Here I confess to being THE neurotic researcher. I have to check every single detail, and if I can't find something out, I will tie myself in emotional (and physical--just ask my back) knots trying to figure out what MIGHT be right.
You would think that after fifteen books, it would get easier. But Kincaid/James #16, To Dwell in Darkness, has been (excuse my British) a real bugger. In some moment of madness, I decided I wanted to set off a bomb--well, actually an incendiary grenade--in the beautifully restored St. Pancras International Railway Station, which is now the Eurostar terminal, in the King's Cross area of central London. Why, you may ask?
Because I was, and still am, smitten with St. Pancras. The original railway station was one of the marvels of Victorian design and engineering, and the station, and the accompanying hotel, are steeped in London history. After a long decline, St. Pancras came near to falling to the developers' bulldozers. But wiser, and probably more cash-savvy, heads prevailed, and the restoration is a thing of beauty and Gothic glory, teeming with human life and traffic.
So why not murder? (You know all crime writers are a little warped, right?)
And then came the sticky stuff. Jurisdiction, procedure, all those little nit-picky technical details. (Do you know what happens to the British rail system nation-wide when you shut down a major terminus for even an hour???) Not to mention a very complicated plot that I could have set anywhere in central London, but chose to plop in the middle of St. Pancras.
So, after months of reading and worrying, and multiple viewings of one of my favorite episodes of MI5 (that counts as research! Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam Carter, sigh...) in which there is a bomb threat in a major London railway station, I finally pretty much decided to... DO A HARLAN. I wrote what seemed logical, and to me, reasonable, considering what I'd learned AND the constraints of fiction. (Because nobody really wants to read about two-hundred detectives and all the tedious things that they do...)
Did this cure me of obsessive researching? Uh, no. Here is a little snippet from the beginning of Chapter Eleven of To Dwell in Darkness:
He left the dark blue Ford in the car park at Didcot Parkway Railway Station sometime before dawn. You weren’t likely to be noticed coming or going from a railway station car park at odd hours, nor was the car likely to be thought abandoned if left for a few days.
A few days… Who was he kidding, after what had happened at St. Pancras? Maybe forever. But he couldn’t think about that, not yet, and at least in a railway station car park it would be some time before the car was tagged and towed, and even then nothing in it should link to him.
After a quick check to assure there was no one else about, he stowed the supplies from the boot in his big pack. Then he wiped down everything he’d touched with a clean cloth, locked the car and pocketed the key.
He stood for a moment, adjusting the weight of his heavy pack on his shoulders, gazing at the deserted station platform. Even in the dark he could see the towers of nearby Didcot Power Station. Ironic, that, as he’d participated in the protests that had got Didcot A shut down. And what had it mattered, in the end?
A train horn hooted in the distance, the sound carried on the bitter wind. He shuddered. He couldn’t bear trains now.
He turned east, towards the Thames, and began to walk.
Is there really a Didcot Parkway Railway Station? You bet. I've been through it many times, but have never stopped. But I knew where I needed my mysterious unnamed character to be, in order to walk to where he is going, and Didcot was the perfect spot. Here is where Google maps becomes yourfriend. And Google Earth. Is there really a Didcot Power Station? Yes, there is. And you can see it from the railway station. And Didcot A was shut down, in part because of the demonstrations of eco-protesters. It was one of the worst polluting coal-fired power stations in Britain. Didcot B is scheduled to close in the next few years.
So, readers, what level of verisimilitude do you expect from authors? Are you willing to go with "Learn as much as you can, and then make up what makes sense and keeps the story moving?"