Pick a plausible detective for your series


“Plausible Detective” has two components, in my opinion:
     #1: perhaps most importantly, the ‘detective’ (i.e. the central character in the book who solves the crime) should be in a profession which renders said central character likely to discover crimes. Police or private detective are the obvious plausible jobs, but emergency response professionals are options, as is reporter. The world being what it is, just about anyone can stumble across a crime or three, but more than that and the author had probably come up with a good explanation for why the person keeps stumbling across crimes.
     #2: people living in urban or populous areas are more likely to encounter crime–not because cities are more criminal but simply because there are more people to commit crimes around.

My favorite example here (for certain meanings of the term) is Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat who…” series. When Qwilleran was a newspaper reporter living in “Down Below”, the series’ term for (probably!) Detroit, he might well come across dead bodies on a regular basis. Once Braun moved him to Pickaxe, and gave him a fortune sufficient to allow him to never work again…well, one might guess that the body count would drop dramatically. Not so. Instead, Moose County almost certainly rivals Rita Mae Brown’s Albemarle County for world’s highest per capita crime rate. I happen to like both series, although as per my previous blog post, I think both authors should have stopped at 6, but then I like character driven books with a fair bit of detail about places I’ve never been. And I like cats; it’s interesting to read Brown’s take on what animals think of us.

Some connection to the police and a talent for detection further the plausibility of the series a great deal, however. A reasonably talented writer can create a plausible detective from the most unlikely sources; who’d have thought that an elderly dithering spinster from a backwash English village would become the archetypal female detective of mature years? Even a cloistered monk might do if it turns out that he has a talent for what passes for forensic detection in the fourteenth century. Miss Marple and Brother Cadfael have both a connection with the police, and an unsuspected talent for detection.

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3 thoughts on “Pick a plausible detective for your series

  1. My counter argument, of course, is that I, as reader, do not particularly want all that much realism in my mysteries. If I want realism, I can grab a non-fiction book about an actual crime or crime fighter. I want plausibility within the context of the story (“context” including the possibility of, say, aide from a ghost (the Aunt Dimity series, for example) or a remarkably gifted cat (as in the Magical Cats mysteries by Sofie Kelly)), but have no trouble accepting a Miss Marple like character as a veritable “murder magnet” (to use Linda Johnston’s phrase in her Beaglemania).

    • I suppose I should explain here that I like the ‘Cat who’ mysteries, as I do Jill Churchill’s series set in suburban Chicago or Monica Ferris’ needlework series; these are all books I read for fun or when I want a quick light read that I don’t have to think too hard about. Escape, if you will. Indeed, I’ve read all of them despite mumbling imprecations about deteriorating writing quality…because I can’t NOT read them.

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