Although my holiday is over, I’m taking a brief ‘break’ today and rerunning a post from October of 2011, with a few updates. As I start a new book, even though it’s romantic suspense and not a ‘straight’ mystery, this is one of the questions I find myself asking: Do You Need a Dead Body?
On his blog, The Graveyard Shift, Lee Lofland shared some important information about property crimes, and how patrol officers work to solve them. He presented a lot of good information, including how useful fingerprints are (usually they aren’t), and how people talk to cops. Take a minute to read it here.
My takeaway from his post, and one that was followed up in the comments of the post, was that there’s a lot of police work that has nothing to do with solving homicides. Yet if you tell someone you write mysteries, odds are pretty good they automatically hear “murder mystery.”
Can’t you have a mystery that doesn’t include a dead body? There are certainly enough other crimes out there, and they’ll impact the lives of your characters even if nobody dies. And for me, it’s always about the characters.
When I wrote Finding Sarah, I thought it was going to be a mystery. But it began with a robbery (Anyone know the difference between a burglary and a robbery? The terms aren’t interchangeable.) which brought a detective onto the scene. Now, maybe I got away without having the detective solve a murder because I discovered, thanks to my beta-reading daughters, that I was really writing a romance.
It turned out that there was a dead body in Finding Sarah, but it wasn’t part of the central plot. In that book, I was more concerned with pushing my characters to their emotional limits, and the opening robbery was simply a catalyst.
Hidden Fire, the sequel, however did start with a murder, and solving it hung at the center of that plot. But here, the characters were established in the other book, and it seemed logical for me to test Randy with a homicide, since that kind of a crime was almost unheard of in Pine Hills.
(And that’s another issue, touched upon by a recent guest. Small towns really don’t have that many homicides. You are asking readers to suspend disbelief if you have a series set in a small town where people are dropping dead right and left. That’s part of the reason that Deadly Bones features a cold case, not an ‘on the page’ murder.)
What’s in a Name? had no dead bodies. Nowhere to Hide started out with a simple missing persons case, although it escalated to murder well into the book. When Danger Calls and Where Danger Hides also bypassed the central dead body issue.
Maybe it’s because in the mystery sub-genres of romance, an author has more leeway, since the relationship between the hero and heroine has to be central to the plot, as important as solving the crime, or preventing world domination, or whatever other mayhem brought them together.
What’s your take? If you’re a mystery reader/author, do you think a book that centered around a non-homicide crime would keep a reader’s interest. Or do we demand our detectives solve murders rather than bank robberies or breaking and entering?
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society