What is a mystery novel without a puzzle? Guest writer Daniella Bernett explores some of the elements that make up the puzzle. Bernett’s second mystery in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon series, Deadly Legacy, debuts tomorrow, Sept.24, from Black Opal Books.
Why is the question that my mind whispers when I dip into a deliciously intriguing mystery. For me, it’s always been about the puzzle. A desire to find out how and why a crime was conceived and executed. To figure out who the murderer is before the sleuth.
Does it sound cold-blooded and calculating? Perhaps it is. But I rather like to view it as a diverting challenge. I have to be sharp because the author has deliberately set me off on the wrong path. The only way to uncover the right clues that will reveal the truth is to part the gauzy curtain of misdirection. The author is not completely cruel, though. He or she always leaves a strand or two dangling in the wind. It is the reader’s job to grasp it quickly before it drifts away.
Another thing that helps the reader tremendously on this quest for answers is understanding human nature and all its foibles. In my opinion, Agatha Christie was the master at peeling back the layers of the psyche to reveal greed, jealousy and pure, naked evil. Knowledge is power. With knowledge, the reader can navigate the twists and turns of the tale to see justice prevail, as it always must.
For crime offends the conscience, but it sure makes for a great story.
I admit that I am guilty as charged when it comes to leading readers on a merry chase for clues. It’s so much fun to drop red herrings. I find that secrets are an especially effective way to build tension and present yet one more facet. Another thing I enjoy is creating a little cliffhanger at the end of chapters and starting the next one with a different character or another thread in the story. This compels the reader to keep turning pages if he or she wants to find out what happens.
Let’s take Deadly Legacy, the second mystery in my series featuring journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief Gregory Longdon, as an example. It is about stolen diamonds, revenge and…oh, yes murder. In the book, I’ve tried to muddy the waters by introducing a man with a shadowy past. To ratchet things up further, there is an impostor posing as this fellow. Their lives—and deaths—are irrevocably tied together. But one man never really existed, so how can he become a murder victim? It’s a tantalizing conundrum that I’ve interlaced with two diamond thefts, one harkening back to World War II. The past impinging on the present with lies and blackmail figuring prominently. It’s a devil of a puzzle all right.
Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger was her first novel. The story takes Emmeline Kirby and Gregory Longdon from Venice to London as they try to unmask a Russian spy in the British Foreign Office. Bernett is also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her other professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. She is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit her at www.daniellbernett.com or https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 .