Please welcome LadyKillers honored guest, Donis Casey. Donis is the author of six Alafair Tucker Mysteries. Her award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur, who lives in Tempe, AZ.
Since good writers copy and great writers steal*, I’m always looking for good ideas to lift from other authors. Not plagiarism, of course. Heaven forfend! But when something catches my eye, surprises and delights me, I want to know: How’d he do that? Because I want my books to surprise and delight as well.
Since the LadyKillers are talking about movies this week, I shall readily admit that I do the same thing when I see a good crime flick. I recently told a friend of mine about the surprising ending to Life Of Pi, and to my amazement she said, “I don’t like to be fooled.”
Not me, baby. Fool me once, I like it. Fool me twice and I’m a fan for life. Of course it depends on how your fool me. It has to be like a magic trick--the magician distracts me while the magic goes on right in front of my eyes. It must be that when I look back, it was there all the time.
Of course, I’m pretty hard to fool. This is one thing I discovered early on about writing mysteries--mystery readers know all your tricks. They’ve seen it all before. So if you can manage to surprise a mystery reader, you have really done something.
One of my favorite twisty movies is No Way Out, a 1981 thriller starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman, based on a novel called The Big Clock, by Kenneth Fearing. Costner plays a naval officer named Tom Farrell, who falls for Susan before he discovers that she is the mistress of his boss, David Bryce (Hackman), who also happens to be the Secretary of Defense. When Bryce finds out she’s seeing someone else, he accidentally kills Susan in a fit of jealousy. In order to protect him, Bryce’s aide concocts a cover-up. They’ll blame the death on her lover, not realizing that it’s Tom. And to keep the whole affair classified and out of the papers, the aide tells the CIA that the man they are looking for is a Soviet secret agent called Yuri. The CIA investigators find an overexposed Polaroid on the floor of the woman’s bedroom, and the Pentagon systems analyst tells them he can have the computer reconstruct the photo within twelve hours. Tom knows that the photo is of him.
Then Bryce puts Tom in charge of the investigation. How Tom manages to get out of this predicament is pulse-pounding, to say the least.
But the best part is the twist at the end, and believe me, I never saw it coming. Just when you think it’s all over, just when the whole plot comes out into the open and the bad guys are exposed...
I can’t do it. I can’t spoil the twist. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
And if you can figure it out before the end, kudos. You are a genius. Drop me a note and let me know how you did it.
*I stole this quote from T.S. Elliot.