Writing A Detective Novel ~ The Rules

Investigation

 

 

As in life…some rules can safely be broken, others can’t. Determining which is which often demonstrates who is the proficient writer and who is not.

Quite a few of the rules for writing detective stories are similar to those for writing murder mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers. Others are very different.

BASIC RULES:

1. The story must have a detective, or detective partners as its main character(s). These can be duly sworn police detectives, fire department arson investigators, licensed private investigators, FBI special agents, homeland security investigators and the like, or military police officers of high enough rank to be investigating crimes. They are law enforcement professionals on the case to solve a particular crime or series of crimes.

2. The story must have a victim or victims. Usually there is a dead body, preferably more than one. But the crime could be kidnap, or arson that did not result in murder, or perhaps eco-terrorism resulting in corpses or not. The crime could involve the brutalization or killing of animals (especially if the detective is a park ranger). Most often there is a human murder or murders.

3. The detective story is an intellectual game, much like solving a puzzle or playing chess. There are opponents in this game. The detective is pitted against the criminal. They must be equally matched for it to be a good game. Although the reader knows the detective is going to win, for it to be a compelling story,  it has to feel at times, as if the criminal might triumph over the detective. The criminal must be clever enough to inflict some mental, emotional, and/or physical damage on the detective(s).

4. The old axiom was that the criminal’s identity must be unknown to both the detective(s) and the reader until the very end. This is still largely true. If the criminal’s identity is know the story becomes suspense. Lately, there’s been some line blurring in this area. In the modern market place, many genres have blurry lines.

5. The criminal should be introduced early in the story, amidst a field of plausible red herrings.  There’s nothing worse than having the criminal sprung on the reader, out of the blue, at the last minute. There could be more than one culprit. So, secondary culprits can be introduced later. Still, it’s sort of cheating to wait till the very end even for those to be brought into the story line. Don’t want to give the reader a bait-and-switch feeling. Finding out who the killer is at the end ~ good. Introducing the killer at the end ~ bad idea.

6. The crime should also be introduced at the beginning. It’s been said within the first three chapters. The first chapter is best. Opening up in the very midst of it, helps grab the reader’s attention. The specific crime must fit the criminal’s psyche and personality, and he/she must have had the know-how and ability to commit said crime.

7. Supply plausible and understandable clues that both give hints as to the identity of the criminal, and also clues that point to others who are merely red herrings. Also leave clues as to the motive for the crime(s).

8. In days gone by, it was almost written in stone that the detective story is simply one of detecting, that no social issues must be brought into it and certainly no romance. This is no longer the case. Readers enjoy a detective protagonist with a social conscience, or definite lack thereof. It makes him/her more interesting. In the same way a love interest for the detective often gives her/him an Achilles’ heel which the crafty criminal can take advantage of. The Christian detective story must have inspirational or redemptive elements to it. However, in the detective sub-genre, the overwhelming majority of the plot must be about the protagonist detective(s) detecting and solving the crime(s), or else it’s not a detective story.

9. The crime must not be solved by super-natural or extraordinary means. The criminal can’t be caught via psychic powers, magic, assistance from ghosts, aliens from another planet, or the like. Those scenarios make the story speculative fiction, not a detective story. Although in today’s world, it’s entirely possible to have a spec fic detective story, but that book would not be shelved with detective stories in a book store. Then again, you might hit a bookstore where it would be. Go figure.

Murder

Crime Fiction: How Much Romance? How Much Grit? What About the Christian Market?

She's Mine on sale for 99 2/18/15
She’s Mine on sale for 99 2/18/15

The very talented writer Tammy Doherty and moi have been gal-pals almost since we met online (more years ago than we’d like to admit) in the Northeast Zone Group of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). One of the things we’ve always done is kick around questions and idea. So, we decided, for Valentine’s Day, we’d like to put our usual ramblings into a blog article about how much romance and grit is too much in crime fiction, and what’s going on in the Christian crime fic market.

