I have lectured about the makeup of the mystery novel. So now it is time for me to discuss more about the mystery reader. What are the elements of the mystery that fascinates the reader?
I like to think that the mystery reader is the Law Enforcer, Prosecuting Attorney, Judge and Jury. They are presented with some of the facts, but they think ahead to figure out who the murderer is.
Let me digress for just a moment. I said “murder” because that is the ultimate crime. It gets the highest form of punishment.
Mystery readers like a puzzle. They like to arrange the pieces of the novel to see what fits. I liken this to Johnny Cochran’s famous phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. The pieces of the mystery novel will contain distraction evidence as well as solid evidence. There should be motive, opportunity and means, and suspects must have these elements, so they can be added to the reader’s overall suspect list. A good complex story will have a “mountain of evidence” as mentioned by Prosecutor Marcia Clark, so the reader can sort this all out.
I think an interesting mystery novel idea could lead the reader to the number one suspect and show that suspect tried and convicted. But also the writer might show a large amount of neglected or discarded evidence. I see the Robert Frost scenario of “the road not taken” revealed in a follow-up “Part 2” or “Second Volume”. This could revolve around the convicted person’s appeal and might deal with evidence that was left on a dusty path that eventually leads him/her to a previously ignored suspect. In this instance, the reader may have fallen into a guilty trap as the new puzzle pieces are added to the mix. Can the mystery reader come to grips with the innocence of that first suspect?
There is so much more to tell about the mystery reader. In talks, I have discussed exotic scenes, memorable characters, forensics, sequence of events and the evidence that the mystery reader has forgotten that was left on the trail. How does the novel start if the crime does not take place right away? And certainly there will be action in the story.
I hope you enjoy your next read. — Jerry