By Liz, welcoming Alyssa Maxwell to the blog today! Alyssa is celebrating the recent release of her ninth Gilded Newport Mystery, Murder at Wakehurst, and talking about what makes a good sleuth. Thanks for being here, Alyssa!
Recently, during a chat with Murder by the Book (Houston, TX) I was asked if I thought I would make a good sleuth. Honestly, that was the first time I’d been asked that question! And I had to think about it a minute. I mean, for these past, oh, nearly ten years now, I’ve been honing the art of thinking like a sleuth. But could I actually compile a list of possible motives, follow a trail of evidence, and confront suspects in real life?
First, what is it that makes a good sleuth?
To begin with, our intrepid individual needs to possess an insatiable curiosity. She (we’ll go with “she” here, since my sleuths are all women) isn’t someone who typically accepts things on face value, but thinks about cause and effect, and consequences. She wants to know what’s happening and why, and, in the case of adversity, what might done about it.
A social conscience. Our sleuth has an inner voice that won’t allow her to simply keep walking when something or someone needs her help. She cares deeply about her family and her community.
What else? A keen, analytical mind. She must have the ability to see matters clearly, to take into account all aspects of a situation, and understand how various circumstances might fit together to form a picture, even if initially they seem to have nothing in common. She doesn’t believe in coincidences and will work tirelessly to find the ties linking one set of events with another.
A bit of a suspicious mind also comes in handy. That goes back to taking nothing at face value, and includes understanding that words don’t make the person—actions do. So a sleuth always takes a suspect’s claims with a huge grain of salt. Yes, she’ll look for physical clues (body language, facial expressions) as to whether the person is lying or telling the truth, but she also backs up her instincts with evidence. If that means going behind backs to question friends and relations, and a bit of spying and record searching, so be it. Our sleuth is willing to do it, even if she has to make some apologies later.
Hutzpah – a sleuth needs this in spades! Confrontation doesn’t scare her. She has the confidence to stand up to people, to force her way into their lives with her questions and suspicions, and to persevere in the face of anger, insult, and even physical threats. A sleuth needs a love of adventure and a bit of a devil-may-care attitude, or she’ll never have the nerve to do what she must to solve the case. That doesn’t mean she should be “too stupid to live.” No, she should understand the dangers involved and have the necessary back-up if possible – like leaving a note for a friend saying where she’s going – but in the end, danger makes our sleuth’s heart beat faster, and makes her feel alive and self-reliant.
So, would I make a good sleuth? As much as I would love to say yes, the truthful answer is that I much prefer sleuthing in front of my computer, or through the pages of the mysteries I read. I’m not a confrontation person! It’s one thing to put together suspects, motives and clues on paper, but quite another to coerce bad people into confessing to murder. Yes, MURDER! Let’s not forget that. Sleuthing between the pages of a book is fun. Slinking through back alleys at midnight, sneaking into people’s homes, and having it out with a killer at the top of a cliff—not so much!
How about you? Would you try your hand at sleuthing if given the chance, or do you prefer your adventures rather less perilous? Comment below for a chance to win a signed, hardcover copy of my latest Gilded Newport Mystery, MURDER AT WAKEHURST! (open to U.S. residents only due to shipping costs.)
Murder at Wakehurst blurb:
In the autumnal chill of Newport, Rhode Island, at the close of the nineteenth century, journalist Emma Cross discovers an instance of cold-blooded murder on the grounds of a mansion . . .
Following the death of her uncle, Cornelius Vanderbilt, in September 1899, a somber Emma is in no mood for one of Newport’s extravagant parties. But to keep Vanderbilt’s reckless son Neily out of trouble, she agrees to accompany him to an Elizabethan fete on the lavish grounds of Wakehurst, the Ochre Point “cottage” modeled after an English palace, owned by Anglophile James Van Alen.
Held in Wakehurst’s English-style gardens, the festivities will include a swordplay demonstration, an archery competition, scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and even a joust. As Emma wanders the grounds distracted by grief, she overhears a fierce argument between a man and a woman behind a tall hedge. As the joust begins, she’s drawn by the barking of Van Alen’s dogs and finds a man on the ground, an arrow through his chest.
The victim is one of the 400’s most influential members, Judge Clayton Schuyler. Could one of the countless criminals he’d imprisoned over the years have returned to seek revenge—or could one of his own family members have targeted him? With the help of her beau Derrick Andrews and Detective Jesse Whyte, Emma begins to learn the judge was not the straight arrow he appeared to be. As their investigation leads them in ever-widening circles, Emma will have to score a bull’s eye to stop the killer from taking another life . . .
Alyssa Maxwell knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles drew her to the mystery genre. She is the author of The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries. She and her husband live in Florida, where she is a member of the Mystery Writers of American-Florida Chapter, Sisters in Crime-Treasure Coast Chapter, and the Florida Romance Writers. You can learn more about Alyssa and her books at www.alyssamaxwell.com, where you can also find all her social media links.