I love puzzles. Crossword puzzles, anagrams, Sudoku, jigsaw – you name it, I love it. Word searches are really the only puzzle I can’t get excited about, mostly because I consider them to be less of a puzzle and more of an eye exam.
With my love of puzzles, it should come as no surprise that I also like murder mysteries. Really, mystery novels are essentially three-hundred-page puzzles. I have to take all the information about the characters, setting, and crime, and come up with a solution before the detective figures it out.
At least I hope that’s what happens. Occasionally I’ll read a murder mystery where there is no possible way to figure out who the killer is. I’ve read a book where the killer was never present in any of the scenes and was only talked about by two other characters, mostly in passing, and then he suddenly showed up in the last chapter to try and kill the detective. I could barely remember who the guy was. Not fair! Luckily, writers for the most part know that part of the fun of the mystery is figuring out who did it and are kind enough to sprinkle clues along the way.
That’s how I try to approach my books as well. I want the reader to feel engaged in the story and believe they have a shot at identifying the killer. In fact, I like it when a reader figures things out before my main character does (just as long as I haven’t made the killer too obvious!). I know that feeling of satisfaction when the lightbulb goes off and I suddenly realize the missing piece of the puzzle that solves the whole story. That’s what makes mysteries so fun.
Of course, that lightbulb doesn’t always light up. I hate that feeling when the detective lays out the case in the final chapter and I realize I missed every clue along the way. That happens quite a bit when I’m reading Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Both of those writers knew the magic of red herrings and intricate plots.
But, just like an especially hard Sudoku puzzle or an infuriating crossword, I pick up the next mystery novel and try again. After all, even when I can’t figure out the solution, trying to solve the puzzles is still fun.