3 Skills to Master to Write a Mystery

The book club that I belong to met earlier this week. Our book? The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. This book clearly demonstrated 3 things that you have to conquer if you are going to write mysteries.

A Cast of Characters

First things first, you are going to have to master a vast cast of characters. Osman had quite a task with the murder club (four characters), children of club members (2 characters), friends, spouses and love interests (5+ characters), victims and suspects (overlapping list that I keep losing count of), and coppers (2 main). Each character needs a name, a personality and a relationship with most of the other characters. And many of them are a bit over-the-top in some way. It is what makes mysteries so fun.

But there’s another tricky bit for the author. You have to introduce this ridiculous number of characters to your readers. And you have to do it at a rate and in a way where they won’t be completely lost. It is no small task.

A “Realistic” Setting

I say “realistic” because it doesn’t have to be real in the sense that it is a real place that is on the map and you can drive to. But it has to feel real. It has to be fairly complex with numerous places to look for clues, safe places, dangerous places, and home for all of those characters.

This book starts out in a retirement community. We get to see several character’s apartments, the activity or jigsaw room, the chapel, and more. There’s also the nearby town. Osman didn’t stop there. He took readers out into the countryside to several more English towns and even on an international jaunt.

And all of the settings felt real. We got the sights and smells and sounds. That’s a lot of sensory in put to keep straight.

Plot Threads

Last but not least are the plot threads. I can’t figure out how to discuss this without some spoilers. So, be warned. From here on out there be spoilers! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

There is the murder that starts it all – a former colleague of the developer. Then the developer is killed. Then an extra skeleton is found in the graveyard. Each of these deaths involves a list of suspects and motives.

In addition to keeping all of those straight, you also have to know who was where when. You have to make sure that what you say happened could happen. You can’t have one character in two places at once or zipping from one location to another in the blink of an eye.

And as so often happens in a mystery, there are parts of it that happened years ago. People from way back when need to be tracked down and some of them have gone missing. Or have they? That’s something else to keep track of.

Mysteries are a lot of fun to read and also fun to write. But you have to be detail oriented and you have to keep track as you weave the many threads together to create a compelling story.


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