Free for Valentine's Day weekend
Free for Valentine’s Day weekend

Nike: I think in murder mysteries, thrillers, and romantic suspense getting the mix of romance and grit right is essential. In traditional murder mysteries, detective stories, and starker crime fiction, romance should be secondary to the mystery. The chase for the killer should be the main thing. When you get over into cozies, that’s a different thing, IMO. There can be a fair amount of romance, but of a gentle kind. In romantic suspense, the reader expects quite a bit of romance. I’m launching into a contemporary detective story series where the police procedure has to be right, and the investigation is the thing. Yet romance is there nudging its way in. HARMFUL INTENT, is the first in what I hope is a long “couples” series. Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels, private investigator and Deputy Sheriff Dawson Hughes solve a murder in Abilene, Texas. In the second novel, happenstance brings Ronnie and Dawson to solve a missing child case on the east coast. Later books in the series will have a different couple’s detective team.
Tammy: I agree with you, Nike. In a traditional murder mystery or suspense thriller, the crime must control the spotlight. But even in those stories, interaction between characters is what makes the story enjoyable to read. With Romantic Suspense, the very definition of the genre demands more than just interaction. At least two main characters must become romantically involved. Often, the suspense plot is what draws them together yet this isn’t enough. For the “romance” part of the title to apply, the hero and heroine must not only be drawn to each other but there must also be a genuine attraction worthy of long-term involvement. In other words, they need to fall in love. My new romantic suspener, gives them a common challenge to overcome. Still, once the suspense plot is resolved if there isn’t real romance and love remaining, the title fails. Later books in this series will feature other residents of Naultag, MA, the setting for SHE’S MINE, characters who will find love while facing and overcoming suspenseful conflicts. The key is in the balance: too little suspense and it’s just plain romance; too suspense will turn away the romance reader. So how much is too much grittiness?

Pistol

Nike: I’m so glad you brought up grittiness. I was just thinking about that. I like realistic mysteries and detective stories. There’s nothing more disheartening than to read a story where the author hasn’t got a clue about police procedure and everything is pristine. To my mind, if there’s a murder scene depicted, it doesn’t have to be gory, but there has to be some grit, or I won’t believe it. Cozy mysteries are a different animal, they should be light on grit. In my novels, I like to rough up my main characters. I did that in my historical mystery series to several of my heroes and heroines. In HARMFUL INTENT, Ronnie practically gets the stuffing knocked out of her by one of the villains. She and Dawson will get worked over in book two. My novels have lots of action, twists and turns, romance, and some humor. My intent is that they will clearly depict good vs. evil, and yet uplift. I do have some grit, but I don’t write noir. I’d like to think I write grit with grace.

Tammy: Grit with grace, I like that! I’ve been toying with a tag-line for my writing and what I’ve come up with so far is “suspense you can fall in love with” or “romance that keeps you in suspense.” I think the second one sums it up best. In romantic suspense, the grit needs to be there but cannot overshadow the romance. I like romantic suspense with believable police and EMS procedural aspects, but because it’s romance there’s some leeway for literary license. In SHE’S MINE, I did the research to make sure all my fire scenes are accurate for this region. For example, my characters call for an ambulance not “a bus” as they might in a NYC. Bad things happen to Caitlin and Sean in this novel, what gets them through it all is the romance. The story is lighter than a straight mystery novel without being unrealistic or “fluff.” I like the interplay between your main characters but they’re still keeping it on the professional side. My characters delve into the romance aspect right away with the suspense being one of the obstacles to their happily-ever-after.
What I’m finding very interesting is the increase of crime/mystery fiction in the Christian market, particularly with the rise of Indie publishing. How people juxtapose their faith with the grittiness of this world makes for wide-open storytelling possibilities.
Nike: That’s a great line and it describes your work: “romance that keeps you in suspense.” You write romantic suspense. The romance is major in your stories, no doubt about it, but so is the suspense. That line says it. I also couldn’t decide between two tag lines, so I kept them both. I use the short one mostly, but do pop the longer one out now and then: “literature that reads like pulp fiction” also “I like my bad guys really bad, and my good guys smarter and better.”

What I’m noticing is more Christian men writing and what they’re writing is crime fiction and action-adventure. These are the two genres I like to read. Mostly the male writers such as Mark Young (who had a career as a police officer) get the police procedure right, and then there’s J. Mark Bertrand’s outstanding Roland March detective series. There are also women who are getting details about fire arms and fight scenes right. I’m proud to say, I’m thought to be one of them. I’m a research fanatic. I spend hours researching firearms and other weapons, tactics for a fight scene, and police procedure out in the field. But I’m not the only female Christian author writing technically correct gritty scenes. Luana Erlich (who leans more toward espionage) does this, so does Virginia Tenery. Tammy, you do, and there are others as well.

