First of all I want to congratulate our very own Cornelia Read whose novel A Field of Darkness, starring amateur sleuth Madeline Dare, was just nominated for a "Best First" Barry Award by the readers of "Mystery News" and "Deadly Pleasures" magazines. The awards will be presented at Bouchercon in Anchorage the last week of September. Congratulations to all of the nominees but especially to the lovely and talented Ms. C!
I’ve been thinking a lot about amateur sleuths lately because I’m organizing a panel on that topic for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America in September. I’m also presenting a workshop on the same subject at a writer’s conference later in the year.
At a recent book event someone asked me if after writing four crime novels I thought I could crack a case on my own. Without hesitating, I said yes. (What was she smoking you ask) The Internet has changed everything but I had no idea how deeply one could delve into another’s personal life until I took a course taught by a former cop turned private investigator. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The first mystery novel I ever read featured ten year-old amateur detective, Trixie Belden. After that I was hooked.
I love to read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It’s not at all hard for me to believe that Joe Sixpack would become obsessed with solving a crime that no one else can crack. Look at Patricia Cornwall's Jack the Ripper investigation.
With rare exception, the only professionals whose job it is to investigate homicides are members of law enforcement. All of us NakedAuthors write about amateur sleuths except for James O. Paulie’s character is a lawyer. At least Steve Solomon has a reason to be around bad guys. He represents them. But the rest of our protags have to join the caper without challenging the reader’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” It's not as easy as it sounds.
Maybe I chose to write about an amusing amateur sleuth who owns a terrier from watching the “The Thin Man” movie on TV. You can't beat William Powell and Myrna Loy solving crimes with the help of their wire-haired terrier, Asta.
I was also a sucker for Miss Marple, Mrs. Polifax, and TV's Jessica Fletcher, but I understand not everybody shares my tastes in mystery fiction. For the sake of research for my upcoming presentations, I’d like to take an informal survey. Do you read books featuring amateur sleuths? If so, why? If not, why not? What do you love about them? What do you hate about them? Who are your favorites? Here’s your chance to dish. Have at it.