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When I tell people I’ve written a new Henry Swann detective novel, I often get a variation of this question: who gets killed? Not an unusual question to ask a mystery writer. In fact, it’s often the person or persons who get killed that makes the novel work. It’s certainly what propels the story as well, we hope, the reader, to a satisfying conclusion.
But I’m bored with that. In Swann Dives In, I decided to do something a little different: no dead bodies.
The classic detective novel usually has a murder victim within the first chapter or two. And sometimes, as the book progresses, bodies drop as freely as pins in a bowling alley. The point of the whole novel is to find out who did it and bring him or her to justice.
But to me, dead bodies are the easy way out. There are other mysteries in life to be solved, crimes to be brought to justice. Some of these crimes are personal. We lie to one another. We cheat one another. We steal from one another. It’s very, very personal.
The truth is, any good novelist, not necessarily genre novelists, faces this problem on every page. We have to create enough of a mystery so that the reader is compelled to turn to the next page, as opposed to setting the book down on a table and never going back to it.
In Swann Dives In, I decided to do something a little risky. The book starts with a missing girl, the college-age daughter of a wealthy attorney. But she’s not dead, not kidnapped, just missing. At least to the extent that she won’t answer daddy’s calls and she seems to have dropped out of college.
Where’s the crime?
Well, there isn’t one yet. And, in fact, up to at least half-way into the novel, as the reader is thrust into the world of rare books, you’re not sure there even is a crime to be solved, and neither is Swann.
And here’s where the stakes are really raised. By the end of the book the reader and Swann aren’t sure there even was a crime.
Yet, there certainly is a mystery to be solved.