Insurance … dull? Or a cesspool of murder?
Last week, I launched my first novel Deadly Fall, an amateur sleuth mystery. My protagonist, Paula Savard, investigates the murder of her childhood friend.
As I was conceiving Paula’s character, among her many attributes, I gave her the job of insurance adjuster because I’m familiar with the field. The longest job I held – ten years – was insurance claims examiner, which involved reviewing reports of adjusters out in the field investigating whiplash and liability claims.
Paula’s job became part of her motivation to solve the murder. Here was a chance to apply her training and skills to something she finds more meaningful and exciting than sore necks. Paula, like me, viewed insurance as boring and this was part of her problem at the story start. She’s gone as far as she wants to go in her career and needs more.
While writing the story, I stayed as far away as possible from Paula’s insurance work. I thought this would be dull, compared to the mystery, romance and other personal aspects. I also worried my insurance information was out of date since I hadn’t worked in the field for over twenty years. My former insurance colleagues might have joked, “Don’t worry. There’s nothing new in insurance.” And to be honest, a lunch with two friends in insurance reassured me not a lot had changed.
By the end of Deadly Fall, Paula and I realized insurance offers plenty of scope for crime. Burglaries, fires, hit-and-run accidents might be cover-ups for murder. My editor at TouchWood urged me to include more of Paula-on-the-job, to give readers a better sense of her character and set up future books in the series. So, I wrote scenes of Paula dealing with two suspicious claims and threaded them through the book.
Meanwhile, I wrote a sequel titled Secret Spring. Once again, I set Paula off on an amateur quest, although had her working with a detective she developed a relationship with in Deadly Fall. Secret Spring incorporated more of Paula’s job. I hope my editor will be satisfied. She’s reading the manuscript now.
Last fall, I started Book Three and decided it was time for an insurance-related murder. A man dies in a house fire. Paula investigates the case from the fire insurance angle. On the job, Paula continues investigating two suspicious claims she began working on in Secret Spring. This book will require more than my current insurance knowledge. For research, I’m looking for a contact in the adjusting business.
Mysteries are often classified as professional or amateur sleuth. An insurance adjuster falls in the middle. Unlike a police detective, Paula’s job isn’t solving murders, but she can easily stumble upon them in the course of her work. As the series continues, she will stumble more.
Now that I’ve written stories from both Paula’s amateur and professional perspective, I see the difficulties with each genre. For the amateur sleuth, there’s the problem of motivation – why is she doing all these things and exposing herself to danger? For the professional, the why is simple: it’s her job. But, in Book Three I quickly realized Paula’s investigation would become mechanical for the reader if I didn’t make it personal for her. My conclusion from all this is, amateur or professional, writing a mystery is a challenge.
In his celebrated book On Writing, author Stephen King says that people love to read about someone else’s work. What may be routine to you, fascinates others. Every job is bound to contain possibilities for murder and crime. All it takes is a little what if? In Deadly Fall, Paula and I discovered this about insurance.