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View Full Version : Characters in a mystery - should they all know each other?



MarkEsq
03-11-2006, 07:39 PM
I am writing a mystery, I guess a drawing-room mystery where the emphasis is on the main two characters (my detective and his sidekick) and the whodunnit aspect. My question is this:
Should the various suspects all know each other? I have read a lot of PD James and other mysteries and it seems they are all set in a closed locale where the suspects are part of a single group.
My story revolves around the death of a journalist where the suspects are his roommate, a man whom he was planning to expose in a newspaper article, a homeless man (the wrongly accused) and a jealous colleague. None know each other and they are connected only by the victim. Does a novel seem too disjointed if the characters only interact with my detective? Thoughts?

Jamesaritchie
03-11-2006, 08:28 PM
I am writing a mystery, I guess a drawing-room mystery where the emphasis is on the main two characters (my detective and his sidekick) and the whodunnit aspect. My question is this:
Should the various suspects all know each other? I have read a lot of PD James and other mysteries and it seems they are all set in a closed locale where the suspects are part of a single group.
My story revolves around the death of a journalist where the suspects are his roommate, a man whom he was planning to expose in a newspaper article, a homeless man (the wrongly accused) and a jealous colleague. None know each other and they are connected only by the victim. Does a novel seem too disjointed if the characters only interact with my detective? Thoughts?

No, they don't have to know each other, as long as the victim connects them. Hvaing teh people get to know each other, and try to figure out why each is there, can be a good part of the plot. Wasn't Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" set up this way?

Branwyn
03-11-2006, 08:35 PM
I agree...no, they don't need to know eachother.

britwrit
03-14-2006, 08:20 PM
No. The only thing you might want to do, for a red herring, is have two of the characters know each other when there's no apparent reason why they should. Like the homeless guy and one of the reporters...

Serenity
03-15-2006, 08:37 AM
It's kind of like the 6 degrees of separation thing. I may not personally know Kevin Bacon, but I know someone who knows someone... yadda, yadda... you get the gist.


Your characters don't have to be connected to each other to be connected to the victim. Life is rarely so simple.

Maryn
03-16-2006, 12:57 AM
I think it would seem contrived if they did all know one another. Not that it can't be done, but I'm sure not willing to tackle it.

Maryn, who'll take an easy task, please

Sage
03-16-2006, 01:27 AM
I think it works either way. I've read mysteries where the characters all know each other (usually a small town where a murder takes place, or a murder where the suspects are all family or used to be friends), & quite a few where only a few people know each other, although they all know the deceased (& sometimes the fact that they do isn't obvious at the beginning). Besides "Ten Little Indians," Agatha Christie wrote many novels with this type of set-up. Others I can think of easily are "The Westing Game" or the movie "Clue." The advantage of everyone knowing each other, is that there's usually someone everyone suspects, usually incorrect, & everyone finds out just how little they know about those people they thought they knew. If nobody knows each other, the detective (or whatever) gets to try & figure out how they're all connected to the deceased. So really, it's just up to the individual author as to what works best for their story.

Jamesaritchie
03-16-2006, 08:35 AM
I think it would seem contrived if they did all know one another. Not that it can't be done, but I'm sure not willing to tackle it.

Maryn, who'll take an easy task, please

This has been done, as well, and I don't think it's any more difficult than having a novel where all the suspects don't know each other. Probably easier, in reality. Other than random murder, the suspects often do all know each other. Murder is most often committed by friends, family, or business associates, and there's a good chance that all who are close enough to the victim to be a suspect will also likely know teh otehr supects, at least to a degree.

MarkEsq
03-21-2006, 06:26 PM
As a felony prosecutor, I can say that James is right, in fact the participants of most crimes know each other. I have one case of armed robbery (bursting into an apt) where the victim had previously robbed the robber's girlfriend. Fun to prosecute those, I can tell ya!
Anyway, I have been reading a lot of PD James lately and she tends towards the closed-community model, where the suspects all know each other. That got me wondering and prompted the intial question, I guess. Thanks for all the responses, I appreciate the input.

