Nancy: Getting Away with Murder Mysteries

sherlock holmes silhouette

When I was in the second grade, I fell in love. The object of my affection? The Mystery of the Silver Spider in the Three Investigators mystery series by Robert Arthur. In the months and years to follow, I read not only every book in that series, but in the Hardy Boys  (Franklin W. Dixon) and Nancy Drew series (Carolyn Keene) as well. Years before I read my first romance or women’s fiction novel or even knew the fantasy genre existed, I discovered mystery novels, and I was hooked.

As I got older, even as I discovered those other genres, I never got over my first love, and I added multiple mystery series and fictional detectives to my keeper bookshelves. Some of my current favorites include Sofie Kelly’s magical cats mysteries (yes cats! with magic!), Tana French’s Dublin murder squad series, and Sara Gran’s Clair Dewitt series. And the truth is, now, just like back in second grade, when I dive into a mystery novel, I immerse myself in pure reading pleasure, no deep analysis allowed.

It’s not so much that I want to deeply analyze every other fiction book I read; I just can’t help myself. The in-depth analysis we did in our first McDaniel class only added to my tendency to have ‘writer’s brain’ when I read. Maybe part of the reason I haven’t been so analytical about mysteries is that, despite my early and abiding love for reading mysteries, I don’t write them, and that has allowed me to keep enough distance between mystery novels and my writer’s brain to allow something closer to the reading experience that I imagine non-writers have.

Or at least it used to do that, until I read Susan Spann’s guest post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog this past week. As I read Susan’s list of 25 things to know about writing a mystery, something clicked in my brain. Not only did I think, I could do this, I could write a mystery. I also had one of those inspirational flashes, just the tiniest sparkly gold nugget flashing in the sieve of my writer’s brain, an idea for a mystery. It’s still too early to tell whether I’ll actually take up the gauntlet, and waaaayyyy too early to determine whether the tiny nugget can grow into an idea big enough to inspire a story, but the idea is there, just the same.

Yes, this  means my days of analysis-free, pure joy reading in the mystery genre are probably over. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that says something about the growth (read: inevitable takeover of all other gray matter) of my writer’s brain.

If you’re a mystery reader, what are some of your current favorites? And if you’re a mystery writer, what’s your best piece of advice for a maybe kinda sorta wannabe at some unnamed time in the future mystery writer (aka Nancy)?

7 thoughts on “Nancy: Getting Away with Murder Mysteries

  1. (-: My first mystery love was probably Encyclopedia Brown — although I adored the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys, too. Kids feel so clever when they are able to solve the problem — probably adults, too. As an adult reader, though, I want to have a good ride. Fun characters doing interesting things. I don’t care so much about the mystery as long as the holes are not too gaping.

    But, I may be an atypical mystery reader. Some readers are very critical about timing and everything, and I’ve always felt I just don’t have the twisty kind of brain to do a mystery.

    However, if your muse is giving you an idea, never say never (-:. You should run with it!

    • Well, you know those muses – they come up with all sorts of crazy things :-). If the Girls still want to write a mystery sometime in the future when the idea has coalesced into something workable, we’ll give it a try. I don’t know how twisty my brain is either, but I’m a chronic over-plotter and re-plotter, which might come in handy for mystery writing.


  2. I don’t really like problem solving with my fiction, so I have no words of advice for future crime writer Nancy, except to say that I think you should definitely give it a try!

    Sometimes I’ll read and enjoy a mystery but chances are I’ll be wrapped up in the character arc or enjoying the wordsmithery rather than looking for clues. There’s a South African born Australian ex-journalist crime fiction writer called Peter Temple who has fabulous characters and a wonderful way with words – I’d read anything by him.

    • I will have to check out Peter Temple’s work. I don’t think I’ll ever write crime fiction, per se, but the many of the aspects I like about those books are the same as those I like in more traditional mystery novels.


  3. I love mysteries, too, and I gorged on Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon when I was young. (Those Hardy boys just never grabbed my interest.) As an adult, I still read mysteries, but pretty much whatever comes my way. Someone just gave me a fairly recent Robert B. Parker, and I always enjoy him. Right now I’m reading a Joan Hess, which was written in the 1980s. I’ve never thought I was clever enough to write a mystery–and times change–but I’m clever enough to write the kinds of plots that Joan Hess writes, which is not to say anything bad about her. Just that there’s a lot of personal drama in the lives of her characters; the murder plot seems all but secondary. I just finished a Walter Mosely; I think of him as a “mystery” writer, but he probably really isn’t, strictly speaking. Or at least, not exclusively. I also recently read a mystery by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and now I have another. He was born in Spain but is now a citizen of Mexico. He writes in Spanish and is translated. He might be hard to find, but the translations I read were terrific. (And maybe you read Spanish, so no problemo.) And if you’ve never read the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, I always recommend those. There are vampires in those, but/and I love the characters.

    Try one! Get those turning points set up! We’d love to read it.

    • I was reading the Hardy Boys at the same time Sean Cassidy and Parker Stevens were playing them on TV, so that might have helped pique my interest:).

      Thanks for the recommendations. I do not speak or read Spanish, but have loved several Spanish authors in translation, so I will definitely give Taibo a try!

  4. I started my mystery reading with The Bobbsey Twins and continued from there (Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, others I can’t remember the names of, and lots of single titles). I too love Sofie Kelly’s books. I’ve read the entirety of Sherlock Holmes (binge reading Sherlock Holmes stories causes me to dream with an English accent!). I don’t think I’ve got the plotting chops to actually write a mystery, but I heartily encourage you to do so if your Girls nudge you toward it!

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