Having read hundreds of murder mysteries, good, mediocre, and terrible, (and even having scribbled a few myself), I’ve come to a startling conclusion: People read murder mysteries for the mystery.
It’s the mental puzzle that attracts. Readers want to see if they can figure out “whodunit” before the writer solves the mystery and reveals the murderer. In a good mystery, therefore, the writer must lay out all the clues, to give the reader a fair shot at guessing the solution.
I have also noticed an unfortunate trend. After a writing two or three moderately successful murder mysteries, many mystery writers develop the delusion that they are real novelists. They decide that readers read their books, not because of the mystery, but because they are fascinated with the characters, especially the lead character—who is usually modelled on the writer. Librarians write about librarians, accountants about accountants, editors about editors, dog trainers about dog trainers. The problem is that these writers’ lives are not really as interesting as the writers think they are.
It is a common human failing. We all have a tendency to think it is all about us, to focus on ourselves instead of the great mysteries of life.
James R. Coggins is the author of the John Smyth mysteries. The hero of these mysteries is John Smyth who, modeled on Coggins himself, is the short, bald, and bearded editor of a Christian magazine who never seems to garner the respect and widespread admiration he deserves.