What Makes a Good Mystery Novel?

What are the elements of a mystery novel that are most important to you? It is pace? Or setting? Or maybe the plot twists and turns.

And what makes your very favorite mysteries hold that space in your heart? This is a question I ask myself frequently. Why do I love the books I love?

What makes a good mystery novelToday, mystery author Mike Martin (who was my guest on episode 45 of It’s a Mystery Podcast) shares what he believes to be the essential elements of a mystery novel.

For me, the mystery genre has always been a comfortable fit, as a reader and as a writer. I enjoy most crime fiction, but my tastes do run towards the more traditional and the lighter side of mystery. No hard-boiled noir or graphic descriptions of coroner’s steel tables for me. But that’s just a personal preference. Regardless of the sub-genre, I believe that what makes a good mystery is a good story.

Maybe that is the basic element of any book in any genre, even in non-fiction. The story has to get our attention and make us want to read more. For mystery books, there has to be some element of the unknown that we are promised will be revealed if only we hang around long enough. Or even if we figure out ‘whodunit’, how the perpetrators are brought to justice may be enough to hold us fast to our seats and keep us turning the pages.

How the story is told and the definition of the main characters are close behind in terms of factors that make up a good mystery. Style, pace and plot development are keys to ensuring that we are not just entertained, but engaged along the way.

The sub-genres of mystery start diverging here, particularly around style which tends to involve detailed and sometimes flowery descriptions in cozies or technically detailed forensic talk in police procedurals. But they all come back together when it comes to the flow of the story.

Good mysteries in all forms have a rhythm that somehow just seems right. Great mystery writers have the ‘Goldilocks’ touch: not too fast, not too slow, just right!

Great characters are another key to great mysteries. We all remember the giants like Poirot or Miss Marple or Rebus or any number of great cozy writers. But I find that it is actually the sub-cast of characters that separate the great from the good.

And it’s not usually the person or persons who get killed that are the most interesting. It’s the Corporal under the Sergeant, or the old friend who always shows up with advice or a bottle of scotch at exactly the right time.

What really sets the mystery category aside from all other writing is the added characteristic of surprise. Every mystery book has a few twists and turns but a great mystery book has an absolutely brilliant surprise. It may be that the butler didn’t actually do it, but he was certainly involved in helping the less than legitimate heir bury the bodies. Or an unheard-of relative who surfaced just after the will is read or… you get the picture.

Reading a great mystery book is like having a candle to light the way down a dark and unfamiliar hallway. You don’t know what you are going to find down there, but you just have to go and see for yourself.

***

Mike Martin Tangled WebA Tangled Web is the latest book in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series set on the East Coast of Canada. The previous book in the Series A Long Ways from Home was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award as the “Best Light Mystery of the year”.

“Life is good for Sgt. Wind­flower in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. But something’s missing from the Mountie’s life. Actually, a lot of things go missing, including a little girl and supplies from the new factory. It’s Windflower’s job to unravel the tangled web of murder, deceit and an accidental kidnapping that threatens to engulf this sleepy little town and destroy those closest to him. But there’s always good food, good friends and the love of a great woman to make everything better in the end.”

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Mike Martin is a long-time freelance writer and the author of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series. The series is set in Newfoundland and features Cree, RCMP officer, Sgt. Winston Windflower who solves crime and discovers the natural beauty, food and culture of Newfoundland along the way.

The Book That Almost Wasn’t

It’s a Mystery Podcast guest Nancy Jill Thames offers us a guest post today about the origins of her latest book in the Jillian Bradley series.

Nancy Jill Thames guest postWhen I first started publishing books in 2010, I could produce two books a year – no problem! Never mind two weddings, the birth of another grandchild, and taking multiple trips to visit loved ones from sea to shining sea as I did so.

And then my husband retired and sold our home. We downsized and moved to a new town. So far so good on the writing front except for the fact that now we had to make the adjustment to new life together. Every day.

Nancy Jill Thames at the Met
Nancy Jill Thames at the Met
Meanwhile, I was writing short stories for Happy Homicides anthologies and at the same time working on Book 11 which I originally titled “Murder at the Met.” The only problem with that title was the met also referred to the Metropolitan Opera and a baseball team.

“The Death of Amanda Corbin” made sense since she was the victim so I changed the title. Didn’t work for my collaborators, so I changed the title again to the current title “Museums Can Be Murder.”

And then I ran out of steam. I did not care if I ever finished the book. My husband retired, why not me?

If it hadn’t been for the constant nudging and encouragement via emails from Brenda Burke Johnson, a fan from the beginning and my major editor, I don’t believe I would have completed the project.

The other reason to publish this book was the person mentioned in the dedication, my sister-in-law Gayle Elaine Biggs was the inspiration for one of the characters, Paige, Jillian’s sister-in-law. Sadly, Gayle passed last November.

It feels good to complete a project, but having Gayle’s memory live on, for me, is the best reward.

Thanks for letting me share my heart,
Nancy Jill Thames

Nancy Jill Museums can be MurderThe Christmas holidays get a morbid start when Jillian Bradley’s neice Kaitlin Romero discovers the body of her boss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An envelope containing rare Charles Dickens illustrations is missing, and Detective Mickey Wells must reluctantly rely on Jillian’s help to solve the crime.

The case goes international when the vendor of the illustrations is murdered and linked to possible fraud.

As always, Jillian’s Yorkie companion Teddy helps solve the case by discovering an important clue.

Afterward tea included!

Click on the book cover ↑
or click here to find this new release at Amazon.

Click here for the book’s page on Nancy Jill’s website, plus the list of all 10 of the other books in the Jillian Bradley series.

Paying Homage to Sue Grafton with Bevan Atkinson

Bevan Atkinson is a mystery author who has made a huge, and exciting, commitment to the mystery genre.

57 Bevan AtkinsonListen to my interview with Bevan to find out how she was inspired by the great Sue Grafton and how she’s come to model her Tarot mysteries after Grafton’s Alphabet series. Bevan has put an interesting twist on the idea of using an alphabetical structure to guide the process of writing a mystery series.

During our conversation, we even touch on the subject of cults (something I’ve written a memoir about) because Bevan’s third book in this series involves a cult.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Bevan Atkinson, and all her books on her website TheTarotMysteries.com. You can also find her on Facebook.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Bevan’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
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Japanese Mysteries and Self-Discovery for Amateur Sleuths with S.J. Pajonas

This was the first cozy mystery series I’d ever heard of that’s set in Japan.

SJ PajonasI had to talk to Stephanie (SJ) Pajonas about her Daydreamer Detective, Mei Yamagawa. Mei has moved back home to the rural community where her mother lives, after failing at life in the big city. But, as so often with life, that’s probably for the best because Mei’s daydreaming ways make her an instinctive and insightful amateur sleuth.

Stephanie and I chat about what led to her fascination with Japan, learning Japanese, and practicing her language skills on her visits to that island nation.

You can find out more about today’s guest, S.J. Pajonas, and all her books on her website SPajonas.com. You can also find her on Twitter @SPajonas.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Stephanie’s books on Amazon
  • Stephanie also writes Science Fiction with a Japanese twist. You can learn more here.

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
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A TV Journalist Who’s Trying to Avoid Being Caught Dead in Wyoming with Patricia McLinn

Former newspaper editor and multi-genre author Patricia McLinn lets the muses guide her when she writes her books.

49 Patricia McLinnI confess that as a writer I don’t have nearly as much confidence as today’s podcast guest, Patricia McLinn. This interview was fascinating for me because Patricia shares a bit about her writing process, which does not involve outlines and planning – even when she’s writing mysteries!

Patricia also writes romance, but today we’re focused on her Caught Dead In Wyoming series. Book 6 in the series, Back Story, will be published in October 2017, and in the meantime you can start at the beginning of journalist, and amateur sleuth, Elizabeth Danniher’s story with Sign Off, which is free in ebook form right now.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Patricia McLinn, and all her books on her website PatriciaMcLinn.com. You can also find her on Twitter @PatriciaMcLinn.

Click on any of the book covers to go to Patricia’s books on Amazon.

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
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Cozy Mystery Antique Hunters and a Witch Lost in Time with Vicki Vass

Have you ever wondered if your favorite characters from books were based on real people?

