If you never took or only vaguely remember a college English 100 class, Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries is a perfect read for aspiring or new writers. It is also extremely useful for book reviewers like myself.
Within Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries, Ms. Bowen extensively covers all the elements of the novel:
- Characterization: protagonist, secondary and minor characters
- Narrative perspective
- Plot and structure
- Style and syntax
She also divides up the writing process into prewriting, writing and editing. Unfortunately, many of her tips may only work for her. Some of her suggestions are to:
- Write in the early morning.
- Take a break for 5 minutes after every 25 minutes of writing.
- Never leave your writing in a bad spot (because you won’t want to return tomorrow).
- Buy a paper notebook with pockets that you can stuff with interesting news clippings.
Personally, I haven’t seen a paper newspaper for at least a decade or two plus I type all my notes on my phone. That said, many of her ideas were useful and new. Here are only a few examples:
- Ask why the authors of your favorite five novels chose the specific elements within their novel.
- Create intriguing backstories for your secondary and minor characters so you can expand on them in future books if your book turns into a series.
- The opening sentence should contain the entire novel.
- Don’t include research in your novel just because you did the research—it must further the plot.
- The ending should fully resolve the mystery but leave the protagonist’s inner longings unfulfilled.
Most of the information found in Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries can be used by an author of any type of novel—not just mysteries. The examples she uses within the book include both classic English literature and mysteries. While the majority of examples are from her own mystery series, she also reveals the ending of Gone Girl and The Sopranos. If you are planning on reading/watching those, you should avoid reading this book or at least skip those sections.
For those writers that have a few books under their belts, Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries may be too rudimentary for their needs. For aspiring writers or reviewers, this book is worth 4 stars for being clearly focused on writing procedures and suggested processes that will increase the reader’s knowledge and abilities.
Thanks to the publisher, University of Regina Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.