WHERE SHOULD THE BODY LIE?
The easy answer is wherever it works best for the plot. In much detective fiction, the murder, or discovery of the body takes place at the beginning or very early on. But a lot of good stories take a while to develop, even when the motivation for the detective is the act itself.
If the story is focused on the characters more than on the action, or, is a balanced presentation, then a murder may not take place until well into the book. Nothing wrong with this, assuming the writer has mastered all the other tools of the trade. A bunch of people standing around endlessly trading bon mots or quips or cutting insults becomes exceedingly tedious, even if, as veteran readers of crime fiction, we know it’s all leading to murder, or worse.
On the other hand (isn’t there always?) a small clutch of really unusual interesting characters can carry a reader a long way into the story. Add other unusual or unsettling circumstances, such as weather or location and it’s possible to “compel” readers for many pages. Yet too many authors of crime fiction seem to offer a cast of similar characters. For example, I just finished a novel in which all three main characters have similar backgrounds: they moved back to town after a successful career and a failed marriage. Their careers were in large coastal cities and adjusting to a more bucolic life takes some getting used to (at least several pages). Now, analyzing the structure of the novel, I find the story line and it’s significant events take up about half the book. We have a good short story or novella but not a full length novel.
In my short story, “A Winter’s Tale” weather, circumstances and (I hope) mounting realization of inevitable conflict leading to horrific acts, drive the story and the reader forward, but actual murder, and thus the placement of body parts occurs as bookends to the tale. On the other hand, my latest novel, The Case of the Purloined Painting has a complicated back story requiring at least some understanding of modern history. But rather than inflict several pages of WWII on readers, I have spread salient facts related to the main motivator through the narrative. And bodies occur in several chapters. Readers will judge whether those unhappy events distract or push the plot along..
In conclusion, although old rules for crime fiction suggest readers require a body in the early going, I don’t believe that’s necessarily a requirement. At the same time, I think authors are well-advised to be cautious. If your protagonist runs a fast food joint in Southern Mississippi, you can’t start every book finding a body in the deep fryer.
Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors.
He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.
He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.
The Case of the Purloined Painting
North Star Press
Trade paper, 176 pgs
Blurb: When an American Army unit arrived at the end of the war, some soldiers appropriated items in what appeared to be abandoned circumstances. A small painting by a mid-level Polish painter is used by an ex-GI to float a bank loan which results in the founding of a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis.
Now the painting and the ledger become the center of murderous attempts by the descendants of the veteran to conceal the paintings journey. World-wide efforts at repatriation of stolen art from WWII is a major ongoing effort and the story links to that effort as international operatives descend on the Twin Cities.
Enter private detective Sean Sean. He is a short but effective operative who, unlike many PIs of the modern era, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t shoot people unnecessarily, and has many friends among various local law enforcement agencies.
Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at
Metropolitan State University in . Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. Saint
He is a member of
Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of
. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and
libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave. America
He writes the
sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third
novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series
features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the
Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from
University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at . Michigan
P.S. I met Carl for the first time at the now defunct Mayhem in the Midlands mystery conference. I was fortunate to run into him and have several conversations at various other mystery conferences over the years. I miss having the opportunity to listen to his wisdom about mystery writing and other topics. Marilyn