In my first mystery, The Body in the Attic, I meant to write an Agatha Christie type murder where a body is found in the first chapter and then countless witnesses and suspects are introduced until the murder is solved. That was my intent. And I didn’t quite stick to it. But I just finished reading Mary Angela’s A VERY MERRY MURDER. She purposely structured her book to be like a Christie novel, and she pulled it off. She even used a Christie story for her protagonist, Professor Emmeline Prather, to teach in her Crime and Passion English class–an elective class that focused on mysteries and romances. Even better, Angela used the same murder technique for the current mystery that Christie used in hers. If you’re a Christie fan, it was awesome!
Such attention to detail, alas, I didn’t manage. I discovered poor Aunt Lynda’s body in the first chapter, yes, but then I introduced a subplot that intrigued me a little too much, and before long, another body was required to move the plot along. Which, I have to admit, I was pretty happy with. Which shows that even if you outline, like I do, the best laid plans can go awry.
In my second mystery, The Body in the Wetlands, bodies seemed to pile up without my even trying. One murder leads to the next and the one after that until Jazzi and Ansel, along with Detective Gaff, finally catch the killer. The moral of the story? Try never to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And of course, there’s another dog in this story. I grew quite fond of Cocoa, the chocolate Lab.
I’ve been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and back when I read Christie, the actual murder and puzzle are what made me turn the pages. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Miss Marple and Poirot. And Christie could draw a character in only a few brush strokes, so I “knew” them–what motivated them–but didn’t get to know them, if that makes any sense. Lately, though, I’m every bit as interested in the characters in the story, who they are and what they’re doing, and I’m disappointed if they’re not filled out more.
I liked Mary Angela’s professor and how seriously she took teaching college students who often weren’t as motivated as she was. I enjoyed the budding romance between Enmeline and Lenny, and I loved the widow who lived across the street and didn’t miss anything. She was a whiz at baking and let Emmeline know her Christmas cookies were inferior. All fun stuff that added layers to the story.
I guess, these days, I enjoy lots of different kinds of stories hung on a mystery plot. The only time I’m disappointed is when the end of the mystery–how it’s solved and whodunnit–aren’t handled well. After all, it’s a mystery, even if the murder only serves as a foundation to wrap other subplots around. But I expect a murder, clues, red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion. The rest is all extras. I don’t want a murderer pulled out of a hat or for the clues to not add up. Other than that, I go along for what I hope is a fun ride. Whatever you’re reading now, I hope it keeps you turning pages and you’re happy you read it when you close the book.
And happy writing!