All Things Writing

What exactly is a mystery?

February 20, 2021 Bryan the Writer Season 2 Episode 6
All Things Writing
What exactly is a mystery?
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the show! 

So, what the heck is a mystery? I would love to claim to have come up with all of this stuff myself, but I didn't. Valerie Peterson wrote a wonderful article on the topic. So good, in fact that I would have a hard time improving on it. So, instead of doing that, I am going to follow her outline closely and add my own commentary. 

But You Can Read The Article Here

I think we can all agree that ultimately when we write or read a Mystery the most important element of that work is having a question or a puzzle we are trying to solve. The antagonist (and in some cases a protagonist) can be the person trying to solve a mystery.

Tradition has had it in the past that the protagonist is a detective or private investigator of some sort. By the way, we make the mistake of calling Sherlock Holmes a detective when we discuss him. He would correct you and tell you that he is a consulting detective. But those are not the only types of protagonists we have. It is not uncommon for regular old people to become the protagonists involved in solving a mystery. Remind me when we get to the topic of cozy mysteries to tell you a story about one of my favorite cozy mystery novellas. 

As Valerie would remind us in her article, the mystery can include easily a theft or kidnapping. Lies, deceptions, and red-herrings (false clues) and these add to the story. One of the things that I hate in a mystery is if I have figured it out in the first chapter. That is just wrong. Give me something to go off of. Make me thing. The best books are ones that make you lay in bed wondering about that next page and what is going to happen to the characters.

Mysteries fall into a few general categories. 

  • Hard-boiled
  • Soft-Boiled 
  • Cozy Mysteries 
  • Procedurals
  • Criminal Fiction
  • And lost of sub categories

Victoria does, in her article, make a few other distinctions, but I will keep my distinctions truncated. There were a few on here list that I would not necessarily agree with, but I understand why she put them on there.

I also mention the book, Death is Long Overdue, by Amy E. Lilly. If you want to check out her book, see it here! 

Remember that next week there will be no show, but then I will come back with a couple of new shows. I want to do another show like this where I dissect, pun intended, horror novels and what the different types are.

Then, I want to do a deep dive into my Dramatic Dead series and talk about them a bit.

At any rate, thank you for spending some time with me. This is Bryan the writer, for all things writing, signing off.

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Welcome to the show, I am your host Bryan the Writer.

I was thinking the other day about when I was younger, and we only rented places. It was easy and somewhat carefree. You know, something breaks, you call someone, and they deal with it.

Life changes, we look at things differently. I grew up and bought a house. Then when things go wrong, they tend to be our problem. We are ones calling people.

Why am I sharing this thought with you? Well, the other day we woke up and I heard an odd noise. What was that odd noise, you might ask? Well, that odd noise was the sultry sound of water on the first floor.

You may imagine that I leapt from the bed, threw on my bathrobe, and rushed down stairs. You would be wrong. 

Life has taught me a lot of valuable lessons. One of those is that when you are screwed, and you know you are screwed, hurrying really doesn’t help you at all. As a matter of fact, it can make things far worse. 

So I got dressed, put on my shoes, and made may way downstairs to were I found a broken pipe dumping hundreds of gallons of water into my home. Yep, it was like my own little water park in my living room. Except this park had no bikini clad girls trying to catch a tan, but at least there we no lines. Uuuugh

The waterline to the toilet had busted. I calmly shut it off and then two other important life lessons jumped to the forefront of my mind. Number one was the importance of having a really good shop vac at your disposal. If you have a home, you need one of these suckers. If you want for a good sale you can get a nice one to keep in the basement for when you need it.

Secondly, homeowners insurance is not like a loaf of bread. Don’t just buy one off the shelf and throw it in your cart. Look at the bread, squeeze it, check the ingredients list and make sure it will meet your family’s nutritional needs.

I, thankfully, have great homeowners’ insurance. So, a few phone calls later and I had help on the way, like summoning the Valkyries of old to help fight my enemies on the field of battle. The good people of Servpro showed up and my insurance agent called. The next day I had a contractor out to assess the damage.

We still have a livingroom in chaos and disorder, but help is on the way.

However, good people, that did not dissuade me from this week’s episode. I had originally planned to have Kathreine McIntyre on, but she was unable to make it. She is a busy lady these days and I am happy to postpone the interview and bring her on another time. She is amazing.

