The unravelling of a mystery by Jo Allen – guest post

Jo Allen is the author of Death by Dark Waters. Her latest novel, Death at Eden’s End, was published by Aria Fiction on 12 December 2019.

Jo has written a guest post about unravelling a mystery.

I haven’t always been a crime writer — I began as a romance writer before the dark side drew me over — but I’ve always been a crime reader. The DCI Satterthwaite series, of which Death at Eden’s End is the second book (Death by Dark Waters being the first, should you be interested) is part of the subgenre that’s a modern successor to the traditional detective novels of the Golden Age, written between the wars. It uses current investigative methodologies but its focus is the puzzle.

Way back in 1929, the crime writer Ronald Knox produced a definition of crime fiction, which, he said: “must have as its main interest the unravelling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.”

That, in a nutshell, is what my books aim to do. In Death at Eden’s End the crime is the murder of an elderly lady in a care home in rural Cumbria, and the unravelling of it is the most important thing. There are plenty of suspects — the care worker, the care home manager, the head nurse, the estranged son, the disinherited niece — all of whom could have done it and had reason to do so. As a subsidiary, the personal lives of the detectives are also crucial to the story (and sometimes to the plot) but it’s the whys and wherefores of the crime that matter most.

Knox also produced Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction and many of the detective writers of the day signed up to them. Some of them are dated (“No Chinaman must figure in the story”) and some of them are widely ignored. For example, we no longer expect the detective’s sidekick to have a level of intelligence “slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader,” especially when the sidekick is a police officer.

Most of them are pretty sound advice, however, though I do confess to breaking one of them, in part at least, and quite deliberately so. Knox’s first commandment stipulates that: “The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.” While I wholeheartedly agree with the first part (there’s nothing more irritating than a hitherto unknown character appearing just in time to be unmasked) I disagree with the second.

Classic detective fiction tended to stick to the viewpoints of the detective and/or his sidekick (Holmes’s adventures are narrated by Watson and Poirot’s by Hastings, but Sayers used various viewpoints, though never, that I can recall, that of the criminal). I prefer to show a range of motivations for the crime, because for me characterisation is as crucial to the puzzle as the crime itself. So in Death at Eden’s End, three of the four suspects have viewpoints, because their voices are relevant to the circumstances of the crime.

That said, I don’t always break the rule. In at least one of the DCI Satterthwaite series (three written so far and a further three drafted) the criminal has a viewpoint and in at least one he/she does not. So there are no clues there!

About the book

When one-hundred-year-old Violet Ross is found dead at Eden’s End, a luxury care home hidden in a secluded nook of the Lake District’s Eden Valley it’s tragic, of course, but not unexpected. Except for the instantly recognisable look in her lifeless eyes… that of pure terror.

DCI Jude Satterthwaite heads up the investigation, but as the deaths start to mount up it’s clear that he, and DS Ashleigh O’Halloran need to uncover a long-buried secret before the killer strikes again…

About the author

Jo Allen was born in Wolverhampton and is a graduate of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and the Open University. After a career in economic consultancy she took up writing and was first published under the name Jennifer Young in genres of short stories, romance and romantic suspense. In 2017 she took the plunge and began writing the genre she most likes to read – crime. Now living in Edinburgh, she spends as much time as possible in the English Lakes. In common with all her favourite characters, she loves football (she’s a season ticket holder with her beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers) and cats.

 

 

 

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