Fact and Fiction: Writing a Mystery Book
by Catherine Astolfo
Writing mystery books is more difficult than it might appear. Only highly intelligent people can do it. Keeping all the clues straight requires an entire box of cue cards. Or a night’s worth of napkins from the pub. Or writing on the wall with washable markers. (Those were washable, right?) Not to mention quelling the temptation to reveal too much. Just enough to keep the reader guessing; not so little that they’re completely in the dark. And then comes the research!
There’s an old adage that says, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Writers can’t get all the research right every time, can we? I mean, sometimes the situation cries out for a manipulation of the facts.
However, the background information provided in a novel is often fascinating, if not entirely accurate to the last drop.
We are all familiar with the detective story, police officer or PI variety. Think of how much we’ve learned about processing a crime scene because we’ve read these books. Doesn’t mean we could conduct one, but… Other writers opened the world of forensic pathology, autopsies and morgues with the result that many shows on the subjects turned up in television.
Even in the “simplest”of novels, the background information is important. By simple, I mean they’re not necessarily focused on a field of work. They’re not primarily detective or legal or medical fiction, but tell a tale about rather ordinary folk.
In my first book, The Bridgeman, I portray an old-fashioned lift bridge and the person who manages it. I had to actually go and look at a bridge to see how that worked. My protagonist throughout the series, the Emily Taylor Mysteries, is a school principal in a small town. Luckily, I was a principal in my other life, so I had experience on my side. When the caretaker is murdered in the school, I have to explain how the education system would handle such a thing.
Then there is the puppy mill. For this section, as difficult as it was, I wrote about the experiences of my niece as a veterinarian’s assistant.
In Victim, I had to do a lot of reading about Ojibwa folklore and philosophy. Legacy returns to the school and its processes with Emily’s handling of a very dysfunctional family, plus there are tidbits about the effects of fire, inquests and hypnosis. The research! My fourth book, Seventh Fire, discusses a wrongful conviction and how these tragic mistakes happen. My Forensics for Dummies and Criminal Investigative Failures are well thumbed.
Although the stories are fiction, and some of the facts may not be one percent accurate, there is enough background information to give the reader a more in-depth picture of the setting, the characters and how the plot plays out. It may even lead a reader to investigate the topic further.
There must be enough fact even in fiction. You can see why only highly intelligent people can write a mystery. Or is that statement fiction?
If I knew what I know now, would I have searched so hard for the truth?
Anne Williams says she killed her best friend, Karoline. But did she? Or is there more to Karoline’s mysterious death than meets the eye?
Anne embarks on a compelling journey to discover her past and exposes an unusual history, horrific crimes and appalling betrayals. Through unexpected turns and revelations, Anne learns about love, family and who she really is. Can she survive the truth?
“A deliciously vibrant portrait that realistically muddles good and evil.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Astolfo’s wonderful first sentence in Sweet Karoline explodes on the page and resonates right to the end of this twisting examination of dangerous minds. Never have I encountered a narrative voice that alternates more deftly between alienating and enticing.” —Mel Bradshaw, author of Fire On The Runway
“A deliciously twisted story about the perplexing power of adult female relationships. By turns scathingly funny and darkly insightful, Sweet Karoline is a hedonistic journey with all the right ingredients: lust, betrayal, true love and mystery. Grab a glass of wine and have the bottle handy. A compelling read from the start through to the surprising end.” —Robin Spano, author of Death’s Last Run
“In Catherine Astolfo’s chilling new novel Sweet Karoline, things aren’t always as they seem. Anne, the multifaceted anti-heroine in this noir tale takes a fateful journey into her forgotten past, uncovering the painful roots of her childhood. While furrowing for answers, a mystery unfolds, truths swirl to the surface, a heinous murder occurs. Who’s the killer? Caught in a tangled web of greed, lies and deceit Anne must come to terms with her past, present and future, and the bleak realization that those we hold close may be the last ones to trust. Compelling, visually descriptive, deftly delivered…Catherine Astolfo’s got the goods!” —Douglas Wickard, author of A Perfect Husband
“Sweet Karoline is a multi-layered mystery, where nothing is as it seems. The story grips you on page one and leads you through a maze of history, twisted relationships, and ultimately the darkness of the human mind.” —Liz Bugg, author of Oranges and Lemons
“In Sweet Karoline, Astolfo has created a daring hybrid mystery that combines elements of romance, history, and suspense in a carefully crafted story that keeps you guessing to the very end. Astolfo explores new boundaries as she extends her reach beyond the cozy mystery in this psychological exploration of the mind of a killer. A unique exploration of guilt and revenge.” —Michael J. McCann, author of The Fregoli Delusion
“The clever plot twists in Sweet Karoline will enrapture you from page one through the last paragraphs of this fast-paced modern mystery. Author Catherine Astolfo exhibits a strikingly perceptive gift for believable dialogue and rich character development. Her dry wit and colorful descriptions will have you howling in laughter at points, but in tears at others as she digs deep into the themes of guilt, race, and relationships. The powers of love and redemption are strong, but does the heart of an Ice Queen ever really melt? Enjoy the romp from Los Angeles, through Canada, to a priceless Italian rendezvous—all in the pages of Sweet Karoline, where long-buried secrets lie.” —Lisa Pell, award-winning author of Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?
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Genre – Psychological Suspense
Rating – 18+