Tag Archives: mysteries

Archie Goodwin

I have loved Archie, well, just forever! And so when I saw this book, I just had to read it. It had a nice classic feel. 1930-50s New York City.

The book introduces Archie Goodwin as a young, I’m guessing nineteen or twenty year old and a very competent and already well-known Nero Wolfe.  Yes, Inspector Cramer appears as well as Sergaent Stebbins. S’matter of fact, the whole gang was there, Saul, Fred, Orrie along with Fritz and Theodore, although in this one we don’t really get up to the Orchid room.

Yes, Archie drinks his milk. Although I was surprised that he had a scotch and water. And he is very savvy, lol, for someone just out of the rural areas of Ohio.

The mystery is a good one; who kidnapped the son of a rich New Yorker with a home out on Long Island and also killed two people, a chauffeur and a rag-tag homeless man.

It was an easy read, especially since I felt like I knew everyone and was just waiting to see how the mystery unfolded and how Nero and Archie came to work together.

I wonder if this is enough to get you into the Nero Wolfe books. I started them when I was young, and they were clever, urbane, witty.  And this was long before CGI or action sequences, when mind over matter counted. Still, I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good mystery, who is intrigued by how a mystery is solved and who enjoys the characters that take on these cases. Although Archie is young in this one, I do remember that neither Nero nor Archie ever aged, much like Nancy Drew or any of the ‘sleuths’ of the time.  They solved mysteries and were pretty much two dimensional characters. Yes, they had homes, families, likes, dislikes, but that never, every got in the way of a story.

A different time. Today you could not get away with a character who had no emotion, no wants, needs. In the days of Nero Wolfe the entire story was about the mystery and the way it was solved. Today it is about the mystery, but we want to identify with the character, feel for them, need them to succeed.

Sigh. For me, it will be all about the mystery!

The White Cottage Mystery

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

The Exceptional! Took the first few chapters to get back into that British detective, cozy village/cottage sensibility and mode, but then really enjoyed the story. Sort of an Orient Express vibe to it as the cast of characters all had excellent reasons to dislike, nay, loathe Mr. Crowther. And a loathesome man he was, although today we might not be so shocked and awed by his manipulations and mental cruelty.

After the first chapters as I was settling in for a great read, I also looked up Ms. Allingham. The fact that she was J.K. Rowlings favorite read was incidential, what I loved was that this first book was originally serialized and that made the chapter structure so much more interesting and beautiful, the handling of each of the main characters, the retuning to them when unable due to timing, proximity or alibi made them an unlikely killer. How much fun to be a reader at that time where you had to wait for the next installment!

And when W.T wrote to Jeffery that he had abandoned the case I felt sure he had found the killer and yet this was one of the few times I was actually baffled as to who was the killer in this story. Masterfully done! The reveal was an Aha! Moment for me and I suddenly saw all the clues line up. Delicious. I shall read more of Ms. Allingham, definitely.

Done!

I like that word. Done. When you say it it is a puff of air, it is hard, singular and finite. 

I am done with a synopsis [well, almost, awaiting a critique on that one] a query letter [one more critique and it will be] and the novel itself. Weighing in at 54768 words. A lot! True not a 90,000 word great american novel.

I have lost count on the number of revisions to this story. It began as a short story with adults in the main character roles. And I liked it, sent it to Ellery Queen for a contest and got nothing back. Which was okay. I didn’t really expect anything. It was really my first attempt at working a story after thirty years of writing abstracts of articles, job descriptions, policy papers, work procedures, how-to’s for managers and supervisors, newsletter and employee handbooks. It was a challenge to add in more words, to describe a room, or to see a scene through the eyes of a character and it started me on this path, this one that I am on now.

It took me a while to understand that writing for adults, while hard~ please do not get me wrong~ was just not the same thing as writing for a kid. And then it took me longer to understand writing for children today. The stories I read as a kid, mostly were either historical fiction where the event was the pivot point, or mysteries where the murder/theft/crime was the pivot point. I mean, consider the girl detective of the post war period. She was clever, confident. You knew somewhere along the story she was going to be in jeopardy, but you also knew she was going to get out of it.

There were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, and the one lone boy, Encyclopedia Brown. No, I take that back, there were the Hardy Boys. They were always more about the mystery than the kid!  And I loved that. It’s not that I didn’t care about Nancy and her cousins Bess and George, it’s that their lives really did not intrude on the story. They were somewhat independent even though Nancy was when I was reading them, rather young for the responsibilities and opportunities she had to go off on her own. I think too, I always liked that George was a girl!  I was less interested in their lives and more interested in how in a small town like River Heights there could be so many crimes. [I find I have the same problem today with series that are outside major cities, that involve so many murders.]

