Mystery Fiction Tips

Mystery fiction is a genre most often described by the famous tag “whodunit.” A baffling crime occurs at or near the beginning of the story. Enter a protagonist who takes it upon him or herself to solve the puzzle. An intricate plot gradually peals back the layers of subterfuge until the final core piece of information is revealed and the perpetrator exposed. The reader can sift through the clues and engage in the sleuthing along with the protagonist. In the end, all details are tied up in a neat package, and the reader closes the book with the assurance that right has triumphed.

This type of fiction encompasses several subgenres that are defined according to the protagonist and setting. The police procedural has a professional law enforcement official working in his or her jurisdiction to solve one or more cases. These stories focus on the mechanics of police work and usually present the same detective in a series of books. Examples include the books of Michael Connelly, whose detective Harry Bosch works in the gritty environment of Los Angeles. Nevada Barr’s heroine Anna Pigeon solves crimes in the national parks. One of my personal favorites is Tony Hillerman, whose recent death greatly saddened me. His books are placed in the Four Corners region of the southwest and feature Navajo detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. His depiction of the Navajo culture is so genuine that he has been honored numerous times by that tribe. A newer favorite is C. J. Box, whose detective game warden Joe Pickett solves crimes in the rugged Wyoming wilderness.

The hard-boiled detective subgenre features a savvy casehardened professional investigator who gets down and dirty with the dregs of urban society. Examples are the books of Raymond Chandler with detective Philip Marlowe and the Spenser novels of Robert Parker.

The cozy subgenre is the opposite of its hard-boiled counterpart. These stories take place in intimate, non-threatening environments, are written in genteel prose, and have a clever but unassuming amateur sleuth who observes events and applies keen reasoning to ferret out the solution to the crime or crimes. Agatha Christie was the most famous writer of this art form. Her detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are recognized and enjoyed around the world today. Dorothy Sayers and her Lord Wimsey was another prolific practitioner of the cozy. Her detective was the aristocratic Lord Wimsey.

As in the cozy, the amateur detective subgenre features an ordinary person who stumbles onto a crime and takes on the task of solving it. It differs from the cozy in that the protagonist’s role surpasses that of mere interested observer. This person has a personal stake in the outcome of the investigation, and the deeper he or she digs, the more likely they will encounter dangerous and even life-threatening circumstances. These books may be written in a series involving the same sleuth. Examples are the books of Lawrence Block, whose protagonist is a burglar and bookseller, and Janet Evanovich, whose creation is the amusing Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter. Books in this subgenre are also written as stand-alone stories. My books Final Victim and Extreme Influence are examples of such novels and can be downloaded on this site.

Dr. Abigail Potter has come home to take over her dying father’s medical practice. When her estranged sister Rona Lee unexpectedly reappears, Abigail is brought face to face with the cunning ruthlessness and dark secrets that drove her away in the first place. The struggle between the sisters turns ugly. Then Abigail discovers Rona Lee’s brutally murdered body and realizes she is the primary suspect. In a race against time, she must plunge into Rona Lee’s murky past and sift through the human debris she finds there in order to stop the killer before she herself becomes the final victim.

Divorced civil engineer Hannah McPherson is making a new life for herself in a small Illinois town where she has been appointed as village engineer. She manages to stay aloof from local politics until a sinister cabal begins to meddle in the decision to bring a controversial entertainment complex to the village. As dissension mounts, murder and mayhem stalk the little town with Hannah at the center of it all. She must use her unique knowledge and skills to thwart a conspiracy that imperils not only her own life but everything and everyone she holds dear.

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