Writing a mystery series is a bit like moving another person into one’s brain. The character abides there, hoping for an opportunity to leap forward and begin yet another adventure. At least, that’s the way I think of my protagonist, Sarah Armstrong. She’s never really gone, even when I’m working on another project. Instead, she waits, sometimes impatiently, until she again has my attention.
I’m not exactly sure where she came from, but I’ve lived with Sarah for quite a few years now. When I sat down to write that first book one thing about Sarah mattered to me more than any other. I wanted her to be real. As a journalist and a true crime author, I’d spent a lot of time with women in law enforcement, and I know that they aren’t the stereotypes we see on TV. Most have families, including children they love and worry about. They’re multi-dimensional, complex, dealing with the same issues so many of us face every day.
Toward that end, I made Sarah a single mom, widowed, with a young daughter, Maggie. Like Sarah, her late husband, Bill, was a Texas Ranger. They understood each other, loved each other. Then Bill died and Sarah was alone. She had it all to do: work, mothering, building a life, catching the bad guys. To make it easier, to give Maggie family to rely on, Sarah moved them onto her mother’s horse ranch outside Houston. So Sarah is a Texas Ranger, a profiler, a mother and a daughter, not necessarily in that order.
The first book in starring Sarah, Singularity, came out in 2008. In that book Sarah chased a serial killer across Texas. She’s pulled into a frenetic investigation while the body count rises, yet is still dealing with Maggie’s yearning for her dead father. When I wrote the book I worried about how to handle so much going on in Sarah’s life. But somehow it worked. In their review of the book Publisher’s Weekly said: “Casey’s solid research, smooth plotting and sensitive depiction of Sarah’s relationship with her grieving daughter lift what could’ve been standard serial-killer fare into poignant, exciting family drama.”
That said, I decided to let Sarah stay closer to home in book two, Blood Lines. Instead of one massive investigation, in this second book two cases intertwine, one involving the suspicious suicide of an oil company executive and the other that of a teenage pop idol who’s being cyber stalked. Sarah is pulled between a life she’s struggling to get on track, a family torn asunder by her job, and two cases both vying for her attention, fighting the clock before disaster happens. It’s a lot to juggle, and sometimes she fails. When bad guys are waiting to pounce, that’s a dangerous situation.
From pop stars, I moved to hurricanes in the third book, The Killing Storm. Maybe because I wrote the book not too long after Hurricane Ike ravaged Houston? Could be. This time Sarah’s love life is dissolving around her, when a four-year-old boy named Joey Warner is abducted from a Houston park.
Meanwhile, someone is slaughtering Texas longhorns and drawing cryptic symbols from the era of plantations and slavery on their sides. How do the clues fit? With the storm barreling down on Houston it may be too late by the time Sarah pieces it together. If she fails, the child dies. And that draws her into the eye of the storm.
I love spending time with Sarah. I sincerely do. She’s good company. I wonder sometimes if we’d be friends if we met in the real world. I think so, but then, maybe not. My guess is that I wouldn’t meet her at home in my office, sitting at my computer writing. And she’d be too busy chasing the bad guys to seek me out and knock on my door.