Undertaking the Investigation: Commit to the investigation a component of an Act 1 beat that is just as it seems. Your sleuth—whether he’s a cigar-smoking lieutenant in the LAPD with a New York accent—MUST COMMIT to solving the crime because that’s his job. Or your sleuths—like a bunch of meddling kids in a flowered purple minivan who say things like, “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands,”—meddle and solve the crime because they must be rich since all they seem to do is drive around in the van solving crimes. Seriously. Who pays for their gas and food?
Coerce and threaten
But the sleuth’s commitment to solving the crime doesn’t need to be as clear cut as a freshly sharped blade. You can coerce your sleuth. Like in the De-Extinct Zoo mystery, Signs (Potenza, coming June 2023). While trying to protect one of the de-extinct animals, a giant ape named Horace, the amateur sleuth is threatened by her boss, the director of the BioPark. Either Milly investigates, or…
“If you do not comply,” Dr. Kingbird continued, “you will be summarily fired and escorted out of the BioPark, and I don’t care that you have cheerleaders on the board. Do I make myself clear?”
Milly gritted her teeth. “Crystal. Although I’m sure the police will be very interested to know that you delayed calling them so the BioPark could pursue their own investigation. What are you trying to cover up, Dr. Kingbird?”
Luther groaned. “Milly, please.”
Kingbird’s eyes bored into Milly’s, glacier cold. But her anger dissolved into calculation. Milly tensed.
“My mistake. I shouldn’t have threatened you, Dr. Smith. I apologize. Instead, Horace will be the one to pay. I’ll even let you choose the method. Summary execu— I mean, euthanasia? Banishment to China? Separated from his troop because of you.”
Or what if the sleuth doesn’t want to investigate but then makes a rash promise to do? Like Myrna Lee does in Sting of Lies (Potenza, coming October 2023) when a man falls at her feet from a cliff. (William Tell is her little dog with a ton of attitude.)
“Can’t feel my legs.” His voice was no more than a rasp of sound. “Think my back’s … broke.” More blood bubbled over his lips and started oozing from his nose. He took a wet sucking breath. “Tell my wife…tell Elsie. The book’s safe. Tell her I hid it where those…boneheads…will never find it. She’ll know what to do. Tell her I love her forever.” His lips twitched into a faint smile. “Even if she started out on the wrong side. And that…I’m sorry.”
Myrna rolled to her knees and sat on her heels, William Tell snuggled across her lap. Cold cedar and leather mixed with the metallic tang of fresh blood. With gentle fingers, Myrna brushed the hank of hair off his forehead. “Who did this to you?”
“They’ll come…to make sure,” he said. “Hide, or they’ll kill you, too.” His brow furrowed and his bloody lips twisted into a small frown. “Promise you’ll tell her. She’ll worry so.”
Myrna nodded. She cupped his cheek. “I promise.”
That seemed to comfort him. He sighed out a whispered “Thank you.”
The example given in the Commit to Solve the Crime section is from Miss Congeniality (2000), where the FBI agent assigned to be in a beauty pageant to stop a terrorist from blowing it up comes to realize that the women in the pageant aren’t the stereotypes she thought they were. And that maybe she’s the stereotype of the agent who was only the job.
What’s really great about Miss Congeniality is that the crime effects the sleuth and changes her into someone better than she was before, always a bonus for your readers.
And remember, April 25th, the perfect date, is coming up!