Getting the Investigative Particulars Proper in Cozy Mysteries ‹ CrimeReads

Mystery readers savor the hallmarks of their preferred subgenres of crime fiction. To meet their expectations, the savvy mystery author should choose their words wisely. Authors must deliver the expected violence level, the appropriate sleuth qualifications, the correct level of police involvement, a vibrant setting, a compelling whodunnit, and a satisfying resolution.

Since covering every mystery genre would exceed the limits of this article, cozy mystery will illustrate this premise. Cozy readers want books featuring an amateur sleuth who solves whodunnits. They expect a story where an everyday person strings together clues in such a way that they solve the puzzle.

In addition, cozy fans expect the local law enforcement agency to be running an official investigation to solve the crime, which is often murder. Cozy plots, therefore, are calculated blends favoring the amateur sleuth’s unofficial investigation over the official police investigation.

With the professional investigation mostly relegated to a support role, one might assume cozy authors could bypass police procedural research. While it’s true that the genre as a whole spends fewer words on law enforcement procedures, that lowered word count means that cozy authors face a specific challenge. To accurately portray police matters, these authors must thoroughly research the topic first.

Article continues after advertisement

Small town law enforcement in cozies is often shown as lacking in some regard, such as having a shoestring budget, so that there’s an opportunity and need for an amateur sleuth to answer the call to action. Cops in small towns may work for the city force or the county sheriff. Outside agencies such as state or federal police may become involved. Thus the cozy author must understand how jurisdiction is determined.

Law enforcement authorities, responsibilities, and procedures should be portrayed accurately. Within the pages of a cozy, suspects may experience fingerprinting, DNA testing, or other forensic testing. Arrests and search warrants occur in cozies, as does jail time.

When compared to police procedurals and other mysteries with more of the content about the official investigation, the cozy author is challenged to write about law enforcement without emphasizing it. They must research technical details, distill their notes, and select only a few bold “strokes” of verbiage to illustrate police matters.

Consider an artist’s sketch, in which an image is revealed in a few bold strokes, versus an entire oil canvas with thousands of brushstrokes. Each image accomplishes a purpose, but the sketch artist accomplishes more with less.

Article continues after advertisement

Just as a sketch artist knows which lines shape an image, cozy authors must develop a feel for the minimal information needed to “sketch” law enforcement practices and mimic their authenticity without sacrificing other story elements. In my observation, layering in the minimum amount of research is less of a science and more of an art form.

Beefing up the criminal investigation element for a cozy author takes the same research paths as those of other mystery writers. For instance, I’ve done police ride-alongs, interviewed police officers and deputies, toured jails, attended Writers Police Academy, listened to detective/investigator workshops and panels at writer’s conferences such as Killer Nashville, and more.

Like other mystery writers, cozy authors often acquire a nonfiction library with editions penned by D.P. Lyle, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Dr. Bill Bass, and other top crime experts. They join online groups such as Wally Lind’s “Crime Scene Writers,” where law enforcement experts share information about their former professions.

Real life experiences can be a goldmine of learning. Here’s an example from my own life. When I worked as a freelance reporter for a weekly paper, I often received the police blotter assignment. I’d drive to the sheriff’s office and stand in a corridor at their copy machine copying the week’s incident reports. All the while, I was soaking up law enforcement vocabulary, attire, mannerisms, protocol, and dedication from the organization. This assignment paid off twice in that it offered immersion in a police world and taught me to condense each report to a few lines.

Article continues after advertisement

In my recent cozy mystery release of “Snuffed Out,” I took on the challenge of fictionalizing the Savannah, Georgia law enforcement scene. Over the years, the city of Savannah and the Chatham County police agencies have operated independently, combined forces, and currently have gone back to existing as independent agencies. Prisoners are incarcerated at the Chatham County Jail, which is run by the Chatham County Sheriff. I toured this facility in recent years with my Sisters in Crime chapter. I can still picture the stark bars of the holding cells in admissions, the systematically controlled hallways, and the echoing pods of prisoners.

Did all that research go into my cozy mysteries? No. It would have been overkill. Instead, I mustered a bare sketch of law enforcement details from my experiences, just enough to render verisimilitude but not enough to overwhelm the story.

Instead of relying on pages of procedural details, a cozy author uses suspense, intrigue, and misdirection to keep readers engaged in the overall story question of whodunnit. Since murder, gore, profanity, and intimacy take place off the page, cozy readers enjoy matching wits with the sleuth to unmask the villain of the piece.

With readers having fingertip access to a world of information, today’s mystery writer should be equally informed. Getting it right is a multiverse of factors consisting of subject matter research, distillation of key facts, discernment about genre constraints, skillful layering of specialized subject matter into the story, and editing with a sharp eye to pacing and tension.

Article continues after advertisement

In any genre of mystery, but especially in cozy mystery where less detail is more, putting time into research leads to novels accurately portraying law enforcement and satisfying readers. 


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *