Edith here, still coming down from Malice, but delighted to welcome a good friend of the Wickeds, Lucy Burdette – who has a brand-new Key West Food Critic mystery out! She’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter. Here’s the cover description of A Deadly Feast:
Before Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow’s family descends on the island for Thanksgiving and her wedding to heartthrob Detective Nathan Bransford, she has one last assignment–a review of a seafood tasting tour conducted by her friend Analise Smith. But when one of the tourists collapses on the last stop, Analise begs her to investigate before the police destroy her business and shut down the local Key West eateries on her tour. Pressure mounts when Analise calls a second time to request that Hayley meet with Chef Martha Hubbard, who prepared key lime pies for the tasting tour and is terrified that someone poisoned her pies to ruin her reputation. Chefs all around town are preparing their versions of a Thanksgiving feast, but with a murderer on the loose, will Hayley and her friends have anything left to be thankful for?
In Search of a Believable Amateur Sleuth
First things first—a big thank you to the Wickeds for allowing me to be a guest on your fabulous blog! Love you guys to death…well not quite…
On my mind today is believable amateur sleuths—what is the secret? It’s such an important question for a traditional or cozy mystery series. I figured this group of talented writers and discerning readers would have no trouble weighing in…
For me, the hardest part of writing an amateur sleuth is courting suspension of disbelief. My readers must be persuaded to suspend disbelief in every way—characters, plot, setting, everything! Savvy readers won’t tolerate ridiculous behavior of the nonprofessional sleuth for very long. My character, Hayley Snow, is a food critic in Key West. Since her profession does not explain her involvement in crime-solving, her intense interest in mysteries must happen because of her relationships with other characters and her own personality and history.
In the first food critic mystery, AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, Hayley Snow becomes involved in solving a murder because she is a Person of Interest. She actually has a very good motive for murdering this woman, so she also has a big stake in finding the real killer.
With each successive installment, I have tried to think about who Hayley cares about and what secrets they have that might lead to murder, and why they might turn to her for help. I have tried to build this urgency to resolve the mystery into her history and psychology and her present moment. What is happening in her life at this moment that draws her in? What is her *stake* in the mystery? What does she want more than anything else in the world? How will the crime affect her in this book—and affect people whom she loves? How has she grown and changed over the series? How will her relationships fluctuate and mature? I try to focus the book so that mystery challenges my sleuth to give the best of what she’s got—and to write this so it sounds plausible. It’s not easy!
In A DEADLY FEAST, food critic book #9, which came out this week from Crooked Lane Books, Hayley Snow is supposed to get married to her heartthrob, police detective Nathan Bransford. They first met when she was a suspect in murder by Key lime pie. Now they’re engaged. Having Nathan in her life adds another wrinkle because he’d prefer she stay out of everything crime-related. I thought you might enjoy this little snippet of conversation between Nathan and Hayley while they’re waiting for their marriage counseling session. I hope it shows some of the conflict between them!
After the waitress delivered our drinks, his in solid white china and mine in a tall clear plastic cup, I asked him what he’d heard about the incident in the brewery. “It’s not just morbid curiosity,” I assured him, though he looked dubious. “You know I was right there when the woman took ill.”
“Yes, and I find that astonishing.” His eyebrows peaked in mock dismay. “Not.”
I’d developed something of a reputation for showing up at murder scenes. And while there, I seemed to notice things more than other people did, and make connections that they might have missed. Friends knew I’d sorted out a few mysteries. And I was pegged as more approachable and less intimidating than the cops. Nathan wasn’t thrilled about any of this.
Readers: Which traits and behaviors in traditional/cozy mysteries cause you to stop reading? What can you overlook? I will send a copy to one lucky commenter!
Links for Lucy:
Crooked Lane Books: http://www.crookedlanebooks.com/lucyburdette
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lucyburdette @lucyburdette
Jungle Red Writers: www.jungleredwriters.com
Mystery Lovers Kitchen: www.mysteryloverskitchen.com
That’s a very interesting question, Lucy. I know one thing that can make me throw up my hands and delete a book from my Kindle very quickly are characters in historical novels who behave or speak like 21st century residents.
