I am contemplating the creation of new mystery series, and I really want to know the elements that you enjoy the most when choosing a mystery novel to read? What keeps you reading?
But first I will tell you what I don’t like in the genre, how’s that? Then you tell me, all right?
1) Bloodshed: I hate it when the narrative shifts into the mind of a demented, sadistic killer. As much as I loved the writings of Dean Koontz’s, with their heroic characters and their brush with supernatural forces, I have found myself sickened by the pleasure expressed by the killers and the play-by-play narrative set down before me when executing their victims. This makes for suspense, I understand, but it makes me cringe. It is a pornography of violence. I’ve stopped reading such books.
2) The detective: I love it when I find my detective/amateur sleuth is likeable, even if he/she is a complex mess. But, I often think that some authors want to make them too flawed. The anti-hero type. Give me Hercule Poirot, Roderick Alleyn, Inspector Morse, Sherlock, Brother Cadfael–flawed men all, but men who have superior intellect and superior skills than the average Joe! I have never found Dalgleish very interesting, and his antithesis, Aurelio Zen leaves me cold. Somebody please take Lord Peter Wimsey away.
Notice that I didn’t name any women sleuths? Except for Miss Marple, I have never bonded with any. Here are the two types of females sleuths that many writers choose:
a) The hard-boiled female Sam Spade type: 35-45 years old. She been around, is divorced, lives out of her car or in a dump, her office is in a slum, she can’t pay her bills so she’ll take that matrimonial case that invariably threatens to get her killed. These women usually sustain horrific injuries after confronting bad guys, but they always manage to hobble away. Booze and aspirin cures the ruptured spleen by the following morning, so they can go out and get beaten up again, don’t you know?
b) The cutesy girl types of the cozies: 30-40 years old. She owns a B&B, bookshop, gift shop, runs the post office, caters, or renovates old houses; some practice witchcraft as well as arts and crafts; she bakes cupcakes and invariably feels she must share with us the recipes; she has a pushy mother, a batty, air-head friend and one who’s down to earth bor-ing!, a handsome, but ineffectual boyfriend, and dogs and cats that are particularly chatty critters who invariably show them the errors of their ways and help them solve the mysteries. God help us!
3) The beating of the dead horse. I recently read a book in which the author would present a new situation at the beginning of each chapter and then backtrack with how the protagonist arrived there. I had the impression that the author was filling in words under each heading of his original outline. Who needs five pages of tell, when you can have five pages of show? And the constant re-hashing of previously told information was maddening. Was this British writer of some acclaim being paid by the word? The book lost all sense of immediacy.
4) Am I an imbecile? or, being written down to: Have you ever gotten the feeling that some authors assume because you chose to read their book that you are somehow mentally deficient? That you have no taste for the sublime? I want my mysteries not only to keep me entertained, but to challenge my intellect–at least a little bit. I want the dialogue to not always be clever or smart-alecky, but to be considered carefully, with style and with power, purpose and to move the plot along. Dialogue must express the humanity of a book’s characters. It must flow naturally and still fulfill its purpose of advancing the plot and revealing character. If I read one more “What do you mean?” or “Oh, really?” I’ll scream. John Dunning is the master of action and spot-on dialogue.
5) Ringing false: Now, I have to admit that while writing humorous mysteries I am always worried that I may fall into the trap of ringing false. A joke for a joke’s sake is a pitfall. Comic relief must stem from something in the story and eventually lead into advancing the plot. And timing is everything. I learned that lesson well as an actress performing comedy. So I have to hear the dialogue out loud and place the “she saids” in the right place so as not to lose the rhythm of the conversation. But people like Parker and Benchley and their gang from The Algonquin were real people who spoke like real people most of the time. They simply expressed themselves more often with a greater respect for the English language than most, during a time when conversation was an art. And if you have read my books you know that I ask the reader to suspend their disbelief at times.
6) I dislike police procedurals. But lots of people love them. And there are some great ones. I reach my quota by watching the terrific Law & Order franchise.
So you now know the qualities that I want for my main detective:
A detective who is not necessarily an alcoholic, wounded by the death of his father or wife, (or for the women sleuths, got screwed in the divorce and is in debt); is not living out of a car, has pets smarter than he/she is, or able to walk away with three bullets to the chest. He/she does not have silly, mindless friends, and does not insist on sharing her/his? recipes.
I am hoping to develop characters that interest me, but I really want to know which elements keep you interested and which turn you off. Your input can only make me a better writer and a better entertainer. Please let me know your thoughts. Use the comment box below and feel free to come back and comment on what others may say and to add additional thoughts you may have. I’m listening, as Frasier always says. Hey! there’s a thought! Two dilatant brothers who solve mysteries, live with their old dad who has a terrier who is smarter than all of them . . . hmmm . . . .
Until next time,