‘Cause I Know You Understand*

Crime Writing PairsIt isn’t always easy to share your life with a crime writer. Just ask Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… Or perhaps, better not. 😉 Now, the one kind of person who does know what it’s like to be a crime writer is…another crime writer. And we do see several very successful examples of crime writers who share their lives with other crime writers.

Some of these partnerships have resulted in some memorable co-authored books and series. One of the most famous in crime fiction is arguably the partnership of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Fans will know that these two real-life partners created the ten-book series featuring Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team. Each has individual writing credits too, but they’re most famous for this joint series.

You could say a similar thing about Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the husband/wife team who write as Nicci French. They’ve written several standalones together and recently they’ve also been co-writing the Frieda Klein series – the ‘days of the week’ novels. Both Gerrard and French have written individually as well, but most readers know them best through their collaboration.

And then there are Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini, who are married in their personal lives and co-authors of the Coffeehouse Mystery Series professionally. They use the name Cleo Coyle for that series, and the name Alice Kimberly for their Haunted Bookshop mysteries. They write individually as well, but their best-known work is collaborative.

Sometimes, crime-writer partners are more famous for their individual work than they are for their collaborations. For instance, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have been married for over twenty years. Each of them is famous as an individual. Muller fans will know that she is the creator of the Sharon McCone PI series, which was one of the original American female PI series. Pronzini is of course the author of the Nameless series as well as several other series and standalones. He’s edited a number of anthologies as well. Muller and Pronzini have collaborated on the Carpenter and Quincannon historical series, the second of which came out in December of 2013. But each also has a very long individual ‘track record.’

The same is true of Kenneth and Margaret Millar. As Ross Macdonald, Kenneth Millar was most famous for his Lew Archer novels and story collections. He wrote and edited other work, but his name is most closely linked with Archer’s. Margaret Millar wrote a few short series including the three Tom Aragon novels. But she is possibly better known for her standalone psychological mysteries and character studies. To my knowledge (so please, put me right if I’m wrong!), the Millars didn’t collaborate on novels or series. I wonder what it would have been like if they had…

More recently both Faye and Jonathan Kellerman have each created very successful crime writing careers.  Faye Kellerman is best known for her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, although she’s written other novels as well. And fans will know that Jonathan Kellerman is the author of the well-regarded Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis series. He’s also written other fiction as well as non-fiction books. It seems the family tradition is being passed on, too, as their son Jesse Kellerman is also a crime/thriller writer as well as a playwright.

And then there’s Angela Savage and Andrew Nette. Savage is the author of a PI series featuring Bangkok-based Jayne Keeney. She has also written short fiction as well as non-fiction articles. Her partner is Andrew Nette, the author of Ghost Money. Nette is also the author of several short noir crime stories as well as several non-fiction articles. Both Savage and Nette have also been very active in the Australian crime writers’ community, and they’ve worked together on some projects, such as Crime Factory’s Hard Labour, a collection of Aussie noir stories.

There are of course other crime writers whose partners also write crime fiction. There isn’t really space to mention them all.  I know that there are some interesting conversations around my home because I write crime fiction. And only one of us is a crime writer…




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alex Hill and Fats Waller’s I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me).


Filed under Alice Alfonsi, Alice Kimberly, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Bill Pronzini, Cleo Coyle, Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Kenneth Millar, Maj Sjöwall, Marc Cerasini, Marcia Muller, Margaret Millar, Nicci French, Nicci Gerrard, Per Wahlöö, Ross Macdonald, Sean French

38 responses to “‘Cause I Know You Understand*

  1. Stephen and Tabitha King would qualify, I’d say. I don’t think they’ve collaborated on anything, but both have published what’s technically crijme fiction even though it’s often stuck on the horror shelves.

    I haven’t read enough of son Joe Hill to know if he’d qualify.

    • Realthog – Good point about the Kings. A lot of people think of what they write as horror fiction, and some of it is. But they write crime fiction as well. Like you, I don’t feel qualified to say whether Joe Hill’s work qualifies as crime, horror or something else.

  2. How about a couple of husband-and-wife teams who turned out classic husband-and-wife mysteries together, beginning in the 1940s? Frances and Richard Lockridge worked together to create the Mr. and Mrs. North series of books, which were wildly popular. Pam and Jerry North continued for many years on radio and even lasted into the TV era. As the Wikipedia entry puts it, quite accurately, “They were not professional detectives but simply an ordinary couple who stumbled across a murder or two every week for 12 years.”

