Tag Archives: mystery

Dark and Stormy Night (2)

But how dark? And how stormy? 

Are  you writing a happy little murder mystery with no connection to the murderee and a sweet little lady detective who drops her knitting continuously as she bumbles through the trail?  Or are you doing a gritty noir with a dark atmosphere and a sultry suspect?

I find I tend to write what I read. I don’t read a lot of happy mysteries. But I don’t like gritty either, there is a tendency to try to hard to impress upon the reader how “dark and real” it is. I remember one particular writer who decided her female detective, on her way up the stairs to talk to a suspect, should notice how the Great Dane in the yard had a “penis resembling a hot dog in a fuzzy bun.” I never read that author again–and I didn’t finish that book. There are different ways to create the proper atmosphere for the story you are writing. Personally, I am going to avoid any reference to animal genitalia.

I read a lot of dystopian futures, alternate reality, and paranormal books. While I don’t plan on writing paranormal or alternate reality (although, who knows!); I do absorb the atmosphere of these books.  And it is reflected in my writing. When given a prompt, I do tend to think of a dark twist before anything else.

One thing to remember, however, is that not every story with dark actions need be done in the dark. Some of Stephen King’s most awful stories happen in bright daylight (Cujo comes to mind). While I  love Poe’s atmospheres, sometimes the contrast of the bright with the dark action can be more powerful. Every one expects horrible things to happen at night. The surprise of terror on a bright sunny day can certainly grab your reader. And be more horrifying.

My favorite authors for mystery and atmosphere:

Edgar Allen Poe

Kay Hooper

Stephen King

Margaret Atwood

Elizabeth Kosova


Of course, I always enjoy a comic twist.
 Just because the world is falling apart and people are falling dead, there is no reason to lose your sense of humor

And on the lighter side:

Linda Howard

Agatha Christie

Mercy Garwood

Elizabeth Peters

 Who are your favorite mystery writers? Do you find that you reflect their style in your own writing?




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Story Day 2!

Sarah sighed.  All the new books were gone already.  She’d known Jack was going to make her late.  The Blackpool Library was a small, very busy library, and if you didn’t get there early on Tuesday when the new books came out, you were out of luck.  She glanced over into the reading area, where Mrs. Jakes was chuckling over the new Evanovich, her blond head bouncing; then wandered into the mystery section.  Maybe there was something she’d missed.

“Well, hello Sarah,” Mrs. Bigley looked up from her cart and smiled.  As usual, the librarian’s gilt hair was sliding from her long braid and she reached up to tuck it behind an ear. “You’re running a bit late today, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Sarah grumped.  “I had to get Jake to work, and that boy just can’t be anywhere on time.  Anything good left?”

“Weeel, I think most of the new ones are taken. Did you have your name on the list for anything?”

“No, I thought I’d just wait and see what I was in the mood for.”

“I’d say Jake is lucky to have you for a big sister,” Mrs. Bigley said commiseratingly.  “He certainly has grown into a fine young man, hasn’t he? Just like your father.”

“Hmmm,” Sarah muttered noncommittally.  “I guess I’ll go into mystery and see if I see anything good.  Put me down for #17 when Mrs. Jakes finishes it, please. I know how fast she reads.”

“Ok, dear.”

Failing to find anything good in the Mystery section, Sarah moved further back into the library.  She also struck out in Romance, where sometimes she could find a good thriller that wasn’t too mushy.  Ignoring Sci-Fi, she decided to try Fiction—maybe there was a Joseph Finder or Greg Iles she’d missed. Pushing back her own long hair, Sarah scanned the shelves.

Sadly, Sarah found that she had read all her favorite authors—the downside of living in a small town with a small library. Some of her friends read books on their laptops, but Sarah loved the feel, the smell, the look of books. She loved older books, with their individual typeset and unique cover art.  So many of the new books copied the “look” of the art of other books in their genre.  She supposed that attracted people to the type of books they liked, but Sarah thought to herself that it was just a marketing cop-out.

Sarah continued to search the alphabet, looking for anything interesting.  She lingered in the Bourne series before deciding to move on.    In the ‘W’s, she saw a small book that looked like it had lived on the shelf forever.  She looked at the burgundy cloth spine more closely:  Winter Kill, by Wendall White.

She reached out her hand to pick the slender book up, then stopped as a chill traced down her back.  Sarah looked around, searching for a draft.  She realized that this far back in the stacks, it was almost as if she was alone in the library.  Looking around a corner, she could barely see Mrs. Bigley’s plump form as she shelved her cart. Shaking off her feeling, Sarah took the book off the shelf.  Her anticipation swiftly fled as she realized it was, indeed, a book about winter kill.  Specifically, a particularly rough winter in a small town in Alaska, and the fate of its populace, according to the description on the inner cover.  Sarah tried to put the book back, but it was a tight fit.  Finally, she got it shoved back in.

Disappointed, she turned to go back up front.  Reluctantly thinking that maybe she should get some books online, she heard a soft “snick”.  Turning around, she was amazed to see a door open in the gap between the two bookshelves on the back wall. Stepping forward to peer in the dark space, she saw a light switch. Reaching in to flip it, she saw a long line of old-fashioned hanging light bulbs illuminate a long hallway. They were swaying slightly in the draft created by the door opening.  The hall slanted downward, and she was unable to see anything at the end.  Curiosity took hold of her and, unable to resist, she stepped in the hall. As she took her first step past the doorway, the door swung shut behind her.  Sarah spun as she inhaled sharply.  She faced a blank door.  Searching the walls, she could find no lever to open the door.

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