Please welcome guest Laura Gail Black, to talk about her debut release, For Whom the Book Tolls:

How to get away with murder
Laura Gail Black

It’s the quandary which every mystery writer must face: how to plot a believable murder the killer would feel was air-tight and the sleuth can figure out without author interference.

Thanks to police procedural TV shows such as CSI or NCIS and their spinoffs, as well as their softer counterparts such as Elementary, or Death in Paradise, today’s reader has a deeper understanding of how police policies and procedures work with regard to scene processing, victim and suspect rights, and how the legal system works. Gone are the days when a writer can simply make it up and assume the typical reader won’t know the difference.

Today’s mystery author often has books about causes of death, body trauma, poisons, weapons, crime scene investigation, deadly drug interactions, and forensics. In addition, we often have internet search histories which may have us on FBI watch lists for our research into poisons, bomb making, bank robbing, how long a body takes to decompose in varying settings, and which countries have no extradition treaties with the U.S.

Some of us also have stories of the raised eyebrows at our doctors’ offices when we take an opportunity during a routine exam to strike up a conversation on how rapidly a certain body trauma would cause unconsciousness or death. On top of these subjects, we must learn how to hide a body, dispose of weapons, and ensure we don’t leave physical evidence behind—fingerprints, hair, and fibers.

The next difficulty comes when we need our sleuth to figure it all out, putting aside our own knowledge of the crime and looking at it from a not-in-the-know point of view. We can’t cheat and conveniently have everything drop in our sleuth’s lap. He or she needs to work for it, finding tidbits of information through conversations, searching, and snooping. They must stumble across all information and come to the solution without our help.

Police or attorney best-friends or significant others are allowable if not overused, but the sleuth can only learn a few tiny tidbits from these sources. Often this significant other or friend is used as a sounding board for ideas and theories, although they cannot, must not, be the ones to come up with the solution. Our sleuths have to push through the process, sometimes moving into danger to prove their theories and suss out a killer.

Authors walk a tightrope of ensuring we dole out just enough information without giving away too much. We don’t want the reader to figure things out too quickly. However, a reader should be able to look back and see the clues and what they meant after the fact.

We are taught, as authors, to write what we know. Yet I feel confident in stating most, if not all, mystery authors have never once committed murder. Instead we have researched, imagined, daydreamed, and queried our local police officers, fire fighters, and coroners and have taught ourselves, in essence, how to get away with—and solve—murder.

Laura Gail Black writes cozy mysteries on the beautiful shores of Lake Marion in South Carolina, where she lives with her husband and four rescue dogs. She began collecting antique books when she worked in a used and antique bookstore in college. Today, Laura’s bookshelves contain many antique books, some of which are close to two hundred years old. When not writing or playing with her dogs, Laura creates her own jewelry, crochets, cross-stitches, spends time on the water with her husband, and enjoys all things tea.