NOTE: Tuesday (Wednesday in some time zones) is the new Thursday, just for this week! I’m going live a little early since this topic is now making the rounds.
It’s always fun (and not a little scary) to read the reviews of a new book. So far, the reviews of The Square Root of Murder have been good, but I’d like to call your attention to one with a complaint.
Since I don’t have permission, I won’t mention the site. Briefly, the reviewer doesn’t like that Sophie keeps some things from the police until she can check them out, and even uses somewhat borderline tactics to gain information.
I’m happy the reviewer “forgives” Sophie because it’s her first time out, and likes her enough to give her another chance; but I can’t guarantee that Sophie does any better in #2, The Probability of Murder (now on my editor’s desk and due for release in March 2012) or #3, The Function of Murder (now on my hard drive and a mere 5000 words along).
It’s a common complaint about amateur sleuths – but how else to show her as a risk-taker who is highly motivated to solve a crime. In that way, she’s not like us—not me, anyway—and that’s what we like about her. She’ll stop at nothing (except violence or criminal behavior) to achieve her lofty goal of proving someone she cares about is innocent, while bringing a criminal to justice.
I find it curious that no one complains when a cop or PI goes rogue and gets evidence or solves a case in any way he can! I love the early Michael Connelly series with Harry Bosch—talk about out-of-the-box investigations. In fact, the newer books in the series have Harry older, a father, and much more mellow and compliant. If he gets any more so, I’ll stop reading them.
To me, two key things for credible amateur sleuths are 1) give them a strong motive for pursuing the investigation; and 2) keep them from being TSTL (too stupid to live).
In The Square Root of Murder, Sophie has strong motivation—the victim is her colleague, murdered in a campus building they share; and the prime suspect is Sophie’s assistant, to whom she’s close.
I hope I’ve also avoided the TSTL syndrome.
Sophie doesn’t agree to meet someone in the cemetery at midnight, or go into a dark, deserted parking garage alone (I don’t even like them in broad daylight), or physically track down a killer and confront him. But she does take chances. Sometimes that means she withholds information until she can check it out. If she ran to the police every time she figured out some little clue, there wouldn’t be much of a story. She’s out there, doing things we wouldn’t do. I feel a surge of gratitude for some reason.
I’m also very grateful, believe it or not, to the reviewer who brought this to the surface. I’m not kidding when I say it’s an honor to be reviewed by that dedicated friend of readers and writers.
What do you accept or reject in an amateur sleuth mystery?
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