Many thanks to Mollie Cox Bryan, Lynn Cahoon, Kristin Kisska, Maggie King, Genilee Swope Parente, and JA Chalkley for the interview!
There are so many sleuths out there: professional, amateur, female, and the list goes on and on. Do you have a preference? I've grouped some of my favorites by type, but they're in no particular order. What other authors and sleuths would you add to the list?
Hard-boiled Detectives - This character type is usually male and tough. He can survive in the gritty world, and he often works in a big city. This type solves mysteries by stick-to-itiveness and street smarts. He usually is a private detective or some sort of fringe law enforcement who solves crimes because the police are ineffective. This subgenre came from the pulp fiction magazines in the early 1900s.
- Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade
- Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlow
- Robert B. Parker's Spenser
Cozy Amateur Detectives - The Cozy subgenre derived from the British mystery traditions. Originally, they were set in pastoral or smaller settings. There was an amateur sleuth who solved the crime because law enforcement was bumbling. There was a small circle of suspects, and violence and sex happened outside of the plot and not in full view of the reader. This subgenre was often called soft-boiled, and it has evolved into all kinds of themed mysteries. Many of the sleuths have interesting jobs or hobbies.
- Agatha Christie's Miss Marple
- Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Bear
- Ellery Adams' Molly Appleby
- Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow
- Sherry Harris' Sarah Winston
- Maya Corrigan's Val Deniston
- Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgiana
Private Eyes/Bail Bondspersons - This subgenre has a sleuth who has some training in law enforcement, but he or she is not with the police. The stories can be hard-boiled or softer.
- Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum
- Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes
- Michael Crais' Elvis Cole/Joe Pike
- P. D. James' Cordelia Gray
- Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy
- Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot
- Carolyn D. Hart's Max Darling
- Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin
- Spencer Quinn's Chet the Dog
- My Delanie Fitzgerald
Police/Military/Federal Law Enforcement - There are mysteries or thrillers with law enforcement and/or retired officers as the sleuth. Some have a military or federal investigative jobs.
- John J. Lamb's Brad Lyon
- Bill Crider's Dan Rhodes
- Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch
- P. D. James' Adam Dalgleish
- Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire
- David Baldacci's John Puller, Michelle Maxwell, and Sean King
- Lee Child's Jack Reacher
Lawyers - I like legal mysteries and thrillers. These sleuths are either lawyers or investigators in law offices.
- Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller
- Lisa Scottoline's Roato and Associates
- John Grisham's Many Stand-alone Thrillers
What other types of sleuths would you add to my list?
I am excited to be a part of the 50 Shades of Cabernet mystery anthology with such a talented group of authors. My partners in crime are Barb Goffman, Teresa Inge, Kristin Kisska, Jayne Ormerod, Maria Hudgins, Lyn Brittan, Douglas Lutz, Alan Orloff, Debbiann Holmes, Betsy Ashton, James M. Jackson & Tina Whittle, Maggie King, Nancy Naigle, Rosemary Shomaker, Jenny Sparks, and Ken Wingate.
In my story, "Par for the Course," Mona McKinley Scarborough, the family matriarch doesn't take no for an answer. When she's not successful at convincing her granddaughter Amanda to make the right career choice - to join the family's winery, she plans a golf outing as a chance to draw them closer together. Their chat reveals some deadly secret, and they learn that the grape may not fall far from the vine.
The Scarborough family, who can trace their roots back to Jamestown, Virginia and the colonists, has been a fixture in Richmond's capital society for more years than anyone can count. Their roots and dirty little secrets run deep. I like my mysteries to have lots of twists and turns, and "Par for the Course" takes on several meanings throughout the tale, where we learn that some family secrets are as dark as the cabernet.
The anthology is available at your favorite bookseller. It's a fun book club or beach read, especially paired with your favorite wine.
It's been a long time since I've been in high school. I had the great pleasure of spending time recently with a senior English class that was doing a module on mysteries and thrillers. I had my handouts, overview, and give-aways ready, and I barely got in the door before I got peppered with questions about mysteries and my writing. The class was mixed in their mystery experience. Many liked watching crime-related shows and movies, while others did read mysteries. There were a handful who had never read any kind of mystery. I love the energy and the interest. And I've never had anyone step through a critical discussion of my short story and the literary techniques I used. What fun!
We had a great discussion, and here are the highlights...
- The class really liked red herrings, foreshadowing, and irony in stories. They liked books with a plot twist.
- It was fun to talk about mystery and thriller authors. Many on my handout were new to the class, so they had lots of questions about subgenres and who wrote what type of book.
- They liked mysteries that combined several subgenres (e.g. romantic suspense, medical thriller, or legal thriller).
- Most of the class' interest in mysteries started with TV shows and movies.
- They were also very interested in what mystery resources were out there. We talked about websites, blogs, and author websites.
