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Author Topic: On Mysteries
Member # 1345

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Can we talk about those here, or is that a different forum?

In case we can, here's what I'm thinking: I have an idea for what could be a good mystery story. I'm still blinking away spots from that initial flash of inspiration but, every the pragmatist, I'm keenly aware of how little I know of the mystery genre.

That having been said, what advice would you give, and which books would you recommend for one who wants to acquaint himself with mysteries? Besides Sherlock Holmes, I mean.

Posts: 552 | Registered: Jan 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1646

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I just wrote a mystery. I did it just to challenge myself and frankly, I expect it to be my last.

Writing a mystery is HARD. First of all, don't try to write one without having read a few, and which few depends upon which type of mystery. Classic? Suspense? Romantic? What kind of sleuth do you want? A cop? A lawyer?

Honestly, for cop and lawyer mysterie I would recommend turning to television...Law & Order and CSI> (I hate those shows.) If you'd like a GOOD mystery series on TV there's Monk, but he's one of a kind. (For those unfamiliar with "Monk" on USA...Monk is an ex-cop whose still morning something like ten years after the death of his wife and is obsessive-compulsive, afraid of almost severything (especially germs), and a real basket case. But he's brilliant, sees everything, and remembers everything. It's quite amusing.)

Anyway, read Agatha Christie for your classic murder mysteries. "Ten Little Indians" was chilling, IMO. Don't rea Sherlock Holmes. It's carp. Even Doyle didn't want to keep writing it. He apparently tried to kill off Holmes several times but was forced to bring him back.

Browse the mystery section. Patterson, Kellerman, Sadra Brown (for romance), etc. Read the back of a few novels and see if they are anything like the type of mystery you plan to write. There are so many options out there.

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Member # 2267

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The puzzle aspect is too much for me. I almost never solve them. I'll say, honestly, I'm pretty intelligent, but the puzzle-solving side intimidates me.
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Member # 2056

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In the link that follows, OSC mentions a new breed of mystery writer, Robert Crais. Now, I haven't read any mysteries in a long time, so I can't help you. But if you're willing to trust OSC's word on the matter, then he might be worth a look:

Here's the link (scroll down to the final section of the essay):


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Member # 1950

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Well, "Know your market" is good advice for any genre. If you are looking to publish a novel, check out who the publishers are. Then walk down the mystery aisle of the bookstore or library and pick a couple from each publishing house. That's what I did when I was considering preparing a novel for Luna.

If you are thinking about doing a short story, pick out a couple of mags that look promising and read what they are publishing.

Definitely read the classics. You gotta know where your roots came from.

I once got an anthology of classic mystery short stories at the library. That's what got me hooked on Raymond Chandler. But the book had a wide variety of stories and styles.

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Member # 2192

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I have read a ton of mysteries in my time.

There are a bunch of different types. One of the big distinctions used to categorize them is who is your detective. You've got police procedurals, you've got private investigators, you've got ordinary citizens who get drawn into investigations. They vary by how graphic they are, from very very grim to downright funny or just sort of Nice and Wholesome. They can also have weird elements to them, and sort of mix SF/Fantasy and other genres.

Your library probably has a few books about writing mysteries, which will cover the divisions in a lot more detail. If you can get a name for the type of story you have in mind, I can probably recommend a bunch of good titles in that line.

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Member # 2265

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My favorite mystery writer is Tony Hillerman. I love the emphasis on culture and history as well as the mystery.
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Member # 2055

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One of my favorite mystery novels is “Bimbos of the Death Sun” by Sharyn McCrumb. I know the title sounds horrible, but it is a great mystery novel about a murder that takes place at a science fiction convention. I believe it won the Edgar award for best mystery when it came out.


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Member # 2442

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I used to date a guy who was in the process of retiring from a career as a private investigator. It's not nearly as glamorous as the cop shows make it out to be... PIs tend to be suspicious of everyone, jumpy, obsessive about keeping all their own personal information private, unwilling to commit to a relationship, and have a macabre sense of humor... a generalization I'm making based on my own personal experience

Anyhow, during this time, there was a cop show on TV (sorry, can't remember the name.) There was an underlying thread in the show from week to week about how the cop's boss quit letting him drive the nice fancy car and made him drive an old beater pickup because he kept trashing cars in the line of duty. Then one episode revolved around him losing his car insurance, and being followed by the insurance investigators because they couldn't believe someone could trash that many cars in a row and write it off as a business expense. My ex-BF, who had lost his driver's license due to not having car insurance, LOVED that show and would sit there crowing in delight at the TV set saying, "Now THAT is REAL!! That's what really happens!!!"

Just a "for-what-it's worth"... in the PI department. No one REALLY lives like James Bond...

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Member # 2161

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Heavens, DO read Sherlock Holmes. I grew up on these things and they're brilliant. Inimitable, but brilliant.

If you want a more up-to-date version, read Laurie King's takeoff on the Sherlock Holmes stories, the only time I've seen Holmes picked up by another writer and still done well. Those start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. She's got a contemp mystery series, too; though I haven't read it I expect it's good.

Other excellent mystery writers: Agatha Christie's been mentioned; Ellis Peters, both the Cadfael mysteries and the more modern ones; I always liked Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries... if you find you like Christie, Georgette Hayer was a contemporary of hers who wrote some quite good stuff, and Dorothy Sayers, another contemp, is good but slow-moving. Jim Butcher has an urban fantasy mystery series which I catch up on occasionally - quite enjoyable.

Mystery is my second-most favorite genre. Enjoy!

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Member # 2109

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Ditto on Sherlock. The impact of AC Doyle's fiction on our society far outweighs any contemporary view of the quality of his writing. For that reason alone, you should read the Sherlock Holmes stories.

You might also try reading "Too Many Magicians", by Randall Garrett for a great example of cross-genre writing.

See here for more on Randall Garrett: http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/sf/dani/PS_006.htm .

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Member # 2213

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Don't forget Robert B. Parker for your tough-guy PI mysteries. For what it's worth, OSC thinks highly of him as well.
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Member # 1374

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I don't offer this as a substitute for reading actual mysteries, but I just finished How to Write a Damm Good Mystery by James N. Frey, which offered some interesting insights on the structuring of a mystery over another sort of novel.
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