Mystery Readers Only

Guest Post: The Inverted Detective Story

by Frederick Weisel

The Silenced Women
by Frederick Weisel

The classic mystery saves the big reveal—the identity of the guilty party—for the last chapter or even the final paragraph. As readers, we rush through the book to learn how the puzzle is solved. Agatha Christie was, of course, famous for this. Even current writers like the Irish mystery writer Tana French keep the reader guessing until the end.

But the mystery genre also includes a different kind of plot—the so-called “inverted detective story.” Here the crime and the identity of the criminal are described at the outset. The story then shows us how the detective uncovers the evidence to figure out what the reader already knows. If the classic mystery is the whodunit, the inverted detective story is the howcatchem.

According to Wikipedia, the inverted detective story was invented by a writer named R. Austin Freeman in 1912. But anyone old enough to have watched TV in the 1970s will remember Peter Falk’s Columbo. The first few minutes of that show always began with the commission of the crime and the identity of the guilty person. The rest of the show was about how Columbo found a way to prove the killer’s guilt.

My mystery/police procedural The Silenced Women follows the inverted detective story format. No spoiler alert is necessary. Chapter 3 introduces Ben Thackrey and his friends Victor and Russell. The chapter doesn’t actually tell you they are killers. But, given their conversation about how to dispose of a bloody trunk liner in their car, you know all is not right in their world.

So—as readers, what do get in an inverted detective story in exchange for not being able to guess the killer? In my novel, readers are able to spend time with the killers throughout the novel, not just at the end. Many chapters show them trying to cover their tracks and even threatening the police detectives. Equally, the plot shows the detectives gradually collecting clues that close in on the Thackrey and his friends.

In Columbo and, hopefully, my novel, the plot puts readers in a different place from the classic mystery. Readers aren’t trying to catch up to the detective; they are ahead of the sleuth. As the shorthand phrase above notes, it puts the emphasis not on the who but the how. In that sense, it’s a profoundly different kind of story.

The structure also shifts the focus more on character than plot. As readers, you’re not reading to find out who the killer is, you’re reading to observe who the detective and the killer are. That was clearly true with Peter Falk’s Columbo character. What we remember about that show are not the plots but Lieutenant Columbo’s way of speaking and moving.

When you read my novel, I hope you’ll find some pleasure in getting to know Eddie Mahler, the lead detective who suffers from migraine headaches; Eden Somers, the smart former FBI analyst who is haunted by serial killer case; and the other detectives on the VCI team. And I hope these characters will keep you turning the pages even though you know the killer before the cops do.

About the Book:

A debut novel, The Silenced Women, introduces an exciting new police procedural series, set in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, about a team of homicide investigators led by the enigmatic detective Eddie Mahler. The novel follows the detectives as they investigate a recent homicide and several similar cold cases. The book will be published by Poisoned Pen Press on February 2, 2021, and is available for pre-order now. The second book in the series, The Day He Left, is a missing person case, and will be published in February 2022. More information about the book and the series is at:

About the Author:

Author Frederick Weisel

Frederick Weisel has been a writer and editor for more than 30 years. He graduated from Antioch College and has an MA in Victorian Literature and History from the University of Leicester in England. The Silenced Women is his debut novel. He lives with his wife in Santa Rosa, California.




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Writer's Notes

10 Tips for Finding an Agent

This week a friend honored me with a request for advice. I spent some time researching the answers and decided there were others who could benefit from this information. The links to blogs and websites are places I go for my advice. If you’re a writer, you may learn something. If not, skim this post and appreciate all the hard work that goes into that paperback you’re reading.


Dear Andy,

Thanks for asking for my advice. I love to tell people what to do (after all, I got paid for it for 35 years). Since your manuscript is completed, including editing, I’d go with an agent search first.

  • Several websites will offer you contact info. QueryTracker, AgentQuery and WriterDigest are all helpful. I’d check out the free ones, first.
  • Narrow the search field down by genre. Find someone interested in your genre-mystery/police procedural so you don’t waste time with an agent who only accepts romance.
  • I also cut it by only querying agents who took e- submissions versus hard copy. I want someone savvy enough to be looking to tomorrow.
  • Once you have a half dozen interesting agents, read their submission policy.
  • Follow directions to the letter as skipping a specified step can put your query in the trash. Agents get hundreds of queries every day, so a small thing like not following directions can make email triage very easy.
  • Your query text should be fairly uniform for all agents except for the opening paragraph. Assuming your friend John Grisham hasn’t referred you to his agent, you should try to establish a link with the agent. Try something like, “I see in your bio that you attended Caltech. I got my advanced degree in physics from Caltech in 1999.” or “I see in your submission policy that you are interested in steampunk YA. My new SP YA novel has been hailed by my writing professor as ‘a great example of steampunk’.”
  • Make sure you know the agent’s name and spell it correctly. Check to be sure he/she is still at the agency you are querying. Agents seem to move around a lot.
  • There are varying formats for query letters but generally they should be about 3-5 paragraphs. The above link should be helpful.
  • After you send out your query letter, keep track of who, what agency, date query sent, result (manually, on software such as QT or on an Excel spreadsheet, your choice). That way you don’t duplicate efforts in three months when your head is in a tailspin trying to remember who you queried. You also can use this for follow up emails as needed.
  • Keep writing, editing, etc. while querying. I used to send out a half-dozen a week. I rarely heard back from any but all it takes is one!

Writers Digest
Writers Digest

Writer’s Digest is also a wonderful resource for all thing pertaining to the writing life. The online version is as good as or better than the print copy. The Writer is also wonderful and has an online version. A good rule for finding a reputable agent is to look for AAR-Association of Author Representatives. They have a stringently protected code of ethics that begins with never pay for agent services. Check for membership at the above link.

Hope this helps. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so tough. There are plenty of blogs that deal with the mechanics of finding an agent. Janet Grant’s agency Books and Such Literary Management may look like homespun calico but these folks are pros. A list of their books will tell you what kind of activity they generate. Each of their agents post on the company blog during the week, complete with Q&A. I’ve learned much from this one! Rachelle Gardner is one of my favorites. Nathan Bransford’s post from 2008 is entertaining and still pertinent. Fuse Literary is another great reference.

The trick is this—do your homework and follow directions.

Good luck! Nah, I don’t believe in luck. Get to work.

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