Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whodunit: I Really Don’t Know But I’ll Keep Reading

By Kimberly Johnson

Uncle Sunny done it. The Frank Sinatra-singing Lothario choked the life out of the old ladies with Venetian blind cord. Afterwards, Shorty and Moe put’em in the dumpsters around Trenton. Cops were stumped on this head scratcher. Leave it to Stephanie Plum--full time bounty hunter and part time private eye-- to stumble on this beloved killer in Janet Evanovich’s Takedown Twenty

I missed that one. Evanovich kept me guessing until the end when Uncle Sunny croaked while Grandma Mazur was performing a pole dance. I don’t keep a lot of mystery novels on my bookshelf because I can figure it out. Now, I can add one.

I had two suspects: the peach-Schnapps-drinkin’ butcher or some geezer at the Senior Center. On top of that, Uncle Sunny is a mobster with family ties to Stephanie’s boyfriend who happens to be a cop. Complicated, huh? I enjoy reading these tales—the characters are regular people with plenty of drama.  I attribute the keep-me-guessing part to character development. Who could go wrong with Ranger? The sexy knight in shining armor rescues Stephanie from being tossed over a bridge by Shorty and Moe. Or Lula? She’s the sidekick who wears too much spandex and buys lettuce for a runaway giraffe. I found three writers who give pretty good advice on suspense:

Ron Lovell: Set up false leads and red herrings all along the way to throw reader off as to who the killer is. Be fair with readers—lead them to the solution of the crime methodically, planting clues, and don’t bring someone out of nowhere that the reader does not know or care about. 

PD James:  Usually, there is a murder, a closed circle of suspects with means, motive and opportunity for the crime and a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it. 

Chuck Wendig: In real life, people get run over with cars, shot with pistols, and decapitated with ancient swords. Take down your victim with all the creativity you can muster.

So, the next time I read a Stephanie Plum mystery, I’m going to double-check the false leads and fish out all the red herrings to untangle whodunit.


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