What Makes a Good Mystery?


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What Makes a Good Mystery? by Joan Y. Edwards

I’ve always loved a good mystery. I started out reading the Bobbsey Twins. I read every one of them that were published in fourth grade. I couldn’t wait to finish one and get to the next one. I had to walk a mile to get to the library. It was worth it.

When I taught school, I fell in love with Nate the Great and Encyclopedia Brown.

There are many good detective series on television that I enjoy is . Columbo, starring Peter Falk. He makes me laugh. I must admit I wouldn’t watch the first 15 minutes so that I wouldn’t see the murder happen. On an ironic note, one time they had two murders! They sneaked one in on me.

What makes a good mystery?

Someone commits a crime.

A good mystery novel challenges the reader to figure out who committed the crime before the detective explains how it was done, who did it, and why at the end. 

Red Herrings are fake clues given to throw the detective and the readers off track. These red herring characters mislead or distract the detective from a relevant or important question.

The main character in the story is usually the detective who wants to solve the mystery and apprehend the person who committed the crime.

Each character who is a prime suspect in a mystery needs to have at least one of these three things:

  1. Motive a reason for doing the crime for financial gain or to seek revenge
  2. Means to commit the crime having tools and physical capabilities of committing the crime
  3. Opportunity to do it and be at the actual scene of the crime

Of course, we know that the real person who did it will answer yes to motive, means, and opportunity.

The detective discovers the answers to motive, means, and opportunity by interviewing characters and investigating the scene where the crime took place.

I believe a suspect chooses a weapon that gives him the best chance to do the crime and get away it.

The following books are good mysteries to me.

Gertrude Chandler Warner: Boxcar Children,
Laura Lee Hope: The Bobbsey Twins
Donald J. Sobol: Encyclopedia Brown
Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: Nate the Great
Janet Evanovich:  Stephanie Plum Series
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

What are your favorite mysteries? Why do you like mysteries? Do you write mysteries? Tell me one title and why you wrote it.

Check out these resources below my signature. They are awesome.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2020 Joan Y. Edwards

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  1. Autocrit. “6 Non-Fishy Ways to Plant Red Herrings in Your Story:” https://www.autocrit.com/blog/6-non-fishy-ways-plant-red-herrings-story/
  2. Joseph Wu. “Red Herring – Critical Thinking Fallacies:” https://youtu.be/Af0STrY58i4
  3. Learning Mind. “12 of the Best Mystery Books Best Mystery Books That Will Keep You Guessing Until the Last Page:” https://www.learning-mind.com/best-mystery-books/
  4. M.T. Logan. “What Makes a Good Mystery:” https://mtlogan.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/what-makes-a-good-mystery/
  5. Nancy Curtemen. “5 Ways to Create Red Herrings in a Mystery Novel:” https://globalmysteriesblog.com/2011/07/07/5-ways-to-create-red-herrings-in-a-mystery-novel/
  6. Ramona DeFelice Long. “17 Ways to Mess Up Your Murder Mystery:” https://ramonadef.com/2014/06/24/17-ways-to-mess-up-your-murder-mystery/
  7. Simon Whistler. Today I Found Out. “How the Phrase Red Herring Came To Mean Something That is Misleading:” https://youtu.be/kWCQ4XDq4ng
  8. Scholastic. “Ingredients for a Mystery:” https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/teachers/lesson-plans/migrated-featured-files/jan_ingredientsmystery.pdf
  9. Stephen D. Rogers. “Red Herrings:https://www.writing-world.com/mystery/herrings.shtml
  10. Wiki-How. “How to Write Detective Stories:” https://www.wikihow.com/Write-Detective-Stories
  11. Writers’ Bureau. “Crime Novels:” https://www.writersbureau.com/writing/crime-novels.htm



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10 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Mystery?”

    1. Dear Melanie,
      Thank you for writing. I’m glad you think my post was thought provoking That’s cool that we both read the Bobbsey Twins. I didn’t like the Nancy Drew Mysteries for some reason. Glad we both like mysteries!

      Never Give Up

  1. My husband, Lou, and I went to see “Knives Out” at the movies last Saturday. It was a good mystery. I used to read mysteries as a kid. I don’t usually read them now. I did try my hand at writing a mystery short story for kids. Maybe I’ll dust it off, give it another look see and submit it. Could be. Thanks for sharing a post on writing and enjoying mysteries.

    1. Dear Linda,
      It’s good to hear from you! Thanks for writing. I’m glad that you and Lou both enjoyed seeing a good mystery at the movies, “Knives Out.” Did you ever play the game of Clue? Does it have Red Herrings?

      Never Give Up

      1. I have played Clue but so long ago, I can’t remember if it had red herrings. Lol! Don’t hire me to solve a mystery if you’re counting on top notch memory.

        1. Dear Linda,
          Thank you for writing. I am glad that you played “Clue.”

          No one remembers everything. We remember what was very important to us at the time.

          Enjoy your day!
          Joan Y. Edwards

  2. I love mysteries set in England. One of my favorite authors is Deborah Crombie with her Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series.

    1. Dear Juli,
      Thanks for writing. It is always a pleasure when I hear from you. I like mysteries set in England, too. I’ll check out Deborah Crombie’s books. Thanks for letting me know about her Duncan Kincaid series.

      Never Give Up

  3. I once attended a lecture on writing mysteries. The presenter (sorry, I forget her name!) said you need to work at three levels:
    1. What actually happened. This doesn’t go into the story, but is there as background.
    2. The detective’s journey in finding out what happened. This needs to have lots of false leads, and both internal and external conflict.
    3. What the reader is told. This is where cues should be presented so it’s fair, but in a misleading way.
    After listening to her, I wrote a short story set in Antarctica, in which the leader of a very small team is found with his head cut off. This is one of the stories in my anthology, “Through Other Eyes.”
    Joan, keep up the good work,

    1. Dear Bob,
      Thanks for reading my post and sharing information you learned at a lecture on writing mysteries…wonderful ideas.
      So nifty, when we discover new ideas and are able to create a wonderful thing using it. I am proud of all your writing and all the good things you do to help our world.

      Never Give Up

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