I digress. Done! The story, the action, the mystery and how it unfolds has been less of an issue for me than the internal story. When I was first asked to describe the emotional journey of the character I immediately thought of my best Sarah Berhardt imitation~ flat of the hand across the brow, a slight sinking of the knees and a huge sigh. It took me a long time to grasp the need for children to connect with a character before they connect with the story. At least that is one of the ways I see it.

We are ruled in our social media by emotions. Do I like? Why is there no don’t like on Facebook? We use pictures~ jpegs., gifs, memes~ to describe what we are dubious about putting into words in places that almost require, nay, demand, the quick short cut. So while we are describing our emotion, it is nothing unique! nothing original. When I use a smily face with stars  in it’s eyes, do I mean it the same way that some one else does? Okay not a lot to worry about, because most of us do not spend that much thought on others thoughts.

But in a book, short cuts do not work for emotions, or better stated, they shouldn’t work for emotions. For a child to read the story and get what the writer means, it should be clear, upfront and a goal sought after through the whole book.

Upteenth revision later, I think I am as close as I can get by myself. When the synopsis critique comes through. When the second query critique comes through, I think I am ready to submit. Not that I did not submit before, I did. I tried and no, nothing. But this time, I think I have a best hook. I think the writing is the clearest and cleanest and most soundly representative of the main character I can come up with. Ha! We shall see.

In truth, tho, Done only means one thing.  there is another story to work on!

Lists, Usage thereof

There should be a List Anonymous. Like for alcoholics, it’s an addiction. To make a list is to be able to organize what usually is a bit of chaos. At least for me, it felt like I was bringing some certainly into an uncertain world. Not that my world was ever difficult. It was pretty ordinary. Even an ordinary life can be chancy or even a bit miffing. I was thinking about this while writing my latest book.

The MC thinks of her life as ordinary. She lives with her Grandmother. Her father is there, but he defaulted parenting to his mother after his wife died. He is on the edge of her life and then her grandmother dies. Her father is accused of murdering her. While she’s not close to Dad, it still seems strange and unreal that her father world kill his own mother.

Why am I talking about lists if it’s a murder? Because the main character is trying to figure out what is going on in her life. She has questions. To me, questions means lists.  A way to come to terms with the reality around you. A way to sort through the red herrings and to figure out what clues count. A way to show which clues are important and which clues are not.

While I love all my electronics, and always have, there is something startlingly real and comfortable about being able to see a list on paper. I am a huge proponent of computers, tablets, smart phones. But I am a collector of journals, logs, notebooks, pads of paper. I believe there is a connection between the hand and the eye and the brain.

A handwritten list is private, personal, for only so many eyes only. It can be limiting. Limits are not bad. Limits can be mind expanding. By not being able to venture out,  to be not be bombarded with sounds, smells or electronically, not be enticed by social media, encapsulated information, you have opportunity to stop, reflect and think.

Lists can do all of that!

Problems with Outlining

I’ve recently attended several programs that include the writing issue of plotting and structure. Yea! I like that, because I am basically a plot kinda person.  Almost more than the character, although the characters have always mattered, because, after all who is it that gets you into the story?old clock

The quintessential book of my childhood was Nancy Drew. There she was, with her own car! and friends, a parent who was indulgent and just enough older than me to be fascinating. So, THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK, right? It think I still have my copy. I meanold clock, no I was never really interested in old clocks, but I will always be interested in mysteries. And, while the picture of Nancy, in the middle of a rather eerie looking forest, was somewhat intriguing, what I really wanted to know was why. Not the who. I knew the main character would solve the puzzle, and I wanted to know how she’d do that. So, plot. The action that moves the story along.

And, that’s where I am now. I definitely know who, I’ve got my main character. I’ve done the profiling thing, what she eats for breakfast, how she mows the lawn. I know how this thing ends, I’ve got the voice, at least my critique groups thinks I do. And I know the major steps. It’s the middle.Sheeze, isn’t it always the middle.

In doubles tennis we say, down the middle solves the riddle. That means you’re putting the shot where the other team can’t reach it. But this middle is different. Not tennis.  I’m at that part where I’ve chased my character up a tree, and I know how she’s going to get down, I just have to work on what happens to her as she climbs up higher. And what rocks I’m going to throw at her while she climbs.

Ha! Off to make rocks.