Mystery Readers Only

Guest Post: What’s in a Murder Mystery, Anyway?

The Lethal Legacy by Jeannette de Beauvoir

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!


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.

Happy sleuthing!

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.  

Amazon link:

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.

Writer's Notes

October: Suspension of Disbelief

By Thonie Hevron

Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Washington Allston circa 1843


Willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

Every fiction writer must wrestle with this at some time. The worlds we create are products of our imagination with a little fact thrown in.

The main facet of suspension of disbelief: Could this happen, really?

Something that I see in my genre (police procedural/thriller/mystery) so often is multiple officer involved shootings (OIS’s) several times a shift or day or week. Officers never seem to go on Administrative Leave ever. Administrative Leave is a temporary leave from a job or assignment, with pay and benefits intact. Officers are routinely placed on administrative leave after a shooting incident while an investigation is conducted (sometimes by an outside agency for impartiality), without implying fault on the part of the officer.

My husband, the retired firefighter, cries foul when a vehicle is involved in a crash and subsequent explosion (this doesn’t include when the plot specifies an incendiary device was aboard). What typically happens is this: cars don’t explode on impact. If they catch fire, it often due to fuel leaking to an ignition source (such as an overheated catalytic converter).

Cops and fire fighters are readers and know when something just ain’t right. But when you include a feasible ignition source in that Impala that collides with a tree—then you have the “well, it could happen” moment.

ThonieHevron-ByForceorFear.jpgAnother part of suspension of disbelief involves the premise of my first novel. By Force or Fear’s protagonist is a female detective being stalked by a cunning judge. Her superiors don’t believe her when she reports him. In this day of #MeToo, I seriously doubt any responsible administrator would discount the report. But it could happen, right? That’s suspension of disbelief.

The key to making the preposterous believable is to sow seeds of reasonability into the story (foreshadowing) ahead of time or during the event. For instance, an observer of the car crash might see the fallen tiki torch next to the tree or the officer may be the last officer (think a department-wide epidemic with no mutual aid officers available within the day—hey, it’s a stretch but it could happen, right?). Sometimes a scientific explanation after the event can work but that can be dicey. Balance this with authenticity.

The trick to all of this is to make your devices (and plot twists) believable. Do your research, online and on the ground. Talk to police officers, fire fighters, professors, whoever you need to get the scoop. After talking to these folks, you may find that the truth is less believable than fiction!

October 12th will feature D.R. Ransdell’s take on this topic. On October 19th, an interview with Rita Lakin who dishes on the hard-to-believe-it-but-they’re-true stories with her Getting Older is Murder series. Niles Reddick winds up the month on October 26th with writing about differences.

You’ll be glad you checked them all out! Don’t forget to read Hal Collier (Ramblings), Ed Meckle (The Call Box), Mikey (Roll Call) and others on Just the Facts, Ma’am to find out how much stranger truth can be than fiction!


3 book covers
All three of my thriller novels are for sale on I’ll also be signing and selling books at the Rohnert Park 2018 Holiday Craft Faire November 23 and 24. 


Writer's Notes

Multi-tasking: Mar Preston

By Mar Preston

multi-taskingIs there anything in life that doesn’t require multi-tasking skills of some sort or another? At any stage in life? Employers want workers who can juggle. My blog host, Thonie Hevron, must have a grasp on multi-tasking during her career as a dispatcher.

Children, husbands, lovers, and readers expect you to be able to swivel from one thing to another.

If readers like your series, they’re panting in expectation for your next book so they can re-enter the world you made them love. Or so authors say. I can’t quite convince myself that the world is breathless in anticipation of my next book.

If I were to be granted a superpower, I’d wish for a no cost, safe, effective multi-tasking ability. Think how many books you could write before flopping, exhausted, into your favorite chair? It’s probably sensible to write when you’re writing, and market (hustle books) when you’re marketing. I end up trying to do both at once. I’m an impatient, jittery sort of person.  My mother used to call me Instant Grat.

20170418_153729My particular enemy is flipping back and forth on Facebook, reading interesting articles about world affairs. Do I think I have to take a test or something? Am I preparing for Jeopardy?  No, I’m not. I’m procrastinating working on my current novel. At one point in multi-tasking I thought leaping from one novel to another when I reached an impasse would make the work easier. Not so. It made both of them hard.

I’ve read that while it may seem you’re being productive flipping from one screen, one item on your to do list to another, the researchers say there is a cognitive cost. You’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Aging will drive that point home as well.  Oh yes.

boxed Set - SM

Perhaps you might find my police procedural series about a Santa Monica cop and his activist girlfriend interesting. It’s a 3-book bundle that is free until September 16th here.  If you like them, please leave me a review.



%d bloggers like this: