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.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Research with Tracy Tonkinson

Today I have a guest post by mystery author Tracy Tonkinson. Tracy was a guest on It’s a Mystery Podcast in 2016 (you can hear our chat about Chicago history and the inspiration for her novels here) and I’m thrilled to have her back to talk about the research she does for her mystery novels. In today’s article, she explores the fascinating origins of cesarean section births. How does that subject intersect with mystery novels set in 1880s Chicago, you ask? Read on to find out. Take it away Tracy!

madmanI wrote my first Diamond & Doran mystery, Madman, because I found a half-forgotten detail of history so compelling it begged for its own story.

Researching Madman was so intoxicating I almost forgot that I was supposed to be writing a book. And therein lies the problem for the historical novelist. If you love history as I do, then rummaging around in old books, online directories and ancient filing cabinets is as close to heaven as it gets. But it can also lead to the hell of the eternal rabbit hole.

I cannot tell you how many times I have started researching for the name of a real person to use in a Diamond & Doran mystery only to uncover so many other fascinating facts that I find myself diverted into outlining books 1 through 10 of a series yet to be written, which all sounds fantastic until I realise I am now weeks behind on the book I should be writing.

Madman came to me because of a real bombing incident that happened in Haymarket Square, Chicago in May 1886. The true perpetrator was never caught, though 9 men were hanged for involvement in the riot that followed. That anonymous perpetrator was my inspiration for Diamond & Doran’s hunt through the mean streets of Chicago to track down the culprit. Along the way, they became a real team and a series was born.

PoisonBook 2 in the series, Poison came about because I researched a serial killer only caught in Chicago in 1893, even though it was clear he had been stalking victims for years. The details were so horrific I wondered how he could have escaped detection for so long, so I devised a plot in my book that enabled my villain to come and go at will, enticing his victims to go with him willingly, if unwittingly, to their deaths.

Book 3, Vendetta has just hit Amazon and the research for this book took me to a different place. This time I wanted to explore something that would have a dramatic effect on Doran and his whole family, including his partner Diamond.

We all love a good medical drama. In the 19th century, medicine was at an exciting intersection between what may seem to us barbaric and even comedic treatments for a variety of ailments, and real progress in medical procedures. In Vendetta I got the chance to explore some of this progress.

The delivery of babies had for centuries been practised for women by women. By the 1880s there were qualified obstetricians with special skills and understanding of the dangers and complications that come with childbirth. But within the medical profession these specialists in childbirth were often considered to be little more than ‘baby catchers’ and held in low regard by many of the doctors in general practise. ‘Baby catching’ was, after all, women’s work and what self respecting male doctor would involve himself in something so menial?

vendetta-tracy-tAt a time when a child and its mother’s mortality rate was staggering by today’s standards the answer, I discovered through my research, was that a surprising number of young doctors were drawn to the complex business of helping women bring to full term, and then deliver, healthy children. One of these men was Dr. William Jaggard. Jaggard was a real obstetrician practising in Chicago during the 1880’s. He was an expert in the practise of Caesarian operations, a procedure so dangerous that the likelihood was, even if the child was saved, the mother would die from shock caused by blood loss, or through infection introduced during the procedure.

While the success rate for Caesarian section today is virtually 100%, for which I for one am thankful as the mother of a child delivered by C section, even the skills of someone as dedicated as Dr. William Jaggard were sometimes not enough to save mother or child. But researching Jaggard’s difficulties, both in surgical terms and in terms of getting the respect his skills deserved as an expert in childbirth, was a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into and proved that the work he did is still by and large the method used in modern C section today, albeit in more sanitary conditions and with far better understanding of the risks involved in anesthetics and blood loss for mother and child.

My next Diamond & Doran mystery will no doubt lead me into researching areas that I never imagined would be useful to my story idea, but sometimes you fall upon something while you research that is so juicy you just have to find a way to include it in your story. And that’s the real excitement of research.

Until next time, here I go, back down the rabbit hole!

To download Tracy’s book, Madman, for free you can sign up at: http://www.diamondanddoranmysteries.com/
Poison is available at: http://authl.it/6hj
Vendetta is available at: http://authl.it/6hs
Like the Diamond & Doran Facebook page at: Facebook.com/DandDMysteries/

TracyTTracy Tonkinson was born and raised in England and now lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a fiction writer and avid reader of historical mystery fiction, thrillers and adventure novels. Her aim as a writer is to make her readers laugh a little, cry a little and feel breathless with excitement as they race to the end of each adventure she involves them in.

Why I Wrote Horse With No Name

horsewithnoname3dforhomepageA very quick post today on this Christmas Day 2016. Just a link, actually.

The lovely Pauline B Jones graciously offered me a guest posting spot on her site last week.

Here’s the link to the post about why I wrote my most recent book, Horse With No Name.

Wishing each and every one of you a very happy holiday and a peaceful and joyful 2017.

Book Club Visit

img_0835I had a great time earlier this week visiting the King Albert Street book club in Coquitlam, BC.

The ladies in the club had read Horse With No Name and then asked me to join the group and answer questions. We talked about character motivations, history of the North Okanagan, transgendered cowboys, and lots more.

They even fed me cheese, which makes them my best friends for life. 😉

Indie Author Day 2016

I had the great pleasure of participating in Indie Author Day on October 10, 2016. The downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library hosted 30 authors in the promenade area. Photos from left to right: Reading from Horse With No Name With my friend and fellow author Joel Mark Harris Indie authors on the VPL …

Historical Chicago and Characters Who Insist on Being Seen with Tracy Tonkinson

Podcast episode 31Tracy Tonkinson is a fellow Canadian author who has a deep love for history. In this interview she explains what drew her to write about late 19th century Chicago. We also discuss her character Drew McMillan, who made himself known to Tracy, and had such an effect on her, that she’s now writing a second mystery series featuring this Pinkerton agent.

In the introduction I mention that podcast guest Cassidy Salem will have the next book in her Adina Donati series available next week. You can learn more about Dying for Data here.

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

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

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

Transcription of Interview with Tracy Tonkinson

Alexandra: Hi, Mystery readers. I’m Alexandra Amor, this is It’s a Mystery podcast and I’m here today with Tracy Tonkinson. Hi, Tracy.

Tracy: Hi, Alexandra, how are you?

Alexandra: Very well, how are you?

Tracy: Good, thank you.

Alexandra: Good, excellent, so let me introduce you to our listeners.

TracyTTracy Tonkinson is the author of “Madman” and of “Poison,” the first two books in her “Diamond And Doran Mystery Series,” which follow rookie cop Arthur Diamond and the veteran sergeant Billy Doran as they clean up 19th century Chicago.

Also out soon is “Argent,” which is the first book in the “Drew McMillan Case Files” series and this one follows the early career of Pinkerton agent, Drew McMillan.

Let’s begin talking about Diamond and Doran.

Let’s start by talking about Sergeant Billy Doran. Tell us a bit about him. He’s an Irish Catholic living in Chicago.

Keep reading →

Lesbian Mysteries, Dangerous Settings, and Pond Frogs with Cari Hunter

Podcast episode 30Big congratulations go out to my guest on this episode Cari Hunter, who, a few days after we recorded this won the Best Mystery / Thriller award at the 2016 Golden Crown Literary Society awards (also known as a Goldie).

Cari is a full-time paramedic and part-time writer. As she mentions during the interview, her work informs her writing in a number of areas, including giving her a keen ear for dialogue, and an enjoyment for writing it.

In the introduction I mention that podcast guest Janel Gradowski has a new book out in her Culinary Competition Mystery Series called Banana Muffins and Mayhem. You can learn more at Janel’s site here.

And I also mention the mystery I’m reading at the moment; the third book in Paul Doiron’s series set in the Maine Wilderness. The book is called Bad Little Falls and I adore the sense of place and the deep character development that Paul brings to his books.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Cari, and all her books on her website CariHunter.wordpress.com.

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

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

Transcription of Interview with Cari Hunter

Alexandra: Hello, mystery readers. I am Alexandra Amor and this is “It’s a Mystery” podcast. I am here today with Cari Hunter. Hi, Cari.

Cari: Hello.

Alexandra: How are you today?

Cari: I am absolutely fine, and the sun is shining for once which makes a change for this part of the world.