    The other husband-wife team of note during the same period were William and Audrey Roos, who wrote together as Kelley Roos, and created the husband-wife team of Jeff and Haila Troy. They were a tremendously popular team, particularly in the 1940s, and one of their other books was turned into the 1943 movie “A Night to Remember,” which starred Loretta Young and Brian Aherne. The books about the Troys were light mystery-comedies, with nearly as much attention paid to the humor as to the murders.

  3. I’m a fan of John and Emery Bonett, a UK writing team who produced half a dozen books in the 1950s and 60s, and probably weren’t very well-known elsewhere. I enjoy the stories for their view of domestic life in arty London circles. Apparently the happy pair met at a Spanish evening class, but got engaged rather than learning Spanish….

    • Moira – Never let it be said that Spanish isn’t a Romance language… 😉 In all seriousness, I have to admit I’ve not read the Bonetts’ work. The context sounds interesting though. Perhaps I’ll try to find some of their work and see what I think.

  4. Writing can be such a lonely profession so if you have someone to not only talk about your writing but collaborate with you, it must be extremely motivating. Of course, it could go the other way. But we don’t hear of those, do we?

    • Carol – No, we don’t always hear about it when it goes wrong. I think there is something to be said for having someone who really ‘gets it’ to share the writing life, but I can certainly see challenges to it.

  5. I truly don’t know how people can collaborate on a novel. Not a married couple, but hats off to Charles Todd — mother/son writing team. I love their Bess Crawford series!

    • Karen – I like the Bess Crawford series too. And I agree that the ‘Todd team’ do an excellent job of creating a seamless novel. Having collaborated on some things (admittedly non-fiction), I have the utmost respect for people who co-author novels. Not an easy task.

  6. Interesting post. I always wonder two things:
    1) Why do two people who write together use a single-person pen-name? Is it because it is believed readers don’t think two people can write fiction together?
    2) How can two people write fiction together?! Non-fiction, I understand, but fiction is such a personal thing. If you write something you don’t like, you can delete it. But if you’re writing with another, you can’t just delete what they write if you don’t like it!

    • Caron – Thanks. And you have a well-taken point about how challenging it can be to co-author fiction. I’ve never tried it, but I can very well imagine that it’s extremely difficult. As you say, when you write your own work, you can make the changes you want to make. When you co-author, it doesn’t happen that way. As to why writing teams use one name? I’m less certain about that. Perhaps it’s easier for readers to associate a series with one author’s name than two? Interesting question, though. As a reader, I don’t think it matters to me whether a novel has one or two authors, but it may matter to some people. Hmmm…I’d have to think about that.

  7. Very interesting. I recently purchased the first Cleo Coyle book because of recommendations but had no idea it was a collaboration. I have read Muller and Pronzini individually but I don’t think I have tried one of the books they wrote together. Of course they did a mystery reference book together too: 1001 Midnights.

    • Tracy – Thanks. And thanks for reminding me of 1001 Midnights. If you do get the chance to read one of the Muller/Pronzini novels, I hope you’ll enjoy it. And I’ll be interested to see what you think of the first Cleo Coyle.

  8. kathy d.

    I would love to know how Sjowall and Wahloo wrote together. I think one wrote a chapter and then handed it to the other to look at.
    There has to be a lot of compromising here, so couples have to be able to do that.
    Now, there are also sister teams like the Perri O’Shaughnessy writers, and mother and daughter duos, as in P.J. Tracy of the Monkeewrench series.
    I’ve written some things with a friend but it wasn’t that easy. So I can’t even imagine how one could write a whole book that way — or a series!
    Congratulations to all who do it.
    And I’m sure there are very interesting conversations at your house — on murder methods. As long as no one is trying them out, the hypotheticals could lead to fascinating exchanges.
    it would seem like a good idea to try out ideas on someone whose opinion one values.
    Now, in the case of John Grisham who always shows his spouse, Renee Grisham, his manuscripts, I gather there are sometimes fireworks. In a short video interview, he said she sometimes rejects his arguments and stories. So he rewrites. Hmmm.

    • Kathy – I would imagine it does take a lot of compromising if one’s going to co-author a book with anyone, let alone one’s partner or spouse. I know I’ve found that to be the case with the few non-fiction things I’ve co-authored. And there are, as you say, lots of other duos out there too. In all of those cases, it really takes commitment and effort – I give those writing pairs a lot of credit. And you’re right; I find it’s really helpful to talk ideas over with someone whose opinion I trust. I’m not surprised Grisham shows his work to his wife. I’ll bet she gives him really helpful insights

  9. I’ve just recently discovered the Martin Beck series (re-discovered actually, because I read The Laughing Policeman a year or two back – on your recommendation- and loved it), and can’t believe they wrote alternate chapters. It is so seamless.
    Never knew Cleo Coyle wasn’t a single lady. Hard to believe, actually, because the female voice is so strong.
    Great post, as usual.

