GUEST POST by Blair Howard on writing mystery

It’s been less than six months since I decided to try my hand at writing detective novels. It was something I’d wanted to do for more than 30 years. The first book in the series, Harry Starke, was published in September and was quickly followed by two more, Two for the Money and Hill House.

All three are, I’m happy to say, doing quite well. Harry Starke has just received its 20th review, and is rated overall at 4.5 out of 5. Even the few 3-star reviews are good. Thank you one and all. And so the series continues with Checkmate, the 4th in the series due in February 2016, and I continue to try to write the best detective novels I can. Speaking of which:
It ain’t easy folks. To write a true who done it is in itself a puzzlement. The task is to craft a believable story, a mystery that will keep the reader guessing right to the end, to hide the solution in such a way that when revealed the reader says: Wow, I didn’t see that coming. To do that, I have to hide it from myself. I never know the solution to the mystery myself until the story is almost complete. You can’t cheat the reader. The solution must be believable. You can’t make the perp some obscure character that’s mentioned only in passing, nor can it be the obvious choice, although I have seen that done.

The solution to Hill House came to me in a flash of inspiration as I was writing the third to last chapter. Up until that point I had no idea ‘who done it’, then suddenly, the light went on, and I had it. When it happens, and it always does, it’s a moment like no other. When the solution to Hill House came to me, I sat there and smiled at the screen. It was the same with the first two Harry Starke novels, but Hill House was different. I wasn’t expecting it, at least not then. Wow. It’s moments like that I live and write for.

All of my detective novels start out in the same way, with a single scene. For Harry Starke, it was a beautiful girl jumping off a bridge at midnight. In Two for the Money, it was a late night phone call. Hill House? The body of a girl long dead discovered under the floorboards of a derelict house. For my new novel, Checkmate, it’s the discovery of a body on a golf course. Once I have that first scene, I look for photographs I can use for inspiration. I take that first scene and play with it. I ask myself the eternal questions: Who? Why? How? When? The answers to those questions, how Harry Starke and the rest of the characters handle them, drive the story to its conclusion.

I have to confess that ideas for my detective novels don’t come easy. No, I don’t suffer from writer’s block, but if I didn’t manage to find those first, inspirational scenes, I probably would. Where do they come from? They are everywhere. Life is full of such scenes. All you have to do is recognize them, grab them, and then develop them. Hill House came from an old three-story house, now demolished, that I passed by several times a week on my way into town. Each time I did, I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and it intrigued me. The opening scene in the first Harry Starke novel, the suicide, came to me one day several years ago as I stood on Walnut Bridge and looked down into the water. You’ll know them when you see them.

Finally, to write a true detective story is to have more fun than any human being deserves to have. Who said that? Dave Ramsey, I think. No matter. It’s true, and I am ever grateful to my readers and the validation they provide.

Harry Starke is available on Amazon U.S. and Amazon UK. You can find Two for the Money on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

About the author

Blair Howard was born and raised in a small town in England, near Stratford-Upon-Avon, on the edge of the English Cotswolds. He is the author of the Harry Starke series of novels: hard-boiled detective stories set in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The first book was released early in September 2015; the second book, Two for the Money, was released on October 19, 2015. Book 3 in the series, Hill House, will be released early in mid-December. Blair also writes sweeping historical epics, five historical novels of the American Civil War and the American West. He is also the author of more than 30 non-fiction books and more than 4,500 magazine, newspaper and web articles. You can follow Blair on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter, or visit his blog and his website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s