Classic whodunits revolve around the mystery that shrouds the murderer’s identity and how the crime was committed. Their popularity has been an enduring genre presence in Crime Fiction but over time, they’ve become increasingly cliché ridden which sadly, more often than not, limits the element of surprise on the part of the reader, particularly when it comes to the reveal and the identity of the murderer.
Few Crime Fiction authors genuinely excel at successfully misleading their readers and revealing an unlikely suspect as the real villain of the story and those that do can invariably be found at the very top of Whodunit Bestseller lists. Of course, all genres evolve, conventions change and these days many Crime Writers lean towards the dysfunctional human relationships that orbit the murder victim. Playing to our fascination with serial killers, scalpel-wielding blood splatter pathologists, and cutting social commentary. Solving the Whodunit Mystery is still the heart of a detective story but authors are ever cognizant of the realities and uncertainties that plague the world around us and this creates an edgier sense of realism that comes through strongly in modern crime fiction.
Draw up a list of Best Whodunit Novels and you’ll be hard pressed not to include the likes of On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré or Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. They certainly set the bar for emerging authors and those who have their sights set on a Whodunit Bestseller need to do their homework before putting pen to paper. But the greats certainly have a lot to teach us about writing Whodunits and probably none better known than Raymond Chandler whose Ten Commandments still stand the test of time.
1) It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
2) It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
3) It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.
4) It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
5) It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
6) It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
7) The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
8) It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
9) It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
10) It must be honest with the reader.
Following Chandlers guidelines will certainly get you off to a good start and help develop a compelling story and we hope we’ve given you something to reflect upon. Whatever your thoughts we are always open to comments and ideas and if you have a book you’d like to submit for review you can do so HERE