Killer Titles

Your title either grabs the reader or it doesn’t. Readers are pretty savvy. They want the title to speak to them and intrigue them. Simply by the title, they want to know what type of novel they’re looking at. After all, we’re asking them to plunk down their hard earned cash to buy it.

So, the author has to know his/her stuff. First know the genre. Of course, I’m talking crime fiction titles. Still, that over-arching genre breaks down into: thrillers, murder mysteries, detective stories, suspense novels, romantic suspense, and cozies. If you’ve got a humorous cozy with a delightful grandma sleuth running around town catching thugs and murderers, the last thing you want is a super-serious title.

Back On Murder

If you write for a publishing company, the final word on the title will be the publisher’s. No matter how emotionally attached the author is to the working title, the publisher wants a title that’s a workhorse, a title that will sell the book. If you’re an indie author, you’ve got to choose that type of winning title.

I enjoy a clever title and think most readers do. It could have a double meaning, a play on words, or it could be a bit of a riddle. One title that grabbed me from the get-go and pulled me in is J. Mark Bertrand’s BACK ON MURDER. The story takes us into the world of a detective whose life fell apart after his daughter was killed by a drunk driver and he was bounced off the homicide squad. When the novel opens, he’s back on murder, but this is his last chance.

Without FailWhile devouring my key lime pie at an author’s luncheon not long ago, the speaker, a librarian, mentioned that if library goers like a book they took out, they will then purchase subsequent novels by that author. This is true of me. And usually it’s the title on the spine of the book that grabs my eye. If I like the book, I’ll want to read other stories by that author…and I don’t want to wait for the library to get them in. That happened to me with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. I’m a sucker for two-word titles. [All of my novels have two-word titles.] So, as I browsed the aisles at my local library branch, WITHOUT FAIL, number six in the series, seemed to leap off the shelf and into my hands. When I opened the book and read the first page, and I was hooked. I finished this thriller, returned it to the library, and starting with book number one, began ordering from Amazon.

You can google: How To Choose A Title and find articles that give you 5, 7, 10 tips to creating great fiction titles. Ultimately, you have to love your title. If you aren’t totally satisfied with it, it’s not the right title.

Why not have a fun day searching for terrific titles? The Grand Army Plaza Public Library (main branch in Brooklyn) has a gourmet snack bar. My local branch doesn’t, but they’ve let me bring in a container of tea. Barnes & Noble has Starbucks. Go to one of these, get your fav beverage and find a table. Then browse the mystery/thriller section. Look at the spines for novels of the type you write. Pick out ones that jump out at you (10 – 20 books). Bring them to your table…where you have a notebook handy. Enjoy your beverage while you study the titles. Take notes. Do these great titles have anything in common? Narrow it down to the five best. What makes them the best? Is there action and movement in the titles (verbs)? Do they promise something? Are they quirky, denoting humor? Does this fit your story?

Harmful Intent, Amazon SmWhen I chose the title: HARMFUL INTENT, for my recently released whounit, I hoped the title conveyed the promise of diabolical schemes, treachery, deceit…all good things in a murder mystery. And it passed my ultimate test. The title satisfied me, totally.

 

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WORKS OF DARKNESS by VB Tenery ~ a review

Works of DarknessPolice Chief Matt Foley’s beloved, deceased wife Mary was best friends with Sara Bradford, but Matt doesn’t like Sara or trust her. In fact, deep down, he thinks she’s guilty of having murdered her own husband. He just hasn’t been able to prove it…yet.
Sara is very attractive, smart, capable, and loving.

 

She adopts two orphan children who were involved in her church’s bus program bringing under privileged kids to Sunday school. Yet, she’s by no means invincible. She has fears and makes mistakes. She comes off like a real living, breathing person.
Then a small child’s body is found on the grounds of what used to be a Christian camp grounds. This missing persons cold-case is twenty-five years old. The little girl who is now known to have been murdered was Sara’s childhood neighbor and best friend. In fact Sara was the last person to have seen little Penny Pryor alive. Could Sara have a valuable memory locked away the police can use to solve this heinous crime? That’s what Chief Foley wonders. This heart wrenching cold case opens terrible old wounds for the child’s parents and those who knew the family, including Sara’s aunt.

