Private Investigator Joe Geraghty is the undoubted star of my two published novels, Broken Dreams and The Late Greats, but it’s also a fact that he was the consequence of failure. A police procedural, Black and White, featuring Detective Sergeant Coleman, a minor character in the Geraghty books, pre-dates them. Looking back, the novel has obvious flaws. I didn’t know the police culture or live it. It was hard to effectively toss a year’s work in the bin, but it was clear to me that I had to step away and start over.
Geraghty was conceived as the mechanism to tell the story of Broken Dreams. I was making decisions that would have consequences I couldn’t foresee. He was to be a small-time Private Investigator who worked to pay the bills. Unlike a lot of other investigators, Geraghty was to be human. If he was hit, he went down. He was to be some way off being a hard man. I also wanted him to have a sporting background which was ripped away just as he was on the brink of success. I wanted him to know what the death of a dream felt like.
My first love is football, so my initial decision was that it would also be Geraghty’s game. When I thought a bit deeper, I realised by making rugby league his sport, I could play on the fact Hull has two major clubs and the rivalry would add a little colour and depth to the story. Geraghty was to be a former Hull Kingston Rovers player. What I didn’t realise was that within the year I would be the club’s first ever ‘Writer in Residence,’ producing a set of Geraghty themed rugby league short-stories for the match day programme, and as a consequence, thinking more and more about his background. I’d stumbled into something which felt right.
Using the same character over more than one book brings its own challenges. It feels like I know Geraghty much better now. I now know what he stands for and what he won’t tolerate. It’s the strangest thing to feel that a fictional character lives and breathes independently. More incredibly, stories have started to write themselves. Broken Dreams sees Geraghty chasing answers about his wife’s death in a house fire. The Late Greats looks at how he moves on and starts to potentially build new relationships.
The novel I’m working on builds further on his background. It examines the outcomes of the first two novels and looks at how he pushes what family he has to their limits. Consequences always arise from actions, and they just keep powering the stories onwards.
The danger lies in keeping the stories fresh and engaging. Geraghty has to keep moving forwards to keep readers and myself interested. It’s tough to know when and where the finish line is. The Geraghty novels may develop into a full-blown series or they may not. I certainly don’t see Geraghty having his own Reichenbach Falls moment at the Humber Bridge, but there are lessons to learn.
Michael Connelly seems to have found a perfect balance. Harry Bosch novels are always eagerly anticipated, but sometimes he fades into the background, especially now Mickey Haller has developed into a fascinating lead character. Equally, George Pelecanos’s trilogies and quartets work beautifully as snapshots of Washington DC. There are no hard and fast rules.
Geraghty might keep me busy for years to come or he might open the door to new and different opportunities. I really don’t know, but ultimately, that’s the beauty of writing.