Jamesaritchie
03-23-2006, 12:18 AM
As a felony prosecutor, I can say that James is right, in fact the participants of most crimes know each other. I have one case of armed robbery (bursting into an apt) where the victim had previously robbed the robber's girlfriend. Fun to prosecute those, I can tell ya!
Anyway, I have been reading a lot of PD James lately and she tends towards the closed-community model, where the suspects all know each other. That got me wondering and prompted the intial question, I guess. Thanks for all the responses, I appreciate the input.

As a prosecutor, can I ask a question?

Way back in my youth, the easiest murder of all to solve was a murder of passion committed by a family member or lover. The most difficultt murder to solve, and likely the most difficult crime of all to solve, was a random murder with no apparent motive, and no witnesses. Is this still true?

BuffStuff
03-23-2006, 04:54 AM
Easy to solve, bah! Don't be so modest James. If it wasn't for your wits, and your wits alone, Octavian would've gotten off scot free in the Marcus Antonius Antyllus murder trial.

Desola
03-24-2006, 03:08 AM
Seems to me in my years of reading mysteries, that if the sleuth is an amateur, the others are more likely to all know eachother. In novels that feature private detectives or professional policemen, that isn't always the case. I'm thinking especially of Ian Rankin novels (Rebus), or Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse). Readers of a "cozy" mystery would expect everyone to be acquainted, other readers wouldn't have that expectation. But if the story is good, who cares?


Desola

MarkEsq
03-24-2006, 04:20 AM
As a prosecutor, can I ask a question?

Way back in my youth, the easiest murder of all to solve was a murder of passion committed by a family member or lover. The most difficultt murder to solve, and likely the most difficult crime of all to solve, was a random murder with no apparent motive, and no witnesses. Is this still true?

Still true, although the latter has gotten a lot easier with the DNA/forensic advances and the prevalence of security cameras in public places. The vast majority of crimes I prosecute are committed on and by people who know each other (burglaries being the exception), which helps my cops solve them.

BJ Bourg
04-01-2006, 07:25 AM
Yes, indeed, James -- random murders that lack motive and witnesses are typically harder to solve with regard to locating and arresting a suspect. Of course, as with anything else, there are exceptions to the rule (I solved a random murder case once by knocking on the wrong door). It's sometimes easier to identify a suspect in a murder of passion case, but it can be much harder to garner a conviction in these types of cases. For instance, imagine that a boyfriend kills his girlfriend in her apartment, he discards the weapon and his clothes, keeps his mouth shut, and there are no witnesses. Finding his fingerprints and DNA at the scene will typically not go a long way toward proving he did it, because his prints and DNA are supposed to be in the apartment. Conversely, the evidence would carry more weight if the fingerprints and DNA belonged to some random stranger. Even though it might be harder to locate and arrest this stranger, it would be easier to convict him than if it would have been the boyfriend. The toughest case I ever worked was one where a wife killed her husband with his own gun while he slept in his bed.

Happy writing, everyone!
bjb


As a prosecutor, can I ask a question?

Way back in my youth, the easiest murder of all to solve was a murder of passion committed by a family member or lover. The most difficultt murder to solve, and likely the most difficult crime of all to solve, was a random murder with no apparent motive, and no witnesses. Is this still true?

dantem42
04-03-2006, 05:49 AM
As a prosecutor, can I ask a question?

James, you're a prosecutor? (Sorry, couldn't resist).

The FBI and others consider "disorganized," nomadic serial killers to be the most difficult to catch. An archetype is John Wayne Gacy (although his stated body count is probably grossly overestimated).

These killers are able to travel from place to place, often securing temporary employment off the books at their next destination. Often this prevents different law enforcement jurisdictions from trading data, and the FBI may not be involved because no one knows it's the work of a serial killer.

These are usually "thrill killers," who unlike purely sexual serials may often use entirely different MO's to kill (strangulation one time, stabbing the next, etc.). Usually a sexual serial is a slave to repetition in MO or signature, so the pattern of the killings can be established sooner or later, hopefully leading to apprehension. He may also be looking for a certain body type or hair color etc., whereas this may hold no attraction for someone who just plain loves killing in any form. For a nomadic thrill killer, there may also be no chronological pattern -- he may hibernate for a year or two, then kill two vics in a month. Often sexual serials have more predictable patterns to their killings because they are responding to what serial killer Ed Kemper called the "zapples" in his head, which often show up on some periodic basis.

