Thursday, 10 April 2014

Can you pick it?

I just got paid the biggest compliment a mystery writer could ever receive. The words were like finding the cold spot in a hot pool on a boiling day. Like discovering a lone chocolate TimTam sitting in the back of the fridge, forgotten by your greedy husband and just waiting for you to pick it up and dip it into that steamy cup of Darjeeling. Luscious. Rewarding. The kind of stuff that keeps you going, even when you feel like you're failing at it and wonder why you bother.

"I couldn't pick the killer."

Yes, yeeees, YEEEEEEES!

My sister just read Words Can Kill, the fifth Ghostwriter Mystery, and my mother before her, and both said the same thing. They had a few ideas, a vague inkling, but the murderer came as a wonderful and very satisfying surprise. And that's all you can ask for in a murder mystery. Well, that and a good ride along the way.

I think I can, I think I can ...

Before I started writing crime fiction, I was a voracious reader of the stuff. Still am, of course. (How can you not love crime fiction if you write it?) I can never seem to get enough but I always veer towards books and authors where I have a good chance of picking the killer. I don't necessarily want to succeed at it, and it's always so much more thrilling if I don't, but I need to be able to have a red hot go.

I don't read crime because I love murder and mayhem. I read to solve a puzzle.

Product DetailsFor that reason, I can't stand books where most of the vital information is deliberately withheld, where there's no chance in hell you'll ever pick whodunit. (And don't even start me on books that end with, 'And then I woke up ...' No, really?!)

In my novels I always enable my readers to work it out. I don't want them to, please understand that, but I need them to know they can. If they're extra vigilant and super smart, they absolutely can.

I think that's crucial, and it's only fair. I don't hide any important truths (not forever, anyway) and I always embed the text with subtle clues. I might dazzle and distract as I plant those clues, and I might throw in a couple of stinky red herrings to put them off, but the point is they CAN solve my mystery if they want to.

Because of that, however, there is always the grave risk that readers will solve it long before it's over, and some of my readers get quite cranky with me when they do. It's as though I've robbed them of a rare gem, evacuated the gourmet restaurant just before dessert arrived. I feel their pain, really I do, but walking that tightrope between hiding the clues and making the book solveable is a tricky one. And apparently I've got the balance right this time (or at least that's what Michelle and Mum tell me, and believe me, very little gets past those two!).

How about you?

So how did you go? Have you read Words Can Kill yet and did you pick the culprit? I'd love to hear if you did solve the mystery and at what stage along the way.

And if you didn't solve it, I'd love to hear from you, too. Oh who am I kidding, I especially want to hear from you! Please get in touch; your comments are always welcome, below or straight to email.

In the meantime, happy guessing, everyone, and may the red herrings nip at your heels ...
xo Christina

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