I think I am going to make this a regular part of the show. I will tell you who is number one in terms of listeners. It sounds like people were listening to me last week when I brought up the West Lake Stevens, Washington and Dallas, Texas closeness in terms of listeners. This week you guys are literally neck and neck! Crazy. So thank you West Lake Stevens and Dallas for listening. Closely behind are Manhattan, New York, San Jose, California, North Vancouver, British Columbia, and Broadview Heights, Ohio. I think it is awesome all of you guys are listening.

This week, I want to discuss something near and dear to my heart. What exactly is a mystery?

Now, you know that I have said, or maybe you don’t know, that I consider every book a mystery. Because when you start reading it, you don’t know how tit is going to end. If you did, why would you read it? 

With that out of the way, what I really mean for this week’s show is that I want to talk about what is the genre of mystery and what pieces and parts of it exist. 

Valerie Peterson wrote a wonderful article on the topic. So good, in fact that I would have a hard time improving on it. So, instead of doing that, I am going to follow her outline closely and add my own commentary. 

I think we can all agree that ultimately when we write or read a Mystery the most important element of that work is having a question or a puzzle we are trying to solve. The antagonist (and in some cases a protagonist) can be the person trying to solve a mystery.

Tradition has had it in the past that the protagonist is a detective or private investigator of some sort. By the way, we make the mistake of calling Sherlock Holmes a detective when we discuss him. He would correct you and tell you that he is a consulting detective. But those are not the only types of protagonists we have. It is not uncommon for regular old people to become the protagonists involved in solving a mystery. Remind me when we get to the topic of cozy mysteries to tell you a story about one of my favorite cozy mystery novellas. 

As Valerie would remind us in her article, the mystery can include easily a theft or kidnapping. Lies, deceptions, and red-herrings (false clues) and these add to the story. One of the things that I hate in a mystery is if I have figured it out in the first chapter. That is just wrong. Give me something to go off of. Make me thing. The best books are ones that make you lay in bed wondering about that next page and what is going to happen to the characters.

Afterall, as I pointed out in an episode last year, if we have no resolution, that just makes for terrible reading. We need that release that comes in the end.

Hard-boiled mysteries, frequently fall into the category of private eye mysteries (P.I.). If you have been following me for a while you will remember that I write a noir series called Dean Cordaine. They are novellas so they are not long reads, but I think they are a blast. 

Hard boiled feature a professional detective as the main character. In a good hard boiled mystery you have a protagonist with the proverbial overflowing ashtray and whiskey bottle open on the desk. The protagonists struggles, on in Dean’s case dances, with their own troubles as they solve the case. The settings are normally horrible places. Dean bases his work out of a bar that he happens to live above. Crime scenes are vivid and violence is often graphically described and as a matter of fact, I have a book that I consult to make sure the deaths are as realistic as possible. It is literally the reference guide that medical examiners use for classifying deaths. Yes it is graphic.

Dean Cordaine is written right along with Hard-boiled detectives hearken from the noir days of Dashiell Hammett’s, Sam Spade. Actually, I take a lot of my ques from Johnny Dollar. Although Johnny would find Dean pretty detestable, I think he would respect his dedication to finding the truth. But what Dean does with the truth would not sit well with Johnnie.

There are also Soft-Boiled detective stories. They cut way back on the drugs, sex, and violence. They work to make it subdued so you do not see it as much. I am less of a fan of this genre and I don’t write in it really. 

Valerie, in her article mentions Sue Grafton's "alphabet" series. I have heard of that series, but if I am going to read about a PI, I want grit and emotion, which makes what I am about to say a little odd.

The next is our beloved Cozy Mysteries. I actually like them. They usually involve an unlikely investigator. Many times it takes place in a more rural setting, or a small suburb. You don’t get the blood and guts. Nothing which could be considered objectionable in any way. 

Yes someone was killed, but the tone is kept light and fun. Good jokes of funny inner dialogue is the order of the day in a cozy. 

I do like them. Why would the author of the Dean Cordaine series like them, you ask? Well, simply put, I need something in my diet which is fun. Also the cozy tends to be easy to read, which makes them a nice thing to have laying around when you head to the doctor’s office or are waiting to get your tires changed. The classic example is Agatha Christy’s Miss Marple. I say you hit up Amy E. Lilly and her Phee Jefferson series. Death is Long Overue, was a really fun read. I just ordered the next in the series.

Next we talk about the procedurals. They are actually pretty big right now with the rise in true crime television series. But here is the thing. People who are really into police procedurals are fact hounds. You have to be careful when you delve into this kind of writing. One mistake and someone will call you on it.

