In Plotting Part 1 I talked about the search for a plot for my fifth novel, which would be the second in a series starring American wannabe-journo, Sam Blackett. I’d always had a particular story in mind for this second book, but now I’m starting to wonder... are there any rules for the second book in a thriller series?
My original plot would find Sam in Fiji, trying to warm up after the Himalayan Powder Burn adventure. She’s been cruising around the islands for a few months after the success of her Powder Burn story, published in Adventure, and her career is starting to roll.
Then she bumps into an old friend from the States, he’s skippering a boat on a search for the perfect wave. A rich investor has hired him to do up the boat, and skipper it on a voyage through the Pacific Islands. They are looking for a place to build a hotel, a hotel with five star service and access to a completely empty, and perfectly ride-able wave for well-heeled amateur surfers. Scenting a story, Sam agrees to join him as a deck-hand and off they go...
What she doesn’t know is that the boat was bought very cheaply from the Singapore authorities, after they had confiscated it from a local criminal. He was using it to run drugs and girls out to the frustrated crewmen stuck on merchant ships, and awaiting their turn in Singapore’s massive container terminal. And what no one knows is that there’s still a huge stash of drugs hidden aboard the boat. Inevitably (this is a thriller), the drugs come to light at the worst possible moment...
And that’s the set-up – originally I thought the drugs would be found after they were wrecked on an island. The story would then go the way of a descent into madness and survival, a la Lord of the Flies, or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But now I’m thinking there’s also potential for a more conventional suspense thriller – a chase story, as the drug dealer comes after his boat and his stash.
Problems... first up, this is territory I’ve mined before. The Defector is all about a boat chase and a struggle for survival. And in Powder Burn I take a step away from boats, which will either:
a) Open my books up to a wider readership.
b) Kill my career stone dead.
Assuming it's the former (and if it's the latter I won't be too worried about book five anyway), perhaps I’d be better off looking for a more conventional plot idea, something urban, something to complete the transition away from seaborne adventure in exotic places.
The model for this series is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories, in which (in case you’ve been locked in a cupboard these past few years) a hero wanders alone across America, having random adventures. Child shifts from out-and-out action/suspense, to a more investigative-style of plot - he even shifts from first to third person.
I see Sam in the same way – so perhaps the second story should establish that MO right at the outset. Urban, and more of an investigation than an action thriller. And with that thought, I’m off to find out what Lee Child did with Jack Reacher in books one and two... back shortly. Or longly, depending on how busy I get...