It did get me to thinking about mysteries featuring amateur detectives and how a writer justifies a non-professional becoming involved in a murder investigation. I mean, how many chefs, soccer moms, computer programmers, etc., would dare to sleuth in real life?
Don’t get my wrong, I’m a big fan of amateur detective mysteries, myself. In fact, they’re my favorite to read and to write.
So, what constitutes sufficient justification for an average person to investigate? Idle curiosity isn’t enough. All of the books I’ve read on writing mysteries note that the crime must matter to the sleuth. The following reasons are given as sufficient:
- the victim is a friend, colleague, romantic interest or relative of the sleuth
- the sleuth is accused of the crime (you can’t use this more than once in a series)
- a relative, friend, romantic interest of the sleuth is accused of the crime
- the sleuth identifies with the innocent person accused of the crime
- the sleuth identifies with the victim
- the next likely victim is a friend, colleague, romantic interest or relative of the sleuth.
I, personally, don’t need much of a reason for a character in a novel to investigate a crime as long as I enjoy the characters and the story is somewhat rooted in reality. I'm quite happy to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride.
This issue isn’t new, of course, and has been talked about on panels and on email lists for a long time. A quick search of the internet revealed the following posts on the subject.
A post from March 2013, “Why Do Amateur Sleuths Solve Crimes”, is a description of a panel at Killer Nashville where they discussed the subject. Barbara Ross wrote “The Very Good Reason” on Wicked Cozy in October 2015. And, for a slightly tongue-in-cheek list, see Laura DiSilverio’s post on the Stiletto Gang from October 2010, “Top 10 List of Why Amateur Sleuths...”
So, Type M readers, where do you stand on the great amateur sleuth debate? Does it matter to you if a character in a book has a good reason? Is having a character just be nosy enough for you or do you throw the book across the room? Do you despair of the whole sub-genre?