Admit it. Sometimes certain things in a mystery story can bug us, just a tiny bit. (Okay, a lot.) Here are our top nominations for Pet Peeves in a Mystery. Feel free to comment or add your own. And if you ever catch one in our books, let us know!
I hate when main characters find clues they don’t immediately investigate. It could be a box, a diary, an unopened letter or, my personal fave, a key. They’ll just put the key away for a couple hundred pages and when they finally do get around to it, it holds the (figurative) key to figuring out who did it.
Why does this bother me so much? Because I’m the nosiest person on the planet!! If I come across a random key, you can best believe I’m immediately finding out what it opens. I’d be walking around just shoving it into every single door, lock, chest, and maybe even heart that I can find. Of course, this would make me the most boring main character ever. Reader: Wow, she found the killer in like 10 pages. She was too busy trying to open doors to even flirt with the super hot detective. I want my $4.99 back!!
I’m always disappointed when the intrepid sleuth solves the case, but the villain was an unworthy opponent. Maybe she didn’t have an intriguing motive for bumping off the victim—or the reader meets her as a character for the first time when she suddenly pops up in the last two chapters of the story. Another scenario: the villain commits the crime and then leaves on a Caribbean cruise or something, so she isn’t around to parry with the sleuth.
When I begin to write a book, I have an idea of who committed the crime—but sometimes I’m wrong. Eventually the true perp slips up, and I retrace her steps in a parallel story universe. The villains always reveal themselves, of course. As a questionable contestant on The Bachelorette proclaimed recently, “A villains gotta vill.” For me, that’s what makes mysteries so much fun!
My pet peeve in a mystery is when the sleuth never actually figures out who committed the crime. For example, a suspect is pointing a gun at the protagonist. “So it was you,” the protagonist says in disbelief. And I’m thinking, why are you so surprised? Whether you’re an amateur sleuth or a detective, wasn’t solving the crime the one thing you were supposed to accomplish? I’m so frustrated when I invest hours in a 250-300 page book only to get to an ending where the protagonist might as well say, “Wow, I did not see that coming.”
One of the golden rules of writing an amateur sleuth? “Make sure your heroine has a good reason to get involved.” Makes sense, right? I mean, why risk being held at gunpoint for no good reason? (And doesn’t it always seem to come down to that?) Now granted, some books have stronger motivations than others, but the point was driven home to me when I read a cozy in which there was literally no reason for the heroine to get involved. None. She didn’t know the victim. She hadn’t been accused of the crime. She didn’t even mention in passing her secret desire to be a detective. But that didn’t stop her from going around harassing strangers and breaking into buildings. This is the book my husband claims I threw out the window into the yard. That is an exaggeration; I only tossed it out into the hall.