Like many authors of amateur sleuth mysteries, I’m also a fan of reading them. That’s not to say I don’t read many other subgenres as well, and in my writing, I write a magical series that features both an amateur sleuth and an FBI agent, so that one straddles the fence between amateur and professional sleuths. I also write an occasional standalone thriller, which is a whole different category. But as both a writer and reader, I’ve always felt a particular fondness for amateurs who solve crimes, going way back to the time when Nancy Drew first led me into this life of crime.
Some years back at a signing, a reader asked me whether, like the protagonist of my Tracy Eaton mysteries — a writer and detective wannabe — I secretly harbored a desire to solve murders. Nope, not even a little bit. I bet that’s true for most writers of amateur sleuths as well. But that I don’t long to follow Tracy down the path of actually solving crimes, doesn’t in any way lessen my love of amateur sleuth mysteries, especially fun ones.
Besides, I think we learn from their examples. To my mind, some of the appeal of amateur sleuths is that, when we see them take on the impossible in their lives, we’re inspired to tackle the looming obstacles in our own, even if ours involve something less life-threatening than solving murders.
Of course, in amateur sleuth mysteries, it’s the amateurs that have to shine. But that’s not to say the police don’t play important roles. They do create stabilizing presences, even if, in the end, it’s our amateurs that save the day.
I’ve always loved the police detectives I’ve created in my Tracy Eaton mysteries. Each has been different, some more rigidly official than others, more resistant to Tracy’s free-spirited antics, and they’ve all made unique and engaging foils for her. But none have been more fun than the police presence I created for my new release, Revenge on Route 66.
Roy Fricker, the Chief of Police of the small town of Tecos, New Mexico, where much of the action occurs in Revenge on Route 66, makes an immediate presence on the page, although maybe not the one he might have wanted.
Here’s Tracy’s first impression:
In the doorway stood the world’s most glittery Rhinestone Cowboy, an African-American man, whose embroidered Western shirt and decorated leather spats sported so much fringe, he had drastically reduced the world’s supply of it. There must have been clackers hidden within that fringe, too, because when he strode into the place, he jangled.
Even more colorful than his dress is Chief Fricker’s speech:
He tipped a gigantic white hat, which matched the accents in his black shirt and spats, and said, “Ma’am. Hear tell someone blew out poor Woody’s light.”
That was just the beginning of Chief Fricker’s colorful lingo. Every time he spoke more of his Western gibberish came out:
Fricker removed his hat and ran a large hand over his closely shorn hair. “Can’t say I’m all that surprised someone flipped Woody’s hash browns. He’s always been like someone riding ’round with a wasp in his bonnet. Always looking for a pig to kick.”
Tracy’s reaction was predictable enough:
Huh? Was his getup and lingo a joke? If we’d been back in L.A., I’d have assumed this guy to be an actor in some Western movie parody. Here, I figured he’d been yanked from his other job, rodeo clown.
But she soon learns that his looks and lingo can be deceiving. Chief Fricker is actually a wily investigator, a former big city homicide detective simply living out his long-held Western dream, albeit in a pretty dramatic way.
He and Tracy continue to lock horns. He might be all about living his dream, but he’s not about to let some wacky amateur sleuth just passing through the flaunt the law and cut corners in his town.
Isn’t that the way it often goes when amateur sleuths and cops tangle? Amateur sleuths are all about the spirit of justice, while the police get tangled up in the letter of it.
However the struggle goes in the course of a mystery, it’s always fun for those of us who love amateur sleuth mysteries.
Causes Kris Neri Supports
Sedona, Arizona Humane Society