Writing fiction is the best possible job. I get to play the “What If?” game when wearing my writer’s hat. Writing mysteries, which is what my novels are, is a whole different kind of game.
I always start with the end: I know who will die and why, at least the first body, which is the catalyst if there end up being more than one as the book evolves. It’s the ‘why’ that fascinates me. I’m not writing about serial killers, sociopaths, or psychopaths, even though I read those all the time. I’m fascinated with what would make an average person feel it’s reasonable to cross that fine line to take another’s life and feel justified doing so.
But mysteries are at their very heart a puzzle. I want readers to take the journey with my sleuth and with the detective on the case, as each try to figure out who is behind the killing. In the English mystery series, that will be American writer Nora Tierney and Detective Inspector Declan Barnes. In my Manhattan mysteries, it’s nurse Trudy Genova and Detective Ned O’Malley. And my worst fear is that the reader will get there before any of my characters.
I want readers to feel they are solving the mystery along with Nora or Trudy, but not necessarily before they do. There’s an element of surprise that I hope is incorporated as the murderer is revealed near the climax of the book.
Juggling the investigations, with each woman coming at the murder from a different point of view from the procedural aspect of the male detective, means I have to offer each of them clues, red herrings, and suspects rather like Hansel and Gretel left their crumb trail. This is where it gets tough. I have to parse out information to both the detective and the amateur sleuth and the reader and hope to keep it all straight while advancing the story.
I also have to keep in mind that my trained detectives have procedures they must use and laws to be followed that affect the scope of the investigation. Yes, they’re the professionals, but they have also more limitations. My amateur sleuths don’t have these constraints and can often find information on their own by using their feminine wiles, being glib, and often plain out-and-out lying.
And all while this is unfolding I’m hoping the reader feels I’m playing fair with him or her. It’s a daunting task, and it’s a question I ask my beta readers: when did you figure out whodunit?
So far feedback from readers who enjoy the books has led me to feel I’ve been successful. I have had a few emails from people who told me they figured out the culprit early on--only to be found wrong at the book’s end.
If that’s the case, I’ve done my job!
Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England. The Blue Virgin introduces Nora, an American writer living in Oxford. The Green Remains and The Scarlet Wench trace Nora’s move to the Lake District where murder follows her. In process is The Golden Hour, set in Bath, and premiering in Spring 2015 will be Graff’s new Manhattan series, Death Unscripted, featuring nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio. Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques.
Graf also writes crime book reviews at www.auntiemwrites.com and is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press. A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. All of Graff’s books can be bought at Amazon or at http://www.bridlepathpress.com and are available as eBooks.
The Scarlett Wench
“The Scarlet Wench has all the ingredients of a good read: atmospheric setting, intriguing characters, complex plot and excellent writing.”
Rebecca Tope, UK author of The Cotwolds Series and The Lake District Series
M. K. Graff does it again with another compelling and intriguing Nora Tierney classic. As always, the characters are multifaceted, the plot twists are unpredictable and the backdrop of Ramsey Lodge at Bowness-on-Winderere will make you want to hop a plane for the UK locale. The Scarlet Wench is another winner!”
P. M. Terrell, author of Vicki’s Key, The Tempest Murders and River Passage
“A lively cast of characters, an intriguing mystery and a heroine you have to love … M. K. Graff does it again, with a new mystery you can’t put down!”
Susan Sloate, author of Forward to Camelot and Stealing Fire