Alexandra: That’s great. Yeah, we’ve got gray skies and rain here in the middle of July.

Cari: It’s been like that, so it’s a rare occasion when the sun actually peaks through.

Alexandra: Nice. Well, let me introduce you to our listeners.

CariHunterCari Hunter lives in the northwest of England with her wife, two cats and a pond full of frogs. (I’m going to have to ask you about the frogs later.) She works full-time as a paramedic and dreams up stories in her spare time. Cari is the author of six novels and currently in the middle of writing a new crime series based in the Peak District.

The first in the series, “No Good Reason”, won best lesbian thriller at the 2015 Rainbow Award, and its sequel, “Cold to the Touch”, was published in December. A third book, “A Quiet Death”, is due for publication next year in January 2017.

Let’s start by talking about the Peak District. That’s something I’m fascinated by. I love a strong sense of setting in a mystery novel, and I really try to incorporate that in my books.

You live in the Peak District is that correct?

Keep reading →

Writing Thrillers on Trains, Visual Story Ideas, and Kidnapping Plots with Rachel Amphlett

Podcast episode 28Thriller author Rachel Amphlett grew up reading thrillers. She mentions both Dick Francis (perhaps my all-time favorite mystery author) and Enid Blyton in our chat; those were two authors who introduced me to the world of mysteries as a young person as well.

I asked Rachel about writing in a genre that is predominantly occupied by men, but like JF Penn, she doesn’t let that phase or stop her. Her Dan Taylor series concerns a former British soldier struggling with PTSD, as well as an injury received during a run-in with an IED.

You can find out more about Rachel and all her books on her website RachelAmphlett.com. And as with so many of my guests, Rachel has a book – and two book extracts – available for free. You can find that on her website.

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

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

Transcript of Interview with Rachel Amphlett

Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers, I’m Alexandra Amor. This is “It’s a Mystery” podcast and I’m here today with Rachel Amphlett. Hi, Rachel.

Rachel: Hi.

Alexandra: How are you?

Rachel: Good, thanks, and thanks for having me on the show.

Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. It’s great to have you here. Let me introduce you to our listeners.

RachelAmphlettBefore moving to Australia in 2005, Rachel Amphlett lived in the UK and helped run a pub, played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a subeditor and editorial assistant. Her thrillers appeal to a worldwide audience and have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Michael Crichton, and Clive Cussler.

Thank you so much for being here with me today, Rachel. The thing that I found so intriguing about your books, or one of the things, is that you’re a woman writing in a man’s world. We mentioned J.F. Penn just before we started recording and the conspiracy theory-thriller genre really is dominated by men.

Can you talk a little bit about that? What drew you to this genre?

Keep reading →

London Detectives, Psychometry and Crime Thrillers with Bestselling Author J.F. Penn

Podcast episode 23What makes us human? I think that’s the essence of so much of JF (Joanna) Penn’s writing.

In this wide-ranging and fascinating interview I talk to this bestselling author about the elements of her crime fiction that explore issues like why we are disturbed by human bodies once the person who inhabited that body is no longer there. Joanna loves research and travel, and has written fiction that spans the globe, including a recent dark fantasy novel, Risen Gods, set against the backdrop of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Today we primarily discuss her London Detective trilogy, featuring Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke and reluctant psychic Blake Daniel. I think you’ll really enjoy hearing Joanna share what inspires her fiction, and where her curiosity and fascination with history might lead her next.

You can find out more about J.F. Penn and her books on her website JFPenn.com. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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

Transcript of Interview with J.F. Penn

Alexandra: Hello mystery readers, I’m Alexandra Amor and this is It’s a Mystery Podcast. I’m here today with J.F. Penn. Hi, Joanna.

Joanna: Hi, Alexandra. Thanks for having me on this show.

Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. It’s so great to have you here. So for the uninitiated, I’ll just tell them a little bit about you.

jpenngrinJ. F. Penn is the New York Times and USA today bestselling author of thrillers with a supernatural edge
. Oxford educated, British-born J.F. Penn has traveled the world in her study of religion and psychology. She brings these obsessions, as well as a love for thrillers and an interest in the supernatural, to her writing. Her fast-paced ARKANE thrillers weave together historical artifacts, global locations, a kickass, protagonist, and a hint of the supernatural. The London Psychic series, which is what we’re going to talk about today, features British detective Jamie Brooke alongside psychic researcher Blake Daniel as they solve dark crimes around London.

