I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately, perhaps to unstick myself from where I am stuck in my own book. I read to find the solutions other writers have come up with in their books. When the soluton is revealed and I find out who the murderer is or why the murderer did what he or she did, is it satisfactory? Does it leave me with a feeling that although I was mystified, I am now satisfied by the answer. Those mysteries are a pleasure.
Sometimes, though, I think that the writer doesn’t play fair or comes up with a solution that doesn’t make sense. The solution may be a great surprise, but it leaves the reader feeling cheated.
Sometimes writers do the “Hercule Poirot” ending where the detective or amateur sleuth gathers all the suspects together and accuses each character in turn of committing the murder, lays out the reasons why they did so, and then exonerates each one until he gets to the real murderer. That was good for Agatha Christie, who may have been the first to use it, but it get tedious when it continues to be used. Perhaps everyone has a reason to kill the victim, but not everyone is capable of murder or has a reason serious enough to kill.
That’s an other thing: the reason to kill must be serious. The killer must not only be capable of murder but must also have a really good reason to do so. Revenge for a terrible injury or protecting an important secret or shielding a loved one,. yes. Revenge for a social slight or insult, no. Revenge must be for something really serious.
I like an ending where the sleuth suddenly realizes who the murderer must be and pursues him or her to a satisfying climax, preferably with a chase or confrontation scene. That’s only my preference, of course. Obviously, not all mysteries should be alike. I’ve read many satisfactory mysteries where the murderer is known by the reader from the start, but the story is about the pursuit of the murderer by the sleuth or the sleuth’s realization of who the murderer must be. Or even, although this isn’t my favorite, a story told from the murder’s point of view as he or she escapes from the detective. In that kind of mystery, I find myself rooting for the murderer, and that’s kind of uncomfortable.
Anyway, the sticking point in the novel I am currently writing, the problem which is driving me to read one mystery after another in an attempt to forget my problem or, with luck, solve it, is the discovery early on of a safe deposit full of very expensive jewelry. The novel is the third in my Burgess Beach, Florida, series, featuring detective Andi Battaglia and her partner, Greg Lamont. It’s called REASONS TO DISAPPEAR, and the story concerns their captain, the man who ran the Burgess Beach Police Department, a real stickler for rules and regulations, who has disappeared, taking with him a lot of the city”s money and leaving behind the safety deposit full of jewelry. Is it solen? If so, from whom? By whom? How did the captain get hold of it? Why didn’t he take it with him when he left? What, if anything, does it mean?
I am inclined to trust my writing subconscious, which often causes me to put something in as I’m writing that I’m not sure I know the meaning of. This safe deposit box full of jewelry may be one of those things. Who does it belong to? Was it stolen? How did it get to the Captain’;s safe deposit box? Why is the Las Vegas mob interested in the jewelry? I hope my subconscious knows the answer and will reveal it to me soon.
4 thoughts on “WHODUNIT?”
I agree, Amber. It’s always a surprise–and a pleasure–to find that what I put in and didn’t understand at the time makes sense later on.
Great post. I often feel that the story I’m writing somehow exists already and my subconscious mind knows all the secrets and twists and turns of the plot that my ordinary waking consciousness does not. When I put in those “why did I write that?” bits, they often turn out to be important, but I don’t understand them at the time.
Coming up with the answer is fun. Sometimes searching for the answer not so much. I still enjoy the process, although sometimes I get frustrated.
Carole, That is the fun of writing mysteries, the coming up with how the murderer or villain is captured. I’m at that point in my current WIP. They are just figuring out who did it and have a slew of whys, but need concrete evidence the person did it.
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