Andi, thanks so much for hosting me today. Over the last several weeks, it’s been fun to talk about my latest suspense novel, STAY OF EXECUTION, but today, I’m excited to discuss what I believe are the most important elements of a good mystery—as an author and a reader!
At the center of any crime novel has to be the hero/heroine. Unlike a superhero, the protagonist in a murder mystery is typically flawed—sometimes in multiple ways. Not only does the hero have to solve the mystery, they have to do so as they battle their own inner demons. The flaws can range from something minor (think the rumpled Columbo) or to something major (alcohol and anger issues). Their flaws make them real. At the end of the day, however, our hero believes in finding the truth and will stop at nothing to solve the case. As a reader, I appreciate getting to know my hero bit by bit to find out what makes them who they are.
Of course, no murder mystery works without the crime itself. Typically, it’s best for the crime to occur early in the book, setting up the action. The crime and subsequent investigation will move the plot forward and set the stage for the remaining chapters.
And then there is the villain. (I really do love a good villain.) Whether the villain is an arsonist, kidnapper, or serial killer, he or she should be an adequate foil for the hero. For me, the best crime novels give the reader a glimpse into the mind of the villain.
Along the way, a good murder mystery will drop clues and maybe a red herring or two. And while the ending (whodunit) may not be a complete surprise, it should make sense (based on the clues). Adding a twist at the end can also ramp up the fun.
Even if all of the above elements are in place, it’s not a good suspense without solid pacing. As a genre, mysteries are not typically a leisurely read. It’s perfectly fine to slow things down and give some backstory as long as you get right back to the action. My favorite murder mysteries are page-turners that make the heart pound.
While I will read almost any genre, I always come back to mystery and suspense. From cozy to edge-of-your-seat, a good mystery will entertain and transport you.
Andi, thanks again for having me!
STAY OF EXECUTION is available on Amazon
Find out more about the book and enter a giveaway here.
Kellie Larsen Murphy is the author of A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution, the first two books in the Detective Cancini Mystery series. She has written for several mid-Atlantic magazines and resides in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.