Avid mystery readers, whatever version of mystery they prefer, whether Thriller or Cozy mysteries, read multiple books each year. They acquire their reading material through book sales, garage sales, the library, borrowed from a friend and sometimes, though rarely, actually purchased from the author. At least there is a demand, so there is a need for supply.
Let’s pretend for a minute, we’re an author desirous of launching a new mystery series.
After careful analysis of a number of mysteries, we see a tried and true template; apparently we must follow to guarantee success.
Our story needs a female sleuth, preferably blonde and beautiful. She has a German Shepard in order to capture the animal lovers out there. The dog doesn’t have to help solve the crime, but if he can, so much the better. Now she needs an unusual job or hobby so she can encounter the crime which the inept police force can’t solve. Don’t forget the sweetheart somehow connected to the police department, otherwise how could she access the official information generally withheld from the public?
Sadly, most of the best jobs or hobbies have been taken by other mystery series’. We already have book store owners, catering services, coffee houses, writers, and private detectives, to name just a few. We need a career that hasn’t been done to death, but one that will give our sleuth access to plenty of material. It is going to be a series, after all.
How about a lady sewer technician who pumps out septic tanks? She’d be in plenty of back yards spotting nefarious going’s-on, or how about the Jehovah’s Witness that goes door to door handing out literature. Plenty of opportunities to look beyond the screen door and see someone bound and gagged…
Maybe not. Let’s stick with the 'sewer-pumper-outer'.
So let’s see…to follow the template formula. The plumber and her quirky sidekick (did I forget the quirky friend?) find a body in the pump house. Proceed to red herrings, a romantic interlude, unrequited love, and suspicious characters, all with alibis. Lots of flavor of plumbing tossed in, stopped up toilets, overflowing bathtubs, (a humorous scene or two), and move right on to the climax where our heroine goes alone to meet the villain in a warehouse, but doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going. She is captured, strung up by her thumbs to the rafters, death being imminent until her detective boyfriend and her dog burst down the door and save her life. The murderer is revealed, every toilet is unstopped, every drain unplugged and the heroine and detective ride off into the sunset in the sewer-truck. The end.
That’s the template. Lots of ways to change up the various topics; hobbies, quirky friend, red herrings, suspects, romantic interludes, murder, theft, kidnapping, contraband, illegal alien housekeeper, secret message or what-have-you that begins the mystery, identity of villain (always the most unexpected member of the cast) and final climax, etc. This is the formulaic template, with assorted variations, that most mysteries novels follow.
When will a brave author be willing to break the mold, or at least one who dares to write a mystery that doesn’t end with the heroine strung up in the barn (figuratively speaking)? Sadly, as long as the public is willing to buy these trite storylines, mystery books will continue to follow the same template.
What are your thoughts about books with similar storylines?