Celtic Cross now FREE
Celtic Cross now FREE

Since you are my guest, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that your outstanding western suspense novel CELTIC CROSS is going FREE this weekend and will be FREE from then on in.

Heart, Scroll

REVENGE by Paula Rose ~ an intriguing author interview

Revenge
Nike: I was first attracted by your title and cover. I think they speak to the contemporary murder mystery and romantic suspense environment. So then, I read a sample on Amazon and bought the Kindle copy of your book. Can you tell us how you chose your title and cover design?

Paula: My villain chose my story title as he steered the plot to a more sinister version of himself then I thought of originally. These characters almost wrote themselves into the story despite my best efforts of writing the story my way. In the end, it all worked but it’s clear the muse doesn’t always listen to me.

This amazing cover design was crafted by Laura Heritage from Anaiah Press!
Nike: Olivia Foster is totally dedicated to her autistic clients. I really like that about her personality. But she is a bit oblivious to the harsher realities of life and finds herself in mess. Can you tell us a bit about that without giving anything away?

Paula: In Revenge, the death of her brother led Olivia Foster into her career choice, but she is too focused on her job and its duties. You are correct in that she is oblivious to the harsher realities in life until they come hunt her down. Her education in fear is just beginning on page one of REVENGE.
Nike: Tell us something about you as an author? What are your passions in life that might one day show up in your writing? What inspires you to write?

Paula: As an author, sometimes, I know exactly where my story is going, but most times, I have only a loose idea and am surprised as things happen. I write because I have stories to tell and many characters to meet. To go deep into a tale is something I truly enjoy.

Pictures have become a passion in my life. As I’m amateur photographer, my pictures are already intertwined with my writing as I have muse pictures for scenes and plot questions. I can see me writing a story about a photographer, making the pictures the dangerous part of a story. Some of my muse pics appear on Pinterest.

Isolated

This image is entitled “Isolated.” Paula used it as an inspirational muse when writing REVENGE. You can find more of Paula’s photographic inspirations at her Pinterest board: Muse Inspirations.

Scenes

 

Here is a photo from Paula’s Pinterest Board entitled: Scenes. These are photos Paula uses to inspire her in her writing.

 

Nike: You mentioned that your villain titled and changed your story. Did the other characters behave the way you wanted?

Paula: Olivia Foster’s fiery personality changed the plot in a major way. She ditched the officer bodyguards! That scene wasn’t ever in my story. However, plotting was an even more difficult task because of detective, Phillip Landon.

Detective Lt. Phillip Landon refused to fit the characteristics of an Alpha male. This man’s career doubts and back story made him, at times, unapproachable, but he was turning into someone I didn’t know anymore. He started out with one personality, but as he grew, his background changed adding layers of baggage. In the end, he wasn’t the same man that I had first envisioned.

 

Book Blurb:

As a job coach, it’s up to Olivia Foster to ensure her clients work in a safe environment, understand their positions, and serve their employer’s mission. The death of her brother drives her career choice, and she loves her job. It remains her only focus until one of her autistic clients goes missing. Then Olivia’s employer ends her position and adds her to the suspect list, but she makes plans to bring the missing young man home.

Detective Lt. Phillip Landon is deep into second-guessing his career choice, but his well-honed instincts see major flaws inside this missing person’s case. Surprising contacts, mysterious happenings, and threats can turn deadly. Can he keep Olivia safe, protect his heart, remove the job coach from someone’s target list, and adopt a faith he never knew all while adjusting to the new lives of his old family?

 

Author Bio:

Author Paula Rose brings an “average” family into extraordinary situations, brushes with life-size strokes of reality, adding just a touch of humor, and coats with suspense inside Christian fiction. Paula’s research gives readers a panoramic view from law enforcement and lends to character authenticity. She enjoys writing in the romantic suspense, suspense, and mystery genres, but when she’s not writing, Paula Rose is playing amateur photographer. Member of ACFW.

 

More Purchase Lnks:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/13x45kB
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/13x4bbW
iBooks: http://bit.ly/1xjbjqt
Kobo: http://bit.ly/1xp6KI0
Smashwords: http://bit.ly/1zoDRN5
Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/1EucMg1

A No Nonsense Female PI ~ still funny as all get out

Harmful Intent, Framed

HARMFUL INTENT, the first in the Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels/Dawson Hughes mystery series, is action packed, yet delivers laughs. Ronnie faces more than a few nasty types and encounters as much violence as any crime fiction main character worth his or her salt.