Podcast with Vicki VassToday author Vicki Vass answers that question for us. Her Antique Hunters cozy mystery protagonists are based on two of her close friends. Now these are ladies I’d love to meet.

Vicki and I also spend time talking about her latest mystery, Bloodline, a book that cozy mystery reviewer Karen Owen named the best mystery she’s read so far in 2017.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Vicki Vass, and all her books on her website VickiVass.com. You can also find her on Facebook at VickiVassAuthor.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Vicki’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Keep reading →

Edinburgh Bookshops, Cooking School Mysteries, and Ghostly Inspiration with Paige Shelton

Good news for cozy mystery fans! Prolific author Paige Shelton still has lots of stories up her sleeves.

Paige Shelton ep 42Paige is the author of four cozy mystery series (so far); The Farmer’s Market series, the Cooking School mysteries, the Scottish Bookshop mysteries, and the Dangerous Type mysteries.

Today we chat about all of these books, as well as her book research trip to Scotland (only slightly postponed after a passport mishap. Also, no Jamie Fraser sightings, which is too bad. 🙂 ), how she writes multiple series at one time, and the special day a ghost came into Paige’s writing space and helped her out with a book idea.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Paige Shelton, and all her books on her website PaigeShelton.com. You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Paige’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Keep reading →

Amateur Sleuths Running Family Businesses, and Villages Within Cities with Leslie Budewitz

Would you own and run a business with your family?

As Montana mystery author Leslie Budewitz points out in today’s lively interview, not everyone could embrace such a challenge. But her amateur sleuth, Erin Murphy, does just that in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries.

Leslie also has a second series of cozy mysteries set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and we have a great chat about the ‘village within a city’ setting that the market provides for spice shop owner, Pepper Reece.

If you live in Montana or Seattle, you can meet Leslie this month. She’s doing a book tour supporting the release of her latest book, Treble at the Jam Fest. I’ve put a link below to the page on her website with all the details on where she’ll be speaking and signing books.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Leslie Budewitz, and all her books on her website LeslieBudewitz.com. You can also find her on Twitter @LeslieBudewitz.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Leslie’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Keep reading →

Egg Wars, Silicon Valley, and Psychic Readings with Cassie Page

Where would you find an interior decorator, her tea-leaf reading best friend, and a hot fudge sauce recipe to die for?

Episode 40 Cassie PageIn Darling Valley, of course!

Today my guest, Cassie Page, shares with us her motivation and inspiration for writing the Darling Valley cozy mysteries, featuring amateur sleuth and interior designer, Olivia M. Granville (OMG).

We talk about her love of cooking (and her over 500 cookbooks!) and why she chose not to write culinary cozy mysteries, but instead created the fictional Darling Valley just outside her home of San Francisco.

I also want to mention that Vered Ehsani, who was my guest on It’s a Mystery Podcast episode 21, has a fun giveaway she wanted my listeners to know about. To celebrate the launch of her new Cozy Tea Shoppe Mysteries, she’s giving away three handmade African tea cozies. Click here to learn more and enter the giveaway.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Cassie Page, and all her books on her website CassiePage.com. Follow her on Facebook at CassiePageBooks.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Cassie’s books on Amazon
  • For the recipe for The Salted Caramel’s delicious hot fudge sauce, go to CassiePage.com and sign up for Cassie’s newsletter
  • Wikipedia page about the town of Darling and Sir Charles Henry Darling, who it was named after

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Keep reading →

Dog Detectives and Short Mysteries with Sandra Baublitz

Author Sandra Baublitz and I have in common a profound love for dogs.

Sandra’s love is really specific in her Dog Detective series, with Paw the Saint Bernard as the detective protagonist, along with his human, Clarissa. In the interview, you’ll hear Sandra and I talk about her writing routine, some new ideas for another cozy mystery series, and Dean the Basset, whom I’m very grateful Sandra introduced me to. 😉

If you’re a fan of Lilian Jackson Braun’s ‘The Cat Who…’ series or Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Sandra’s cozy mystery series.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Sandra Baublitz, and all her books on her website SandraBaublitz.com. You can also find her on Twitter @SandraInvesting.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Sandra’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Keep reading →