Want to write a mystery? We have a KILLER Book we created just for you: Demystifying the Beats.
The crime has been exposed, you’ve introduced your unique and mesmerizing sleuth, they’ve committed to solving the crime… And the investigation commences! You are now in Act 2 = Fumbling.
But your sleuth is more reactive than proactive. This is your “gathering” act. This act is about dumping that 1000 puzzle pieces on the table and starting to turn over the up-side-down ones to expose part of the picture.
The second act is interviewing witnesses, developing potential suspects, taking forensics to the lab for a preliminary opinions, and learning about the whys and whatfors. But nothing is coming together yet.
The season 7, Law & Order episode 10, Legacy (1997) had one of the BEST examples of how the writers “hid” a hugely important clue at the actual crime scene. And it’s a clue drop I have never been able to get it unstuck from my mind. (The whole episode is one I recommend because it has a superb twist, too.)
Here’s the show’s synopsis: The assault of a family man leads to a case involving a vendetta by the mother of the first husband of the man’s wife. As a result, the possibility arises that a death that had been ruled accidental five years earlier may have been a murder.
SPOILERS (But read it anyway):
The mother of the man who “accidentally” died years earlier has hired a hitman to murder her her daughter-in-law’s second husband, who she suspects of murdering her son. When the police arrive (Lennie Briscoe and Ray Curtis), a plump, bespectacled, chubby-cheeked man walking his fluffy white toy dog that evening is the witness who called in the shooting.
He points in the direction of where he heard the shot with a poop-filled doggie-bag clutched in his hand. After he gives his statement, the police let him go.
But once the investigation goes forward and ballistics come back, the police realize that their helpful witness, Mr. Milktoast, is a HITMAN, who has been associated with multiple murders(!)
And, you guessed it, later in the act where all the pieces are creating a better picture of the crime, Lennie figures out that THE GUN WAS INSIDE THE POOP-FILLED DOGGIE BAG THE “WITNESS” SHOWED TO THE POLICE AND VIEWER IN THE FIRST SCENE.
Brilliant. Both the non-cliche hitman and the clue planted right in our faces.
So don’t make things obvious. Drop a piece of the puzzle here and there. I like to use lists with the clue buried inside. But don’t make finding your clues so hard your reader hates you at the reveal. For mystery, the pleasure’s in the puzzle. ♣️