Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how important the end of a mystery is as well as the clues the reader may or not see.
Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest. Kathleen’s newest book in the series, Dressed to Kill, will be released in the UK on August 1, 2019 and in the US on November 1, 2019.
I have turned in the final edits for the 4th book in the Mary McGill canine mystery series, Dressed to Kill, and am taking a vacation from writing and am reading. My TBR pile is stacked so high it might hurt someone if it fell over, so I feel an obligation to reduce it. As usual, I’m learning a lot about a lot of things, not the least of which is about writing. Authors have different ways of structuring their books but no matter how it’s put together, eventually it must come to the end. I think the end is especially important when writing mysteries as the whole book is leading up to solving the puzzle or exposing the murderer.
I don’t remember the first mystery I ever read but it was at a fairly young age and I was hooked. I remember wondering how the author thought up all those twists and turns that threw me, the reader, off track while trying to solve that puzzle.
Sometimes the author slipped in thinly disguised clues that I overlooked. Then I would slap myself in the head and utter, “Of course it was Lord Hammersmith. He had to kill his uncle before the new will was signed.” Why didn’t I see that the clues had been there but cleverly disguised and I hadn’t recognized them?
However, in some books, even by the most skilled and most highly regarded authors, the clues could never be obvious to the reader and I sometimes had a hard time figuring out how the protagonist figured them out as well. Where were the little clues that told us that Ernestine Willingham wasn’t really Ernestine at all but her 2nd cousin once removed and hid that little detail for forty years of marriage until one day she felt threatened by someone whose name only appears once so she murdered her husband so he wouldn’t divorce her. Or the books where the murderer only appears as a walk-on or where the story drags on until in a rush it’s all solved and we are left feeling a little breathless and confused as to how it all happened.
These might be exaggerated descriptions of endings I don’t like or think fair, but I think you get the picture. Laying clues throughout the book that, if you can recognize them, lead to a logical ending isn’t easy. Neither is disguising them enough that you fool the reader who then slaps herself upside the head at the end and says, “Of course it was Mr Peabody in the library with the hammer!”
But I’ve found inserting them is as much fun as reading them. I’m not always successful, I know many readers solve my puzzles before the grand finale but I sure have fun trying to keep you in the dark until the very end. So, gentle reader, read on.