    • Natasha – Thank you. Glad to hear you’ve re-discovered the Martin Beck series. Isn’t it great? I agree that it’s so seamlessly written that it’s pretty much impossible to tell that it wasn’t written by one person. They did an excellent job of keeping the narrative and dialogue flowing smoothly. The Cleo Coyle novels are smoothly written too. Author duos who can achieve that deserve a lot of credit.

  10. Fascinating, Ms. Kinberg. Although they didn’t exactly write crime fiction, Irving Wallace and Sylvia Wallace come to mind. I read somewhere that Sylvia Wallace became a novelist because she got tired of being the famous Irving Wallace’s wife and decided to carve out her own literary identity and she did just that. Then there was Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, made more famous by the film IRIS, two roles played to near perfection by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent. I don’t know if either of the literary couple co-authored any books.

    • Prashant – Thank you. And thanks for those contributions too. They’re great examples of ‘literary couples.’ I’ll admit I’ve not seen the film Iris, although I know that it was very well received. And you’ve reminded me of Murdoch’s work, too, for which thanks. Haven’t read it in a long, long time.

  11. Jim and Joyce Lavene are husband-wife cozy mystery writers who live near me. Their process amazes me. And a large cat helps them out, too! 🙂

  12. I’m another one who just can’t imagine how it would be possible to collaborate on writing fiction. I did once see an interview with both parts of Nicci French and they seemed to write bits each and then swap them for the other person to suggest revisions. I can’t think of a quicker route to the divorce courts myself… 😉

    • FictionFan – I give a great deal of credit – I really do – to couples who collaborate on novels. I know from collaborating on non-fiction academic-type work that it’s a challenging process at best. It can result in terrific work, but easy? No. I think it must take a special kind of couple to make it happen and even more, to make it look seamless.

  13. Col

    Apparently Dick Francis had a lot of input from his spouse – I’ve even heard some commentators alleging she was responsible for a lot of the ideas and writing. Don’t know too much so can’t comment. I know his son has continued the legacy of “horse-ish” books. I’m not sure if they collaborated on any before he died.

    • Col – Interesting! Thanks for sharing that article too. I have to say that I don’t know whether or not Dick Francis’ wife did any of his writing. From what I understand, Francis did co-author a few books with his son Felix before he died. And as you say, Felix Francis has keep up the writing tradition. It does make one wonder what role Francis’ wife might have played.

  14. When it works, it must be wonderful, but I can imagine very often it wouldn’t work at all!
    I heard Nicci Gerrard and Sean French speak at a conference and they were asked about how they collaborate. They said they work thrash out the plot and the main ideas together for quite a long time, then they work on alternate chapters (perhaps the different voices/characters in the book) and swap over the following day for edits and then continue where the other person left off.

    • Marina Sofia – It must be extremely difficult for such a partnership to work well. Lucky you to have had the chance to hear how Gerrard and French go about collaborating. I’m glad it works well for them – certainly their books seem to ‘flow.’ I can’t imagine it’s easy though.

  15. Martha Henissart and Mary Latsis wrote highly enjoyable novels as Emma Lathen. She (they?) is one of my authors for the Forgotten Authors panel at Crimefest.

  16. It’s a stretch, but Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman were a writing team, of sorts. And if we’re to believe the movie Julia, Hammett assisted Hellman quite a bit on her writing.
    Then there’s ‘Quinn Fawcett,’ the pen name of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Bill Fawcett, who wrote among other things the espionage stories which feature a fictionalized Ian Fleming as the hero.

    • Bryan – Interesting point about Hammett and Hellman. I hadn’t thought about them in that way, but you certainly could consider them a writing team.
      And thanks for the mention of ‘Quinn Fawcett.’ I’ll admit I’ve heard of, but not tried, that team’s work. And the idea of casting Ian Fleming as the sleuth is interesting.

  17. I immediately thought of Susan Wittig Albert and her husband Bill Albert. They’ve been married almost 30 years so I’m betting they even finish each others’ sentences.

    • Oh, absolutely, Pat! And I know they’ve done separate things, and of course they’ve done the Robin Paige Victorian series together. Both of them are really talented too. I’m glad you reminded me of their work.

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