- We had a long discussion about how some popular sleuths had had lots of different interpretations and incarnations in movies and TV, such as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They all had a favorite, but Benedict Cumberbatch and the BBC won the popular vote.
- They were interested in why some sleuths had sidekicks and others didn't. I typically don't have a sidekick in my short stories, but my private investigator has her computer-hacker partner to assist with research that she's unable to get through normal channels.
I enjoyed my visit, and many thanks to Ms. Arnold for inviting me.
Recently, Dave and Ryka from K9 Alert Search and Rescue talked to our writers' group about search and rescue dogs. They also did several indoor and outdoor demonstrations, so that we could see the dog in action. Here's what I learned in case I ever include a search or cadaver dog in a mystery.
1. Ryka is certified to search for missing persons and human remains detection (search and rescue as well as cadaver searches).
2. They are part of a non-profit group that assists the Commonwealth of Virginia's Emergency Management and local law enforcement.
3. Police dogs are trained to track all human scents. This means that they are looking for a scent at the scene. They are searching for the freshest trail. Search dogs are trained to hunt for a particular human's scent.
4. Humans are all like "Pig-Pen" in Peanuts. They give off a cloud of scents and skin cells wherever they go.
5. In the past, lost persons in the woods could often be found near water. He said that now they are finding lost people at higher elevations (often because they are trying to get a cell phone connection).
6. Scents are affected by the sun/heat and the wind. Thermals affect how far/high scents travel.
7. Searches for missing persons often include K9 teams, trackers, horse teams, and helicopters. Helicopters are often used for forward-looking searches. He said that the ground teams are usually the ones to locate the missing person.
8. He said that one handler and dog can cover about forty acres in 2-3 hours.
9. Cadaver dogs are trained to do a passive alert when they find a scent, so they don't disturb a possible crime scene. When Ryka alerted, she sat near the area where she detected the scent.
10. He said that if they are doing a search in a building, they often ask for the AC/heat to be turned off because the vents distribute the scent throughout the building.
11. Clandestine graves are often shallow. Many times, they're covered with a small amount of dirt and debris.
These volunteers do amazing work and provide invaluable assistance during times of crisis. I loved watching the camaraderie between handler and dog. To find out more about K9 Alert Search and Rescue, check out their website.
I'm a "C.K." (Cop's Kid). I had a great, but sometimes unusual childhood. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. I think it played a huge influence in my love for all things mystery.
As a small child, I'd go with my dad to the shooting range. One of my first jobs was to collect shell casings in a metal peanut can when he was done firing. Those suckers were hot. You had to be careful.
He was the SWAT commander in the 1970s, and they needed practice bullets. I sacrificed a ton of crayons for practice ammunition. What other elementary school kid knew how to melt crayons and fill shell casings?
In first grade, my dad was the BEST for career day. He arrived in a police car, and then he had the police helicopter fly over and land in the field next to the school. He was way cooler than the insurance salesman. I still owe him for that one. He and the helicopter pilot were a hit!
One summer evening, my sister and I learned how to use a night scope. It was fun to watch the neighbor's dog illuminated all in green.
But NEVER watch police shows with law enforcement professionals. There were very few police dramas that my dad liked because most were too "Hollywood" and not real. I loved "CHiPs," and I never heard the end of it about Ponch and Jon not even riding their own motorcycles. (I didn't care that they were towed behind a truck.) But this stuck with me, and as a mystery writer, I do a lot of research to make my stories as accurate and plausible as possible. And my dad, now a retired police captain, is my best resource on police procedures and crime scenes. (The only police shows that he liked were "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue," and "Barney Miller.")
As a C.K., I learned respect for guns and law enforcement. I am still a fan. Our police, fire, and first responders are heroes. They risk everything every day. I too vividly remember when my dad was called out for emergencies, and I wondered whether or not he'd come home that evening. These men and women (and their families) give up a lot in service for us. He worked just about every holiday, and we was right in the middle of every emergency or crisis.
While it wasn't a "normal" childhood, we had some interesting dinner conversations, and it was a wonderful time that I wouldn't trade for anything. Happy Father's Day, Dad!
I have loved mysteries since Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussy Cats, Jabber Jaw, Speed Buggy, Hong Kong Phooey, and the Funky Phantom. Seventies cartoons were full of sleuths and capers. In elementary school, I started reading the classic Nancy Drews and raced to finish the Hardy Boys. Then I moved on to Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and One-minute Mysteries. Now, I read anything from cozy to thriller.
Here are my top detectives...
- C. Auguste Dupin
- Cagney and Lacey
- Dick Tracy
- Elvis Cole
- Frank and Joe Hardy
- Hercule Poirot
- Jim Rockford
- Mike Hammer
- Miss Marple
- Nancy Drew
- Nero Wolfe
- Philip Marlowe
- Sam Spade
- Sherlock Holmes (in all forms)
- Steve McGarrett
- Thomas Magnum
- And of course, Scooby Doo!
Who would you add to the list?