My new book London Gambit, which is out this Thursday, May 5, is a book I had looked forwards to writing for a long time. But it is also a book I hesitated to write. Or rather, I had known for a long time that the major plot twist it contains would occur at some point in the Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series, but when I decided that plot twist belonged in this book, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through with it. The book is set in June 1818, three years after the battle of Waterloo. The denouement of the book takes place on the third anniversary of the battle. Echoes of Waterloo and the Napoleonic wars run through the story. It’s a time when, despite victory, many still feared Bonapartist plots, when economic hardship fostered discontent in Britain, when the Bourbon restoration was far from secure in France, and Spain teetered on the brink of revolution.
London Gambit begins with two seemingly unconnected mysteries. Former British spy and M.P. Malcolm Rannoch is summoned to a shipping warehouse where the run-away nephew of a friend has stumbled across a dead body. On the same night, Malcolm’s wife Suzanne is called away from a Mayfair party to assist a wounded man who has slipped out of Paris one step ahead of Royalist pursuit. In fever-wracked delirium, the man warns Suzanne of a plot to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte from exile on the island of St. Helena. A plot that could bring chaos to Suzanne’s life, for though now married to the grandson of a British duke, she was once an agent for Bonaparte herself. Before she can ask further questions, the man disappears into the London night.
|photo: Raphael Coffey|
These two mysteries intersect in unexpected ways and shake Malcolm and Suzanne’s world. The end of the book shifts the board the series is played on. Malcolm and Suzanne’s lives, and those of the other central series characters, will never be the same. As I said above, I had been writing towards this development in the series for sometime, but when I got to the point, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go through with it. I love my characters, and I felt as though I was being mean to them. I was, perhaps, reluctant to leave the somewhat settled world of the series as I knew it. And yet, that very settled nature was precisely why this was the right time for this plot twist. I considered changing or softening it, but in the end I went through with it as envisioned. I’m glad I did - I’m very excited to explore the new possibilities it opens up for the series (I’m already in the midst of writing the next novella and planning the next novella). But reading over the galleys, I still felt a pang for my characters. Which, as a writer friend pointed out, is probably a sign that I made the right decision.
Writers, have you ever hesitated to write a particular plot twist? Readers, how do you feel about “game changers” that shake up a series?