MEET D. E. (Dena) Haggerty, one of my new writing friends from the Mystery Thriller Week (2/12 – 2/22) extravaganza. D. E. has been writing since she decided that being a lawyer just wasn’t the career for her. So far, Haggerty’s Death by Cupcake Series includes: Never Trust a Skinny Cupcake Baker, Bring Your Own Baker, and Self-Serve Murder. Haggerty describes Death by Cupcake as a cozy mystery series with “a heap of laughs, a generous portion of romance, and just a smidgeon of suspense.”
The author agreed to pen a guest post for Green Life Blue Water so let’s start with that, shall we?
Does a murder mystery novel suck if the reader figures out whodunit too early?
Something kind of strange happened the other day. One of my faithful reviewers indicated that she knew who the bad guy was in Self-Serve Murder early in the story. Okay, that happens, but then I was chatting with her about something else and she told me it was the best novel of the Death by Cupcake series. After I stopped dancing in my chair and spilling my coffee to boot, I started thinking about her comment and that’s when I wondered – Can a mystery still be good read if the reader figures out whodunit early on?
Part of being a mystery writer is trying to figure out a way to fool your readers. We add red herrings, plot twists, and false suspects all in the hope that the reader won’t catch the real clues we’re giving them until it’s too late — at which point the reader should palm their face and shout something like, Duh! I should have seen that coming! Having a reader say that the villain is obvious is akin to a slap in the face. It hurts and is shocking.
First of all, let’s get rid of those readers who always figure out whodunit. My mother-in-law and I have this one thing in common. We love watching BC mystery series and reading Agatha Christie. We’re also both convinced we figure out the entire mystery within the first half-hour of the television show. My mother-in-law swears up and down she figures out the Agatha Christie murders as well, but we all know that’s just craziness. As a murder mystery writer, you have to ignore these wet noodles who can’t seem to help themselves from shouting out I figured it out! before you’ve even managed to plant your second plot device. After all, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
But what about other readers? Is a murder mystery a – gulp – failure if the killer is too obvious? Sometimes but not always. That’s about clear as mud, isn’t it?
One of the reasons readers enjoy reading mysteries is to unravel the mystery. They enjoy solving the murder just as much as the writer enjoys writing about it. But solving the mystery and figuring out who the killer is, is not the same thing – not always. In fact, some writers will tell readers who the killer is early on, but then the reader is left wondering why him? The mystery concentrates on the motivation behind the killing, chasing the killer down, and perhaps the proof necessary to incarcerate the bad guy. In this case, knowing who the murderer is early on does not equal a bad novel.
In some cases, not knowing who the killer is until the very last second can be just as frustrating as figuring out the killer too early. A mystery ought to be fair. Readers should have all the information that the sleuth does. If the writer is hiding information from readers in an attempt to keep the mystery going even when the sleuth is perfectly aware of the information, this can backfire into reader resentment. In that case, there’s no way the reader can solve the puzzle along with the sleuth. That’s not fair and, frankly, no fun for the reader.
Some murder mystery writers will use a red herring or false suspect throughout the novel and only ‘reveal’ the true murderer at the last moment. Neither the sleuth or the readers have figured out who the killer is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the mystery is a good story. Readers may be angry and feel cheated out of trying to unravel the mystery because they’ve wasted too much time reading about a lead that went on way too long and didn’t pan out.
It would appear then that there needs to be a balance between unraveling the mystery too early and waiting until the very last second to reveal the murderer. And finding that balance is where the fun for us writers begins.
Thanks, D. E., for that stellar insight into the thought process behind writing a murder mystery. I will keep these in mind when I write my next mystery.
Want to read more? Dena’s Death By Cupcake series is available on Amazon at the following links:
Dena’s bio is better in her own words than mine, so here it is:
I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on from my mom’s Harlequin romances to Nancy Drew to Little Women. When I wasn’t flipping pages in a library book, I was penning horrendous poems, writing songs no one should ever sing, or drafting stories which have thankfully been destroyed. College and a stint in the U.S. Army came along, robbing me of free time to write and read, although I did manage, every once in a while, to sneak a book into my rucksack between rolled up socks, MRIs, t-shirts, and cold weather gear. After surviving the army experience, I went back to school and got my law degree. I jumped ship and joined the hubby in the Netherlands before the graduation ceremony could even begin. A few years into my legal career, I was exhausted, fed up, and just plain done. I quit my job and sat down to write a manuscript, which I promptly hid in the attic after returning to the law. But being a lawyer really wasn’t my thing, so I quit (again!) and went off to Germany to start a B&B. Turns out being a B&B owner wasn’t my thing either. I decided to follow the husband to Istanbul for a few years where I managed to churn out book after book. But ten years was too many to stay away from ‘home’. I packed up again and moved to The Hague where I’m currently working on my next book. I hope I’ll always be working on my next book.
Looking for a mystery series to cozy up to? Then try the Death By Cupcake Series by D.E. Haggerty. In the meantime, follow D. E. Haggerty in any of these places:
Best of luck to you, D. E. Haggerty, with your writing career!