Whereas Janet Evonovich’s character Stephanie Plum isn’t the bravest operative on the street, Ronnie is not only tough, she’s competent…is armed to the teeth and is an excellent shot. Like Stephanie Plum, Ronnie is hilarious.

 

Isablle Lucas

 

 

 

One reader suggested Transformers’ Isabelle Lucas would make a terrific Ronnie Ingles should it ever be made into a movie.

 

 

 

Fun facts about Ronnie Ingles:

  • She was born and bred in Brooklyn (NYC) and her parents divorced when she was a teenager. The loss of her father has impacted her ability to chose men wisely.
  • She works for the irascible Jack Cooney at Cooney Investigations.
  • Taylor County Deputy Sheriff Dawson Hughes sets his steel gray eyes on her as he thinks she might’ve killed her cheating husband.

hand gun 2

 

“Humorcide” ~ Is it a bird, a plane, a new sub-genre?

Murder Book

Is it when you hate the heinous killer, but you’re still laughing?

Or, maybe, when the twists and turns give you thrills and chills and giggles?

hand gun 2

Humorcide…a dealy funny murder mystery. Grittier than a cozy, which are usually laced with humor. A classic mystery, a whodunit, that gives the reader hearty chuckles and belly laughs.

Harmful Intent, Framed

HARMFUL INTENT is “humorcide.” A deadly funny whodunit. Twists and turns, thrills and chills, a budding romance. Husband of one year cheated on her. Deputy thinks she migh’ve shot him dead. The laughs roll with the action when a when a Yankee female sleuth messes in west Texas murder case to clear her name.

Okay…so gimme an idea what it’s about…

Betrayal runs in private investigator Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels’ family. So, why is she surprised when her husband of one year cheats on her? The real shock is his murder, with the local lawman pegging her as the prime suspect.

Ronnie Ingels is a Brooklyn bred private investigator who travels to west Texas, where her cheating husband is murdered. As she hunts the killer to clear her name, she becomes the hunted.

Deputy Sergeant Dawson Hughes, a former Army Ranger, is a man folks want on their side. Only he’s not so sure at first, he’s on the meddling New York PI’s side. As the evidence points away from her, he realizes the more she butts in, the more danger she attracts to herself.

Sweet, askance romance, warm intimacy, sophisticated themes presented tastefully…that’s HARMFUL INTENT.

HEART FAILURE by Richard L. Mabry, M.D. ~ a review

Heart Failure

Devastated by the untimely death of her husband, Dr. Carrie Markham could not imagine she would ever fall in love again. She is a member of a medical practice that is doing well and she thought that would be enough. However, when Adam Davidson enters her life, almost in spite of herself, she falls in love and they become engaged. Unfortunately, he is hiding something. After an evening at the movies, they become the victims of an apparent drive-by shooting. The author sets this up beautifully and pulls the reader in.

Worried that he might be putting Carrie in danger, Adam reveals his secret. He is not who he claims to be. Although she believes him to be a paralegal, he’s actually a lawyer. His is real name is Keith Branson and powerful and dangerous people are out to kill him. He has been in the government’s witness protection program. Quite understandably, this news unnerves Carrie. She’s not sure she wants to continue in a relationship with a man she’s just discovered has lied to her, and who could possibly bring about her demise.

Of course you can count on this author to deliver a thriller with accurate medical details. Yet I wasn’t bombarded with medical jargon that went over my head.

What makes the story compelling is how page, by page, the reader becomes invested in the characters. Carrie comes across as a highly likeable, living, breathing woman who has suffered bereavement but who is determined to get on with her life. As a successful doctor, she deals with the intricate office politics of a thriving medical practice, sometimes wondering if the male doctors in the practice are overlooking her because she is a woman. I was drawn to Carrie’s concern for her patients. The character’s struggles to understand and forgive Adam/Keith for lying to her make her come to life in a very real way. My heart broke for Adam who is a decent man, struggling to survive, and who dares to fall in love. He is the kind of man who does the right thing for the right reasons, and unfortunately has had to pay a high price for those ethical standards. Woven through this novel is a gentle spiritual message showing us how God is always there, even when it looks as if everything is falling apart.

There is no shortage of red herrings leading the reader in different directions. Supporting and minor characters are used to keep the reader guessing who the killer is. Although there is romance, the chase to catch a killer is the main thing. This is exactly the way I like my thrillers.