Another thing that can make me sufficiently annoyed is when, for the sake of the plot, the author makes the characters do stupid things. A prime example of that is the teen slasher movie where the lead character has a chance to get the heck out of there, but for no discernible reason goes back into the house where she or he knows the killer is lurking.
One of my monster peeves is when an author uses a historical (or even a well-known fictional character) and has them do or say things that you can’t imagine that person doing or saying. One thing that is really difficult to do is capture the “voice” of a character you already know well and put it down on the page so that you can actually “hear” that person saying it and feel certain those words couldn’t be said by anyone else. One novel from a couple of years ago had both Edith Head (the film costume designer) and Barbara Stanwyck as principal characters and did an incredible job of making me hear Edit Head and Barbara Stanwyck’s voices in my head as I read the book.
I was having a conversation on a blog yesterday about problems with the most recent episode of Game of Thrones (see I DO read or watch things in addition to cozies). In a fantasy universe (or even in a cozy mystery) we know we’re going to need to have a little bit of WSOD (Willing Suspension of Disbelief). Dragons don’t really exist and couldn’t fly and breathe fire even if they did. Amateur sleuths don’t actually solve murders in real life. But we accept those things as given WSOD elements of the stories we watch or read. But when a story yanks us out of our WSOD and makes us go, “Oh, please!” the author has lost us, and asked for more than WSOD can provide. The best authors can take us right up to that edge without having us plunge over the cliff into “Oh, please!” Lesser authors, not so much.
I have to say, Lucy, that I think your cover is fantastic! Major kudos to its creator. If I saw it in a store, I’d definitely pick it up. I also think Key West is a great place to set your mysteries. I love Key West (and was there just over a year ago) and would really love to be there now. That’s a location that gives you a lot to work with.
Sigh. It looks like I’m going to have to add another author to my Must Read list.
Do it, Lee!
Thanks for those thoughts Lee–you have nailed the one that’s hardest for me–not allowing characters to do stupid things! The perfect question is: does it pull you out of the story?
And yes on the cover–I am so lucky to have those artists!
I would be turned off on a cozy if the author ventured too much away from what I consider true cozy ethics – clean read, entertaining, no graphic sex or violence. There also has to be character flow if a series. Even if a standalone, don’t write a character one way and then abruptly change them in the next book with no explanation. Also believe that characters have to be believable – some that you would love to live next door to – and capable of making mistakes just like us.
If there’s something uncharacteristic of a cozy that happens briefly in order to make the story more sense and doesn’t veer off too far, I could continue reading.
Can’t wait for the opportunity to read DEADLY FEAST. Thank you for the wonderful chance to win a copy!
2clowns at arkansas dot net
Thanks Kay! That’s such a smart suggestion about not allowing characters to get out of character…
You hit on something that has stumped me every time I tried to write amateur sleuths, Lucy. Motivation. If I can’t buy it, I can’t expect readers to do so. And I just haven’t been able to jump that fence for myself. But the best writers (see present company) can make me say, “Oh yes, of course! She’d totally do that.” And I don’t care for cheap motivation, like the incompetent cop. There are so many more options out there!
Like Lee, TSTL (Too stupid to live) characters are a turn off. I can go with characters doing “not wise” things if there’s a good enough motivation or it fits their personality, but just for the sake of plot? No thanks.
That’s always going to be a struggle for me–how far will Hayley go in a direction that an ordinary person would not? I’m having fun writing the next one, in which she will have a very different motivation…we’ll see how it comes out!
TSTL, lol. Love that.
What I like about Hayley is that she is not trying to live vicariously by sleuthing, but is genuinely trying to help her friends.
Thanks Celia! So glad that Hayley’s character comes through that way…
Something that would definitely pull me out of reading a cozy novel, is if the pacing is too slow. I have read quite a few where the murder does not take place until I’m halfway through the book or the book just drags on talking about things that have nothing to do with the plot or the murder. I like to have the murder take place in the first 4-5 chapters and then I can follow along with the protagonist in seeing if I am able to determine who the murderer is before they do. I love your books Lucy and I love Hayley!! I am very excited to read her newest adventure.
Hayley tries to be sensible, but loyalty to friends and family pulls her into danger. Balancing that is the loyalty and concern shown by those around her, who assist in so many ways . . . as we all should.
