**Spoiler Alert!** I’m going to talk about the HBO Max crime show starring Kate Winslet, Mare of Easttown. I won’t give everything away, but if you haven’t yet started and want to keep all the details a surprise, skip this blog post. I won’t be mad. 🙂
If you’re not familiar with the show, Mare of Easttown is about a detective played by Kate Winslet who lives in a rundown New England town. When a homicide takes place, she investigates. While it’s only on its third episode as of this writing, it didn’t take me long to get sucked in, and after every episode, I’m excited to get back to my own manuscript. Not many shows or movies encourage me to want to write, but Mare of Easttown definitely gets the creative spark going every time I watch.
Mare is a typical detective, and until you list her attributes and flaws, you don’t realize how cliche her character is to the police procedural, crime genre. Of course, that can be a good thing–you have to meet reader and viewer expectations. She drinks too much, though I wouldn’t quite call her an alcoholic. She has a tragic back story: dealing with the death of a child, the death of her father when she was young, and a divorce. Those are important because they make her what she is–a rough around the edges, but kind, character. She doesn’t let anyone get too close to her, and that includes her friends, her mother, and her remaining child.
The one thing that sets my teeth on edge, and I suppose you could consider that a good thing, as it’s eliciting some kind of emotion, is that her life would be a lot easier if she made better choices. Everything from her temper to the way she treats her friends and family to the way she drinks while she goes over evidence and police reports at home, it all makes me want to shake her and tell her her life doesn’t have to be this way. Probably, if she’s got a good character arc going for herself courtesy of the writers of the show, she’ll figure it out. What remains to be seen is how much she’s going to have to lose before she does.
Other facets of the show that are actually tropes of the genre are the out-of-town detective who is also assigned to the case because Mare isn’t doing a good enough job, her ex-husband getting remarried, and she develops a love interest with an outsider–a guest author who is teaching at the local college. Right away we see that the detective also assigned to the case is going to cause friction, though to my surprise it didn’t take many episodes for them to start getting along, but I was glad of that. Mare has so many other conflicts with her personal life that she doesn’t need to add any more in her professional life. Her professional life is already rocky as the Chief of their department, her boss, isn’t happy with her performance with a previous still-open case and that has consequences later on. Her ex-husband is implicated in the homicide, and of course, I would bet in one of the episodes that her love interest will also be implicated in some way. That’s just the way these shows and books go. Whether anything will come of it, we don’t know. Red herrings are what make this genre. The best writing is when everyone is a little bit guilty and the red herrings have a some merit.
I really like the feel of the show, how gritty it is, and we get a taste with the opening credits. It’s rainy, cold. There is no sun, and even if it’s not raining, everything looks washed out and old. You can tell right away that this is a poor town. Not enough money to go around–Mare lives with her mother to help share costs, and her mother is another source of conflict. I just cringe the way she treats her mother when I have so much regret with the way I treated mine before she died. Anyway, life is hard, and we see that in the way the sun never shines and everyone is walking around in a winter jacket frozen to the bones.
There would be a lot that goes into writing something like this–because at the heart of the show is the homicide that Mare has to solve. All the other stuff like relationships and how she deals with her losses, or how her family members are connected to the crime, they are all just obstacles she has to overcome or at least bury so she can do her job. As a casual consumer, it was fun to watch her and her new partner search a local park at night for shell casings and/or a stray bullet, but as a writer and one with zero knowledge of police work, I watched carefully how Mare found a chip off a building caused by a ricocheting bullet, and how she followed (imagined?) the trajectory to find the bullet buried in a tree. That’s tenacious, but we also get a glimpse that under the beer and vaping and personal problems, she is (was?) a good cop.
Under the heart of all of it is the police work, and it has to fit into the story as seamlessly as the rest.
Would I want to write something as involved as Mare of Easttown? I’m not sure. I like the romance part of writing, and I don’t think that Mare and her guest author are going to ride off into the sunset. That’s not the kind of show this is. My detective would definitely need a love interest, a serious one, but one that brings as many problems to her life as it solves.
The only things I know about police work are from the eight seasons of Castle that I loved to watch, but when you get into crime fiction like this, unfortunately, the devil is in the details. If real cops shot their guns as many times as Kate Beckett does in one episode, they’d be out of a job. No, I’d definitely need to dive deep into the world of police work, and besides enjoying watching Castle and Mare of Easttown, I’m not quite sure if that level of interest would fuel a book or a series like the one I’m reading now about Emma Griffin, an FBI agent by AJ Rivers.
If I wanted to write crime like this I would have to prepare big-time, and I would start with these:
1. Read Cops and Writers: From The Academy To The Street by Patrick J O’Donnell. When looking at resources, it’s important to try to find things that are current. Police policy and laws change all the time. You want to start off as close to this year as you possibly can, then you can research details as you write. This book was published in 2019. Not bad.
2. Listen to these two podcast episodes on the Self Publishing Formula. One is with Patrick J O’Donnell, the gentleman who wrote the book above, and Hollie S. Roberts.
3. Join the FB group that Patrick and James talk about. I’m not a member but it sounds like a great resource for writers. You can find it here.
4. Watch more shows like Mare of Easttown and definitely read more books. I started Big Little Lies on HBO as well, and that is also an interesting show where the plot revolves around a murder. I enjoyed reading the two detective books from Dea Poirier, and if I did decide to write in this genre, I would definitely dig up more. (No pun intended.)
5. I would have to decide if writing a series is the way to go or a standalone, and even these days domestic thrillers/crime are being written more in the first person POV as AJ Rivers’ and Dea’s books are. First person and third person both have limitations and would dictate how you write your books. I’m very comfortable with first person right now, but it’s not so easy to give another character their POV like it is in third person. They are a little old, but Tami Hoag’s detective series is written in third person past and they are based in Minneapolis, which I enjoyed.
6. I would buy a police scanner and listen to the types of calls that come in around my area. Not only would it give me a feel for the kind of crime that is committed in my city, but I think it would also spark story ideas.
7. Undoubtedly I’d want to make a contact at my local police department. It can be something as small as taking a tour, or something more involved as requesting a ride-along, but chances are good I’m going to need someone I can email questions to. Contact your the PR department for your local police department and ask how you can reach out to a police officer.
While I may never want to write crime/detective novels, there’s no doubt that there’s a certain dark romance to them that intrigues almost everyone. Whether I want to devote time to a new genre, that decision won’t come until much later. I have several things on my plate right now, but I’m going to bookmark Mare and come back to her time after time. Everyone can use a little motivation now and then, and she’s mine.
Until next time!