…or if they don’t, they sometimes like other qualities embodied in mysteries. Perhaps they latch on to a character, especially in a mystery series, and decide to follow only because of that character. So it’s up to the author to let readers know not only about their mystery, but about the characters contained therein.
When I think of some of my favorite detectives, for instance, I put Spenser from the Robert B. Parker novels high on the top of my list. Then there’s Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly, or I could go back a ways and date myself by mentioning Mike Hammer, a rough and tough detective who did it for me in the Fifties and Sixties when Mickey Spillane was writing hard hitting stuff that no other writer would touch. And who can resist Lincoln Rhyme, a clever man who overcomes great physical limitations to solve some of the grittiest crimes. One of my favorite all time mystery novels is The Bone Collector in which author Jeffery Deaver introduced the Rhyme character. Another mystery writer who, it is argued, is really a western writer, or vice-versa, is Craig Johnson, the creator of the wildly popular lawman Walt Longmire, who chases down the bad guys in the wilderness of Absaroka County (fictional) in Wyoming.
Examining these books, I asked myself why I enjoyed them so much? Why was I so fascinated that I went looking for other books by these authors and/or featuring their main characters.
First, I have to admit that mysteries and detective novels in particular are not my only love
when choosing a book to read, those are the ones I decided to pick apart today and try to learn, as a writer, what draws me, as a reader, to specific authors and subjects.
First and foremost, I need a terrific story, but if there are no point of view characters I can relate to, or give a damn about, then I probably won’t continue to read, even if I’m intrigued by the story. At any rate, that means that I probably want intriguing characters first. Yet where would they be without a good story? Dithering around, running in circles, with no goal, motivation or conflict, no sense of place, no setting out of the ordinary, no clever internalization to draw me into their inner selves, no back story that defines them. Good writing should be a given. My favorites mentioned above fulfill all these needs and then some. There is that final and mysterious quality of writing known as voice. Can’t explain that one, it just is, and you got it or you ain’t. And sorry, it isn’t something anyone can teach.
A writer once told me that she couldn’t write her story with one point of view character because there were too many things going on out of his purview that she had to let the reader in on. Bosh, pish tosh and nonsense. A clever writer can reveal everything the reader needs to know without ever leaving a singular point of view.
This is made very clear by the above mentioned Robert Parker and his clever detective, Spenser. That being said, and I detest that buzz word, it’s such an obviously dumb thing to say. (my apologies to Greg Camp for using an adverb here) For if you’re listening it’s unnecessary and if you’re not you have no idea what I just said. There are many writers today writing in the first person who jump to third person for other characters. While that may be very revealing, it’s the lazy way to write a good story, especially a mystery.
When we write or read romances, it is preferable to that they are written in both the heroe’s and heroine’s viewpoints. But I’m discussing mysteries here. In my opinion, the best mysteries have a singular detective viewpoint where the reader learns the clues and other facts as the detective learns them. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a detective, it can be the little old lady next door who sits on the porch and knits, or a bounty hunter like Stephanie Plumb, a private eye, someone caught up in the danger who must solve the mystery in order to save his own life or someone else’s…well, you get the idea. Any singular person who will go on to find the killer or perpetrator will do.
If you can write a short story, which is best done in a singular point of view, then you can write a book in the same way. Try it. Mysteries are especially delicious written that way.
If I didn’t mention your favorite mystery series, author or character here, why not share him or her with us? I’ll send a free ebook copy of Wolf Song, which contains a good mystery/suspense plot, to the person who is drawn from the best comments about mysteries and detectives.