I think you hit the nail on the head. The number one thing that bothers me is when the character only looks into the mystery for the sake of being involved. To make it believable, the character has to have some sort of personal stake in it because there is no way that the average human would continuously look into murders without good cause. One of the most frequent mistakes I see in cozies is when the character is unbelievably naive. If you start looking for a murderer, don’t be surprised when they come after you or when the cops get mad. I thoroughly enjoy all of your books and have never encountered any of these while reading them. Thank you for making them feel real!
I agree, the motivation to get involved in the crime needs to be there and believable. Otherwise it seems like plain old nosiness! Also like your thoughts about identifying and using your MC’s “history, psychology, and present moment” in plotting. Great stuff!
What turns me off and makes me quit reading a cozy is never ending self doubts about the relationship between the protagonist and the love interest. Poop or get off the pot.
I love off-beat characters with a wacky sense of humor.
I love all of the questions you pose in the blog and it’s why you are such a great teacher and writer. I’m keeping all of that in mind as I write.
I love it when a main character has a good motive to get involved, the stronger the better. However, I will read even when it is just a weak motive for getting involved. As long as there is some sort of reason for the sleuth to be investigating, I’m in.
But the motive to investigate applies to other detectives as well. Even if the main character is a cop or a PI, the more personal the stakes the better for the reader.
Lucy congratulations on the release of A DEADLY FEAST. I’ve been privileged to watch you develop this story from an idea to a finished book. Your characters are so believable because you constantly ask how a person would act or react in a given situation, thus putting your knowledge of clinical psychology to good use. And being an excellent cook, your knowledge of food makes A DEADLY FEAST a pure joy.
Congratulations on the release of A Deadly Feast — I can’t wait to read it! I have a couple of things that will make me stop reading a cozy series. The first is if the main character does really stupid things. The second is if they do things that are out of character and/or have no good reason for investigating.
Congratulations on #9 Lucy! Thank you for coming by the blog.
The sleuth has to have a stake in the outcome. Suspension of disbelief is critical, but I go there for the books I love.
I don’t know if there are particular traits/behaviors that will cause me to stop reading. I’m more likely to stop reading if I don’t care about the characters &/or if the story just doesn’t interest me.
The characters have to be relatable and the plot has to be believable to keep me reading. Looking forward to reading “A Deadly Feast”.
I enjoy quirky but not silly as in little dogs trained to stay in purses are OK but little dog in woman’s bra is animal cruelty and not very comfortable for the woman either.
I’m glad that some of the police in later books have learned to use the amateur sleuths because they actually put the women in danger by shutting them out. One woman and her sidekick got into a drug bust that the cop boyfriend could have avoided by telling her that that suspect was being investigated. However, I have no patience for modern sleuths taking things from crime scenes (unless it is being destroyed). People now know that that breaks chain of evidence and lets the criminals off. Asking questions and doing research is different. If there were a real murder, everyone would be talking about it and asking where were you and when did you last see the victim.
I stopped reading a series because it was so dense with regional dialect that many of the characters came across as uneducated and not very bright, even though they had to have an education to have their job – the only other series I stopped reading was one where the main character felt they had a right and an obligation to investigate while constantly being away from their job – amateur sleuths do not have a right so their “investigating” should be more subtle – other minor frustrations are mentioned in other posts
I always so look forward to another adventure with Hayley and the gang and have loved the changes and growth from book to book. Suspending disbelief is pretty easy, it’s fiction and characters doing things I wouldn’t do make for a good story. What will put me off, though, is when the character strays over the line into so quirky as to be unlikable, or so determined and persistent to solve the crime they become rude, mean, and surly. And oh yeah, don’t use weird, too-cute names that only work for 10zyear olds.
My list of groan producers in cozies: too much romance, so many people successful with quirky shops, murderers who come late to the story, endings that are too pat, overdone dialect.
I don’t like slow pacing, cliff hangers, or when the murder isn’t revealed early on in the book.
I’ve so enjoyed these comments–really a master class on what NOT to do in an amateur sleuth mystery! The winner of A DEADLY FEAST is Brian Frauenknecht!
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