 

There are no shortage of plot twists and turns and they’re done in a seamless and believable way. Sara is buffeted by brutal corporate maneuvering at her job. Then she becomes a target and her physical safety is in jeopardy. She’s on a roll…a downward roll. Matt Foley begins to have sympathy for her plight but can’t let go of his conviction that she’s a murderess.

 

Local town politic and corporate politics is portrayed in a knowing way. The way upwardly mobile characters jockey for position and advantage is convincing. They definitely make a direct hit below the belt when somebody suggests Matt married his somewhat older wife for her money. Matt is hurt and angered when he hears of this ugly rumor, not for himself, but because he thinks these allegations might mar Mary’s memory and legacy.
The author supplies credible red herrings. In fact, she had me believing a certain character I liked a great deal was viable as the child’s murderer and the one behind Sara’s physical danger. Then the author pulls in the other loose end, Sara’s husband’s murder, in a manner I was not expecting.

 

While Chief Foley has nothing but mistrust for Sara, a lop-sided romantic triangle of sorts is unfolding. The cantankerous female medical examiner has her eyes on Matt (or should we say, her hooks out), but Matt is still grieving his wife’s death from cancer. Meanwhile, Matt’s friend, the county sheriff has a hankering for the lady ME.

 

The author brings the novel to a close with a crescendo. But it appears as if the villain might be victorious. Then in a most unexpected way, he is defeated.

 

PURCHASE LINK: Amazon.  http://amzn.to/1t78bpX

 

BROKEN ALLEGIANCE by Mark Young ~ nobody gets out alive from a gang

Broken AllegianceAn accident that killed his son, shattered Detective Tom Kagan’s life. The offending driver, a gang-banger, ran from the scene and was never brought to justice. Now back from a temporary assignment with the FBI, he’s once again hunting down gang members in Santa Rosa, CA.

The author pulled me into the emotional turmoil that is Tom Kagan’s life. Although he deeply loves his wife Sara, since the accident, he has shut down all emotion and is often remote from her. We see Tom with all his warts. He drinks too much and is also a first class cheap skate who begrudges tips he gives to waitresses.

Having been called to the murder crime scene of Paco, a high ranking, seemingly untouchable, “all good” member of the Nuestra Familia (NF) street gang, he knows this could become a no holds barred fight within the gang with innocent people getting hurt along the way. What he doesn’t know is a gang leader named Ghost is calling the shots from his cell within Pelican Bay State Prison, CA.

Kagan has a history with the Hispanic gangs since the accident that killed his son — a bad one. His sergeant thinks he’s a loose cannon who should be retired back to patrol, but the chief wants Tom in gangs. The detective has been receiving photographs of himself, his wife, and his partner’s wife with the message: we’re watching you. His partner, grounded in the spirituality of his Christian religion, is a sharp contrast from Tom’s depression and rage. Kagan keeps knowledge of this surveillance from his supervisors out of fear he will be removed from working on gangs, which is where he gets intelligence with which to protect his wife.

When Kagan and Hector Garcia, a gang expert with the Special Services Unit (SSU), visit Ghost in Pelican Bay, the gang-banger taunts Tom. He says he was the one driving the car that killed Tom’s young son, years ago. Agent Garcia has to hold Tom back. Ghost screams, “You’re a dead man.”

After an assault on Ghost in the prison, he’s transferred from Pelican Bay to a community hospital from which he escapes. Now the gang-banger is hunting Tom Kagan and his partner Detective Bill Stevenson. There is an emotionally wrenching scene where Tom and his wife go to his partner’s home for dinner, unaware that Ghost lurks outside watching the house. Bill reads his young son a story and then he and Tom listens as the boy says his prayers before bed. They have no clue there is evil lurking outside.

