April 14, 2009

Book Talk: How Do You Read A Mystery?

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 10:18 am by The Word Jar

One word at a time, right? Ba dum bum.

No, my mysterious mystery readers, this question addresses how actively you engage yourself in the reading of a mystery. Do you put all of the clues together as the author presents them, so you can finger the suspect before the author officially announces it, knowing from page five that it was Mr. Hemingway in the bar with the stuffed swordfish? Or, do you merely follow the words the author has strung together, giving nary a thought to “whodunit” before the big reveal? I say “merely,” but that implies passivity, and it seems condescending. Especially since that’s my preferred method of reading mysteries.

Which is not to say that I don’t pick up on the clues the author leaves in the story. And if said clues do not match up with how the mystery is resolved, I do take notice. But I don’t go to much effort to untangle the truth before the author wraps it up. I figure the author worked hard to write the book, why would I want to race ahead and solve the mystery, when surely the author will do it for me before the book ends (hopefully). I enjoy meandering along the path the author lays out for me, even the dead ends and red herrings, and it feels more satisfying to experience the book as the author wrote it rather than trying to write it myself.

How about you? Do you get more satisfaction when you figure out the ending while you are still in the middle of the mystery?

Any mystery authors out there? Do you prefer your readers to try to figure out your mystery, or do you prefer they just come along for the ride?



  1. pochp said,

    If you’re a puzzle fanatic, treating mystery books like a puzzle is a great pleasure- solving it as early as possible.
    It’s an unspoken rule between mystery writers.

    • thewordjar said,

      I love puzzles, and I do see that aspect of it. I guess I feel like I cheat myself out of the reading experience if I figure everything out. I love thinking, “I never would have thought of that!” after a good mystery, and I enjoy seeing how everything falls into place, just as the writer planned. Of course, this doesn’t hold true for mediocre mysteries, where nothing seems to fit together, but why read those in the first place?

  2. You’ve got me thinking about this. As a writer, I know that I like to write the first couple of drafts so that they surprise me. Often times this means you have to go back and see if the clues were in the original drafts. Sometimes you already know how it’s going to end and the clues are there.

    As a reader, however, I think I like to be surprised and do try and solve it before the ending.

    • thewordjar said,

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad a writer could chime in on this. I forget that authors do, indeed, write more than one draft! As a reader, I find authors to be these mythical beings who can just churn out a manuscript with little effort. (And I know how wrong that picture is…I’m a book editor!) But it is interesting to think of authors, mystery or not, going back to make sure elements that are key to the ending do in fact appear in the manuscript. I know that’s MY job as an editor. Apparently in some instances, I am really good at separating my reading self from my editing self.

      Thanks for giving us a little insight to the writing process! Always fascinating!

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