We’re going to talk mostly about the London Psychic series today. I’m a big fan of police procedurals, and so these were the books of yours that I wanted to read the most. I finished “Desecration” a week or so ago.

Tell us a little bit about Jamie Brooke. You know, it was kind of heartbreaking to read Jamie’s story, and I was curious about what drew you to her.

Desecration-Cover-EBOOK-LARGE-360x570Joanna: It’s funny. I wanted to write a straight crime novel. That was what I went into this, because my ARKANE series is kind of action adventure.

I moved to London when I started writing this, I’ve moved from Australia. I was back to London after I think it was 11 years. And I wanted to do something in London, so that was kind of the first thing. I wanted to write a crime novel.

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Comic Noir and Advice from Sue Grafton with Renee Pawlish

Introduction

Podcast episode 22Author Renee Pawlish (and our very special guest Harley the cat) and I have a great chat today about her comic noir detective series, her new mystery series featuring a hard-boiled detective in the WW II era and much more.

Renee is a prolific author and a huge fan of the mystery genre. She’s been reading mysteries her whole life and it shows in the thoughtful way she’s created the detective for her longest running series, the Reed Ferguson Mysteries. Reed is a smart aleck, as Renee describes him, who is different than many other traditional noir detectives; he’s not a recovering alcoholic and he has a loving wife and family. Renee and I discuss Reed’s connection to other noir detectives like Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, Columbo, Jim Rockford and more.

I forgot to ask Renee about the ‘punny’ titles to some of her books. You can see some of those shown below, like The Postman Always Brings Dice and The Maltese Felon. I love an author with a sense of humour!!

Mystery fans will be thrilled to know
that Renee has started a page on her website aimed and offering readers mystery novels each month at a bargain price. Each month she features new mystery novels that are either free or on special for $0.99. You can check out this month’s deals here.

You can find out more about Renee and her books on her website ReneePawlish.com. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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

Transcript of Interview with Renee

Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers. I’m Alexandra Amor. This is It’s A Mystery podcast, and I’m here today with Renee Pawlish. Hi, Renee.

Renee: Hi, how are you?

Alexandra: Very well, how are you?

Renee: Doing just great.

Alexandra: Good, and I should say we’re here with Renee and Harley, who’s there in the background.

Renee: That’s right, yeah, yeah.

Alexandra: That’s fantastic. I just want to explain to everybody that I have a bit of a cold, so I have a cold lozenge in my mouth. If I sound a little weird, that’s what’s going on there. Let me introduce our listeners to you.

ReneePawlishRenee Pawlish is the award-winning author of the best-selling “Reed Ferguson Mystery” series and other mysteries and stories. Critics have said that Renee is a promising new voice in the comic murder mystery genre and a powerful storyteller. Her book, and I might mispronounce this, “Nephilim Genesis of Evil”, is that right?

Renee: It’s Nephilim.

Alexandra: Nephilim, “Nephilim Genesis of Evil” has been compared to Stephen King and Frank Peretti. Renee was born in California but has lived most of her life in Colorado. So I’m really excited to have you here today, Renee, to talk about your “Reed Ferguson Mysteries”.

Renee: Yeah.

Alexandra: The thing that really attracted them to me is they’re in that sort of comic noir genre, and I’m a huge Robert B. Parker fan. He’s not with us any longer, of course.

I wondered was there a particular author like Raymond Chandler or somebody who inspired you?

This-Doesnt-Happen-In-The-Movies-new-450x643Renee: Yeah, kind of a lot of the classic authors. I actually wrote the first book in the series, “This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies”, gosh like 14 years ago. I was influenced by Sue Grafton. I’ve met her a number of times back when she was just getting going and another one was a local author here named, John Dunning who wrote the “Booked To Die”, the “Bookman’s Series” I guess they call it. And I was trying to come up with a detective that was a little bit funny, a little bit of a smart ass, and Reed was sort of born out of that.

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