I was talking with a colleague the other day about books. This is something I do quite often. I said, “Even though I figured out who did it, the book was still good.” She responded, “I never try and solve the mystery.”
That made me wonder.
When I read a mystery, I am alert to clues throughout the book. I read with a detective’s eye. At times I recognize the potential villain immediately. Other times the author keeps me wondering and changing course throughout. If I recognize the killer too soon, the author has not done a good job in creating the mystery. If, instead, there are enough red herrings, I often get bogged down thinking it was someone else until the end when everything unravels neatly.
There are several approaches mystery writers take to create suspense. They do not necessarily have to hide the killer. Here are the methods I’ve seen used:
The reader finds out things at the same time the protagonist does.
For example, readers know the protagonist is walking into a very dangerous situation. The protagonist is oblivious. We keep reading because a) we want to find out when the protagonist will learn what we know and b) we want to find out what will happen.
Some authors do this by putting the reader in the killer’s point of view but without telling the reader who the killer is. Other times the reader knows who the killer is but no one else does.
Those red herrings along with possible suspects get revealed and yet the true killer is still at large.
I enjoy any of these approaches. And, I do try to discover what is going on as I read. What I particularly dislike is an author who cheats. Here are some ways mystery authors cheat the reader:
1) Give us no clues as to who done it.
2) Introduce the killer late in the book. The killer must be introduced by the third chapter. Otherwise, readers feel cheated.
3) Use unbelievable information or paranormal devices to solve the case. (unless the author is writing a paranormal mystery).
4) Never fully solves the mystery.
5) The characters run away to some mysterious island in the South Pacific to avoid solving the mystery.
How do you read mysteries? Do you try to solve the crime? Do you feel cheated the way I do or in different ways? What are your thoughts?