It is obvious the author has personal, career experience in law enforcement with gangs. He is totally successful in getting across how senseless gang violence is, that nobody gets out alive from a gang. Regardless of the demand for loyalty by the gang, there is no loyalty within. Eventually every gang member is killed by a rival gang, or by a stronger member of his own gang who seeks power. This novel is well written and readers who are thrilled by a good detective novel will love this one’s authenticity.

Amazon/Kindle. http://amzn.to/1keJgBd

Why Do People Love A Good Murder Mystery?

Blood, Hand Print on Diary

Isn’t it strange that death and dying are fairly taboo topics, yet millions of readers rush to get the next novel in a crime/murder mystery series?

I know from reader feedback that many love to see the bad guy get their just deserts. They want to see justice done, the victimized avenged. A good murder mystery fits that bill perfectly. And it’s interesting to note the genre originated in the Christian west. There has always been a moralistic ethos about the genre. The fight between good and evil is ever present.

There are other reasons why readers purchase millions of dollars of detective stories, cozy murder mysteries, and thrillers each year. Readers like to follow clues, pick out the red herrings, and solve the puzzle, so to speak. Where the diabolical villain is known in a thriller, they like to match wits with the bad guy.

Readers love a flawed main character they can become emotionally involved with. Their hearts beats a bit faster and they catch their breath when because of the very psychological flaw they’ve come to love him/her for, the villain has put our detective/sleuth in jeopardy. Of course, in the end, the good guy wins in fiction. If it only were so in real life.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng #8577

Holding Out For A Significant Crime Fiction Hero ~ Heroine

Detective, In Morgue

One of the best things about crime fiction is getting into the head and heart of an incredible hero/heroine. Does he have to be the nice and honorable guy next door who morphs into a superheo? No, he doesn’t! Not for me!

She could be that stalwart homicide detective, a beleaguered single mom with a defiant kid, and she’s fighting crime against all odds. He could be highly flawed. Perhaps a heavy drinker or former alcoholic fighting his own demons as he labors on to catch a heinous killer. I want the hero or heroine to arouse my emotions. I want to feel their distress, root for them when the odds against them seem astronomical, and fear for them when they encounter danger  as they run their course.

Antisocial is perfectly fine for a crime fiction hero/heroine — as long as the character gets their hooks in me. They “gotta have heart” to get me to recommend the book. No matter how jaded they’ve become (and I love jaded heroes), on some level they have to believe they’re there to protect and serve. They have to seek justice for innocent victims of crime. And when the victim is not so innocent, even if it’s their um-teenth homicide, they can’t be indifferent to murder’s pain and suffering…even if they want to be.

I also go for a heroine/hero who is aware of the inherent injustice within society where there are always haves and have nots. I can appreciate a detective who gives a basically good bloke who’s made a few mistakes a break. The ghettos are populated with mostly ordinary citizens who are trying to provide for their families and have a good life. My type of hero/heroine would be angered by predators who commit atrocious acts, even if they hail from the underclass. My type of heroine/hero would relentless pursue the killer no matter if she/he were from society’s A-list, the boardroom, or the hood.

Above all else, I have to believe the hero/heroine is a cop. If you’ve taken, or know someone who’s taken a criminal justice course in college, then you might be familiar with the proverbial lecture on “the police officer’s psychological profile.” Police officers take psych tests when they apply for their jobs. So, it could be argued that the police force choses a certain personality for the job. Be that as it may, there is a “cop personality.” Police departments tend to be looking for officers who are efficient, pragmatic, conservative, cynical, suspicious, and action oriented. Even sleepy little villages who have never experienced a homicide want this type of police officer. In today’s law enforcement environment the smallest of police forces are incredibly professional. The local yokel who makes it onto the force is, for the most part, a thing of the past. Barney Fife is no more. Of course we write fiction…and if the story is a cozy, a Barney Fife might be just what the author desires.

