.

The day had been overcast, sombre and grey, and by evening, although it was July, the rain had set in bringing dusk on early.

DCI Christopher – by now I had discovered that no one called him ‘Tobias’, he was ‘Toby’ or ‘Sir’ – suggested that, as we were passing, we could pick up his niece from her place of work. I had no objection, especially when she climbed into the car and the DCI introduced her.

“This is my new temporary Detective Constable,” he said to her. “DC Lawrence Walker, meet my niece, Jan Christopher.”

I did not believe in love at first sight, but when she smiled at me?

Well, I do now.


Series titles:

Jan Christopher #1 A Mirror Murder

Jan Christopher #2 A Mystery of Murder

*Brand New Release – Book #3*

Jan Christopher #3 A MISTAKE OF MURDER 

Was murder deliberate - or a tragic mistake? 

A series of burglaries and an elderly person is murdered. Can library assistant Jan Christopher help discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?

January 1972. The Christmas and New Year holiday is over and it is time to go back to work. Newly engaged to Detective Sergeant Lawrence Walker, library assistant Jan Christopher is eager to show everyone her diamond ring, and goes off on her scheduled round to deliver library books to the housebound – some of whom she likes; some, she doesn’t.

She encounters a cat in a cupboard, drinks several cups of tea... and loses her ring.

When two murders are committed, can Jan help her policeman uncle, DCI Toby Christopher and her fiancé, Laurie, discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?

A Mistake of Murder is available from an Amazon near you, or order from any bookstore. Paperback and e-book available.


About the Author:

Helen Hollick

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, 'Cozy Mystery' genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler

She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write...

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  1. Thank you Cathie - Jan, Laurie and my characters send their thanks as well!


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