Monday, August 3, 2015

Balancing Act: When a Mystery is More Than a Mystery

I recently had a conversation with a friend who, like me, is a long-time Mary Higgins Clark fan. We've always admired the way the "Queen of Suspense" managed to weave elements of romance into her suspenseful, "women-in-peril" mystery novels.

Which begs the question, "So which genre best defines her work?"

This is a question I had to face when deciding how to market my Black Horse Campground series. I never had a doubt that it was a mystery series and, so far, decidedly a murder mystery series. All the elements are present: a crime has been committed, the perpetrator is unknown, the sleuth--either professional or amateur--must solve the crime. However, a glance at the bookshelves at your local bookstore will show that there are many sub-genres within the mystery genre.

Suspense is a genre that is sometimes hard to distinguish from a mystery or a thriller. In a regular mystery, part of the story is figuring out who committed the crime. In a suspense novel or thriller, the "perp" or criminal is known and the story revolves around the hero/ine matching wits with the villain to save the day. Nevertheless, a mystery must have an element of suspense in it

And there are other elements that can be added to a mystery. By far the most common is romance. Especially if the mystery belongs in a sub-genre known as "women in peril" (which is how Mary Higgins Clark's books used to be categorized.) There, the connection is clear: The main character is usually a woman who has witnessed a crime and is now in danger of being killed by the perp. Enter the sleuth--a man who may or may not be a member of law enforcement but takes an interest in the case and, ultimately, in the main character herself.

The Black Horse Campground series does include an element of romance, but it was never intended to BE a romance. A majority of readers, however, seem to have more interest in discovering how Corrie, the main character's, romantic life is going to play out rather than see how the most recent murder is going to be solved! However, as in life, the focus can never be on one element alone. Even in the busiest work life, there are other things taking place... and where there are young singles, romance is very likely to be one of them.

The key is to remember that the main focus of the story is the mystery. The other elements, whether humor, romance, and yes, even recipes, only serve to add a dose of reality and a little more flavor to the main story as well as the characters. One-dimensional characters and one-dimensional stories can bore a reader. It's important to make sure there is a balance of the elements and they all work to move the story forward.

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