For those writing detective stories, suspense, and/or thrillers that more realistic “cop personality” might give the main character traits that garner acclaim for him on the job. However, they can wreak havoc in a marriage and as a parent (cynical, suspicious). So our crime fiction hero/heroine might be doing well in the police department carving out a distinguished career while her/his private life is falling apart. This makes for interesting, multi-dimensional reading.

Graphic courtesy of Microsoft online images

Is Your Victim Murderlicious?

weapon, knife

 

 

 

 

Well, if not murderlicious, then at least murderable.

 

The reader has to believe somebody wants to off your victim. Preferably there should be a long line of characters ready to send your victim to the great beyond.

 

 

Hnad of Fate

 

An author can have fun with this. Why not? If you’re not enjoying the writing, why do it? Liz Wiehl, in THE HAND OF FATE, created conservative radio talk show host Jim Fate who has ticked off just about everyone. Some say the Fate character was modeled after Mr. Talk Radio himself, Rush Limbaugh. I’m not casting any stones at Mr. Limbaugh. My point is, I’m sure the author had a great time creating her victim. And since the Fate character had a long list of enemies, he was highly murderable.

 

 

Some writers pick people from their past…their ex-mother-in-law, the algebra high school teacher who looked down on them for being math-challenged, In these cases nobody, except the author and perhaps family members and a few close associates, will ever know who the character is modeled after. Of course the author will exaggerate the negative characteristics of said ex-mother-in-law or math teacher. Then again, maybe not. I’ve heard authors say, more than once, they toned reality down because nobody would believe it.

 

Injustice For All

 

 

Another way to make your character’s murder believable is to have the victim know something that gets them killed.  Robin Caroll did this very successfully in her novel INJUSTICE FOR ALL. In this case the murder victim is a federal judge and his FBI profiler god-daughter, Remington Wyatt, is forced to change her identity, go into hiding, and run for her life.

 

 

Perilous Shadows

 

 

The third novel in my historical whodunit series, PERILOUS SHADOWS, starts right off at the beginning with a body, that of a pretty, young coed. There is no immediately discernible reason why this young lady was killed. However, as this mid-1940s psychological mystery unfolds the reader realizes most of the characters have something to hide, including the victim.

 

 

Knife Photo courtesy of stock.xchange image # 1115700

You Know The Crime Fic Review You’re Reading’s In Trouble When…

Body Parts, Eyes, Scrunched

There were a few times if I could’ve willed myself to love the crime fiction novel I was reading and had planned to review, I would’ve. Especially when the particular story is being raved about on every blog I encounter. And yet, and yet…I couldn’t over look certain things. So, where is a fairy godmother with a magic wand when I need one to give me a police procedure lobotomy?

I tell myself it’s a matter of personal preference. I just have to get with the program and force myself to believe something like…the rookie detective’s high school sweetheart (who just happened to come back to town) could play Nancy Drew and best an entire police department, running through crime scenes in her Prada stilettos, and solve the crime in between manicure appointments. Yeah, I tell myself, that could really happen…or something similar.

Is it remotely possible it ain’t me? Or, you know the book’s a bomb (not da bomb) when…

  • Your amateur sleuth is so kindly and good she refuses to suspect anyone at any time.
  • Yes, real life crime scenes are very busy places…and your author has seen fit to name and describe every single member of law enforcement personnel who could possibly be present all in the first chapter. In addition they all have similar names. There’s Detectives John Slater and Jim Gardner. Then there are police officers Ruby Jones (male) and Randy Generette (female). So, by the time you get to news reporter Lance Porter and medical examiner Porter Lane you’re totally confused.
  • By the end of the first chapter, you know the ending. You do plod on only to discover you were right. You found every clue, knew the red herrings were shams, were able to predict the plot straight through to the end. Great, just great.
  • The sleuth turns out to be Superman’s cousin. He/she has no set backs, no worries, no trials that can’t be handled in an instant.
  • The story globe trots to places and locales you absolutely know that you know the author knows nothing about.
  • You’re just beginning to realize the villain isn’t supposed to be over the top or campy.