These are thoroughly researched. Authors sometimes go to great lengths to get it right. I actually have a shelf of resource materials on true crime so I can ensure that my descriptions are correct. For me, it is important. Kathy Reichs' series with forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is a great example and one we know of since it became a television series. Which was great, by the way. There are other sub categories you can get into. But really you know a procedural when you read one. Remember, if you are going to get into this kind of writing, research is your friend and also why I keep so many books within arm’s reach. 

Anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows that I write in what will be called the Criminal Fiction Mystery category. Really I am a generalist. Dirk Bentley, and his merry band of misfits, fall into this category. I have The Dramatic Dead, The Reverent Dead, and I am working on a third book. As a matter of fact. If you listen to this cast and you want to buy them, and you are in the continental united states, contact me at my e-mail and I will, for the price of twenty five dollars, send you The Dramatic Dead and The Reverent Dead, both signed. That offer is good through the end of 2021.

May times in Criminal fiction, we know who the antagonist is. But the bad guy also tells the story through their point of view. I like that because instead of a one way tromp through a storyline, you get to see a little more of what makes the characters tick. In my Dirk Bentley novel, The Dramatic Dead, for example, you get to see the POV of the serial killer who has his next victim on the table. I let you peer into his insanity. 

Valerie points out that this term is used as a catchall net really for all for all crime-related books. But that is when we go back to the distinction that crime fiction gives you that glimpse into the perpetrator. We know who they are. A true mystery, take for example, Agatha Christies Murder on the Orient Express, Poiriot doesn’t let you know until the end who the murderers are. I won’t go into detail. You know we don’t do spoilers here on All Things Writing. 

Crime fiction gives you this lovely give and take between preditor and prey. Sometimes the good and bad guys can develop an almost intimate relationship.

Victoria does, in her article make a few other distinctions, but I will keep my distinctions truncated. There were a few on here list that I would not necessarily agree with, but I understand why she put them on there.

I guess the million dollar question is this. Should you write mystery novels.

Well, I would challenge you on a couple of different points if you are on the fence about whether to write mysteries or not.

The first would be why you want to write in that genre. For example, in my case I have enjoyed a pretty steady died of horror and mystery novels since I can remember. Certainly, that is not all I read. Right now I am beta reading a fantasy novel. Which is why I am not doing a ton of reviews at the moment. Beta reading can take time if you are being super critical.

There is a pacing and layout in a Mystery which readers come to expect and it can be very dependent on the style you are writing. So being familiar with what the reader expects is important.

Don’t forget that movies are really important too. I watch a lot of British television mysteries to get cues about pacing and structure. Among my favorites were the Father Brown mysteries, of course Poirot, and there is another I would almost put in the category of a cozy which is called Sherlock and Hathaway. I also get some ideas from watching these shows.

Next, don’t forget the classics. Most people are unaware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not a huge fan of his most memorable creation. In fact, he wanted to write Historical Fiction and did so. He himself considers that to be his best work. Ironically, not the very thing he is remembered for.

There is a whole world of classic mysteries out there you can read and with the advent of audio books, you can consume on your daily drive to and from your various errands, switch over to your phone, back to your car, and then back to your phone again. It is crazy.

The best part about some of these mysteries, and yes I know I am getting off topic here, is that you can visit some of the real life places where they took place and in some instances, those locations have taken on an almost legendary mythos unto themselves.

For example, when my wife and I were last in London, the only thing I desperately wanted to see as 221B Baker Street, the boarding house owned by Mrs. Hudson and the home of Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr. John Watson. It was amazing.

Actually, as an interesting side note, a couple of blocks over is the home where Charles Dickens wrote at least part of the book, A Christmas Carol. Also where his beloved sister in law passed away. It is a great museum and I highly suggest stopping by if you have the chance, but I am getting off point.

Mysteries also do require some planning. The worst thing that can happen to a story is that you have lose ends that just never get to be sewn up.

If you are writing a stand alone mystery, that can happen. My advice to you is to keep track of those lose ends as you write and make sure to tick them off one by one and then bring your story around to the end.

Well, this has been another episode of all things writing. I want to thank you again for joining me. Remember that if you liked this show, hit the follow button and consider sending a donation to the show. It helps defray the costs of running the show every week. I have new equipment to buy, and there are a few monthly fees I have to pay for to keep us on the air. 

Remember that next week there will be no show, but then I will come back with a couple of new shows. I want to do another show like this where I dissect, pun intended, horror novels and what the different types are.

Then, I want to do a deep dive into my Dramatic Dead series and talk about them a bit.

At any rate, thank you for spending some time with me. This is Bryan the writer, for all things writing, signing off.