Best estimates are that there are something like 300 - 500 serial killers out there across the USA at any one time. Most of them are probably these "disorganized" types who can travel from place to place and use dissimilar MO's. Many of them are also "inactive" for the moment but may kick into gear if something triggers them.

Jamesaritchie
04-04-2006, 07:18 AM
Thanks, guys, This is all good to know. i still have a couple of family members in law enforcement, but I haven't been involved in so many years it isn't funny. Pre-DNA days.

I guess methods of investigation have changed, but murderers remain the same.

RobCurtis
04-06-2006, 12:53 PM
EVen if closed-community murders are the most common, they don't necessarily make the best fiction.

I wrote something a while back (must finish it one day when the huge influx of serial killers books has slowed a little) which had a killer who knew how the FBI worked, and deliberately chose unconnected victims - except that their names / occupations were connected. The cops don't know where to look for the next in the series. The difficulty is keeping the murderer's identity secret from the reader, when there are only so many characters in the story.

PerditaDrury
04-07-2006, 12:10 AM
The FBI and others consider "disorganized," nomadic serial killers to be the most difficult to catch. An archetype is John Wayne Gacy (although his stated body count is probably grossly overestimated).



You can't possibly mean John Wayne Gacy, the "clown killer"... he was as nomadic as a pine tree -- never left his area to troll for victims -- and he was very organized. The 30+ victims (young men) he raped and murdered were buried under his house.

Are you thinking of Henry Lee Lucas? Nomadic, disorganized, low-IQ.

Jamesaritchie
04-07-2006, 03:48 AM
EVen if closed-community murders are the most common, they don't necessarily make the best fiction.
.


They make as good a novel as any other way. It's how well the writer handles it that matters. Closed or open both work extremely well in teh hands of a good writer, and both work horribly in the hands of a bad writer.

dantem42
04-07-2006, 06:38 AM
You can't possibly mean John Wayne Gacy, the "clown killer"... he was as nomadic as a pine tree -- never left his area to troll for victims -- and he was very organized. The 30+ victims (young men) he raped and murdered were buried under his house.

Are you thinking of Henry Lee Lucas? Nomadic, disorganized, low-IQ.

Egad! You're absolutely right! I was in a big hurry while I was finishing up that post. I stand (well, sit) corrected.

PerditaDrury
04-07-2006, 11:26 PM
Egad! You're absolutely right! I was in a big hurry while I was finishing up that post. I stand (well, sit) corrected.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif It's the three name thing... it's gotten so three-namers who are just regular decent folk creep me out.

Disorganized, organized; nomadic or static... both are monsters. The banality of evil, ah well.

Maryn
04-08-2006, 12:15 AM
Should we fear Sara Jessica Parker, then? (Sorry, sorry. I seem to be avoiding work.)

PerditaDrury
04-08-2006, 05:54 AM
Should we fear Sara Jessica Parker, then? (Sorry, sorry. I seem to be avoiding work.)

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif Hmmmm... good point... Let's not forget Jennifer Love Hewitt then. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif I think it's only males with three names that sound suspicious. My best friend in childhood was named Cindy Lou S. and she was, and is, a sweetheart but the little boy who lived down the block, Donny Ray Dawson, grew up to be a... well, not a serial killer but a three-striker now in San Quentin.

Maybe there's a study somewhere...

dantem42
04-08-2006, 06:08 AM
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif Hmmmm... good point... Let's not forget Jennifer Love Hewitt then. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif I think it's only males with three names that sound suspicious. My best friend in childhood was named Cindy Lou S. and she was, and is, a sweetheart but the little boy who lived down the block, Donny Ray Dawson, grew up to be a... well, not a serial killer but a three-striker now in San Quentin.

Maybe there's a study somewhere...

And who could forget the reserected John Wayne Bobbit?

PerditaDrury
04-09-2006, 07:18 AM
And who could forget the reserected John Wayne Bobbit?

Surely you mean "reconstructed"? http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif

RobCurtis
04-11-2006, 12:39 PM
Surely you mean "reconstructed"? http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif
VERY funny :ROFL: