Due to a scheduling glitch, you are seeing Jeannette de Beauvoir’s post on the ingredients for a murder mystery this afternoon instead of this morining. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. –Thonie
By Jeannette de Beauvoir
My favorite genre, whether reading or writing, is mystery. There’s something that’s intellectually and morally satisfying about seeing justice done—and having a go at figuring out how to get there.
Most murders originate long before they come to the reader’s—or the sleuth’s—attention. The body is both the ending of one story and the beginning of another. But unless there’s some sort of flashback in the prologue, the murder mystery proper begins with a body.
In a cozy mystery, one that doesn’t follow the investigation from the police point of view (those are called police procedurals), generally the murder itself is glossed over. Its brutality doesn’t intrude much into the drawing-room or garden; instead, that’s all abstracted and presented to the reader as a puzzle. Readers are generally not attached to the victim, though as the mystery deepens the victim may be fleshed out and presented as more of a person; right now, though, we’re just looking at a body.
In a mystery in which the protagonist is a detective (either police or private), that person now enters the scene. Although not always, this is also the point where the amateur sleuth enters the scene, though generally with less deliberation; most amateurs stumble over bodies—literally or metaphorically—or get drawn in by someone else. In a detective novel, there is sometimes a dark past or present (for example, Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine habit), while amateurs often handle their pasts and foibles with humor.
The obvious suspect is, of course, rarely guilty. Agatha Christie pioneered using the least likely suspect as murderer; but there are all sorts of options between those extremes. It’s generally not the butler (though to be honest, I long to read a mystery in which the butler did do it!). Suspects all present a motive for murder, and most of these motives are established by the author to lead the reader astray.
The weapon used reveals the level of planning—or lack thereof—involved. Murder weapons (or methods) in novels tend in general to be more creative than those in the headlines; one can only assume that when real criminals use creative methods, they’re not caught.
There’s lots of it. The weather, people’s habits, gum wrappers left behind… nothing is too small for the author to include. It’s up to the reader to figure out what’s relevant and what isn’t. The author has a duty to the reader: all the information necessary to solving the crime must be given to the reader in the name of fair play—so a lot more of it needs to be there in order to distract!
THE RED HERRINGS
Just as superfluous information must be included, along with a plethora of possible suspects, the author includes possible false trails for the reader to fall in love with and follow.
It’s no fun to solve a murder if you can’t reveal your solution as dramatically as possible! Remember Hercule Poirot’s “you may wonder why I’ve called you here this evening”… this is possibly the most annoying part of the classic Golden Age mysteries, as the detective (professional or amateur) takes the suspects through the entire case, throws about the red herrings, and finally reveals the culprit.
And that’s pretty much it! Of course, I hope you see more than this bare-bones structure in my novels… but I am writing them in conformity to an old and venerable writing tradition.
About the book:
Despite a slew of weddings to coordinate, Sydney Riley refuses to miss the Women’s Community Dinner—the high point of Women’s Week. During the festivities, she meets vocalist Jordan Bellefort, a direct descendant of a fugitive slave whose diaries suggest the Race Point Inn was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Then Jordan’s wife, Reggie, is murdered while Jordan performs onstage before a crowd of adoring fans. When Sydney probes Reggie’s death, she uncovers a tainted legacy that may provide a motive for the killing and place her own life at risk.
The Lethal Legacy explores the past’s influence on the present in a world-famous seaside resort with a rich history of diversity and acceptance. This seventh book in the Provincetown Mystery Series maintains the masterful blend of gripping suspense and unique characters Sydney Riley readers have come to expect.
About Jeannette de Beauvoir:
Jeannette is a bestselling novelist whose characters uncover truths and occasional dark secrets via mystery, historical, and literary fiction. Her work has been translated into 12 languages and she has been a Booksense Book-of-the-Year finalist.
As you can imagine, she loves to write. All the time.