Thursday, November 29, 2012
Have You Got a Clue?
In the early days of mystery novels the clue was everything--Sherlock Holmes would pick up a spent match and declare that it had been used an hour ago by a one armed sailor from Malta who had a black beard. He'd work out how the speckled band came through the keyhole. But in today's crime novel the focus has shifted from the whodunit to the whydunit--to the psychological aspect of crime.
I suppose we still have our clues but they are more of a forensic nature--more CSI evidence than spent matches. I don't know about you but I miss clever clues. I liked the aspect of mystery reading that pitted my wits against the writer. I liked to figure out whodunit, didn't you?
So what do you think, Reds? Have clues really vanished from our current writing? Do you wish writers would use them more?
LUCY BURDETTE: Writing your book sounds like so much fun Rhys! I love clues too, and I don't think they've gone out of style. Maybe changed a little to suit the times. I don't do much with forensics since all of my books involve amateur detectives--they have to make clever observations and connect the dots rather than study scientific evidence. And for me, it's challenging and fun to layer in details early in the book that will become important later. Also fun to mention details that SEEM important at the time, but turn out to be unrelated to the solution of the mystery. And what's especially rewarding is to realize I put something in that I will need later but didn't "know" it at the time.
Although I write contemporary police novels, I try to write around forensics. Forensic evidence can be used as backup, but I want my detectives to solve the crimes using observation and their skill at reading people.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I'm all about clues. Since I work without an outline, I have no idea what will become a clue, so it's always a surprise to me to see how the puzzle pieces come together. Especially pieces I didn't know were the puzzle!
So I think...and just contemplating this now..."clues," for me at least, come not from knowing a result and then putting in clues to get me there, but a result of creating the story as I go, like real life. And in real life clues appear--but at the time, you don't know they're clues.
So in writing a mystery, you take what you have, and make those the clues.
Because they ARE, you know? Because what happened is what happened. And that's
what you can use to solve the crime.
And as a result of THAT--it doesn't feel like heavy-handed
foreshadowing--because it can't be foreshadowing if you don't know what's going
Ah. See what I mean?
HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, this is bringing back one of my favorite quotes from all of crime fiction. “Another clue! And this time a swell one!" (Joe to Frank in The Tower Treasure, the first Hardy Boys mystery)
I don't think about clues as I write but they're there. I think of them as "the thing that's there that shouldn't be" and "the thing that's not there that should." Of course some of clues turn out to be red herrings, outsmarting even me.
My favorite clue from "Come and Find Me" is the cardinal that's on the fence every time Diana looks out through her security cameras.
JAN BROGAN - I tend to read mysteries for character and less for the puzzle. And while I don't tend to read for clues, I appreciate that they are there where they should be when I look back after the resolution.
RHYS: Jan, I think some of my favorite clues are in the behavior of a character. I sometimes wonder whether I would be able to detect a real-life murderer. I'm usually quite accurate when I watch someone on TV and they are pleading with someone to return a kidnapped child--and I absolutely know that they are responsible and the child is dead. Or a husband lamenting that his wife has run away/been kidnapped. And I knew OJ was guilty--didn't you?
I do enjoy the new Sherlock and the way the internet and smart phones have been introduced into his detection methods. But I'm glad that my mysteries take place in the past so that I don't have to worry about updating CSI and know about blood spatters.
So all you mystery readers out there--what do feel about clues in our novels? Do you miss the clues of Sherlock Holmes and Dame Agatha? Do you get annoyed when authors don't play fair?