Books, Mystery + History

I see that Sue at JibberJabber has posted this writing prompt for today: BOOKS

Oh, yes. Ask me about books! 🙂

And this afternoon some author sent an e-mail notice that there’s going to be a SALE of MYSTERY BOOKS this weekend Here’s the scoop.

Just lately I read an article about the “rules” for writing mystery books. I wish I could remember them all, but a few were:
— The victim was someone not well liked. (Which definitely makes sense. There has to be some motive.)
— The one who solves the crime, or sleuth, must be an amateur, not a regular law officer assigned to the case. (Otherwise the story falls into the category of police procedural.)
— There may be animals, but they never get hurt. And you almost never see children in a mystery story.
It doesn’t say there should be a handsome single detective handling the case, or a grouchy middle-aged not–interested-in-silly-details type, but those seem to be the police options you find in mysteries.

Another important rule I could mention is: DO THE RESEARCH!

I know, this is one of my favorite beefs. But I just read two mysteries set in England, written by American authors. Do you know where I’m going with this?

Reading the reviews on Amazon for the one book gave hubby and me a chuckle, especially the reviewer who said, “We do not put cream in our tea and a Scotsman does not have an Irish accent!” This was from a review of the first book in the Helen Lightholder  mystery series. Setting your book in 1942 rural England means a lot of research. Please don’t skimp on this.

During the war years, a young, seemingly able-bodied man in England (who could hop over a fence easily) would never have said, “Especially with this war going on, I haven’t been able to find work.” He supposedly had a heart defect that kept him out of the army, but there was employment for all. And he’d have been questioned constantly about why he wasn’t in uniform. The writer just hasn’t gotten the atmosphere in England during those years.

I got a kick out of how the detective shows Helen her aunt’s obit, then says, “I’ll get you a copy.” And he comes back a few minutes later with the copy. Ha! These young squirts who write books nowadays! (This led Hubby and me into a discussion of mimeograph machines and Gestetner copiers. Remember those?)

Another reviewer, this time of the first book in the Lacey Doyle series: “The author’s knowledge of the world and how it works is abysmal. Her knowledge of England and the English is even worse.” I have to agree.

These writers are both good at their craft, but must have thought they could wing it re: situation. Sadly, most reviewers said they weren’t going to read the next book in the series, mainly for this reason.

One story I read, set in the late 1800s was loaded with anachronisms both in behavior and in language. In one place a male character asks our single heroine, “So what do you do for work?” (What’s the chances, in that era? Women’s employment options were very limited.) And she answers, “I’m into relationships.” In 1890? Groan!

Any genre, any era. If you don’t want one- and two-star reviews, writers, please do the research. Understand the era. Or have someone read over your manuscript who does know that history or place and/or setting.

12 thoughts on “Books, Mystery + History

  1. Totally agreed. Though sometimes an author can do the research and still fudge up the presentation. Personal case in point, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes—the way his main character described his computer usage just took me out of the story.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Did you hear me cheering at every point?
    And it’s not just fiction writers. Screen writers are as bad. I remember watching Tristram & Isolde with the screenwriter’s commentary. He said, in terms of pride, that he researched it well, then added it took him a week. Which might account for a South American poison being used in ca 6th/7th century Ireland, and an Anglo-Saxon name given to the lord of Glastonbury… while the Celtic Brits were still fighting said A/S, and note, they were as yet Anglo-Saxons, not as given in the movie, English! And that was just for starters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your vote of support! Have you seen the mystery series where the MC is Nicholas, an Oxford book seller, set in the 1370s, I think? Just reading the blurb made me laugh.

      I guess writers think, “if people now won’t know that it’s historically incorrect, then it doesn’t matter.” And sometime the writer is just too young to remember even how life and social mores were in the ’50s, as I knew it, never mind earlier. In the last book, set int he 1890s, this MC, supposedly a Christian, goes into a western saloon and challenges a crook to a drinking contest. (she discreetly pours her drinks into a nearby plant.) Never, never! The bartender wouldn’t have served her.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fantasy is easier; all you have to do is make sure the MC behaves in character.
        The second story, Lacey Doyle hops a plane to London and takes a cab to a coastal resort. (Made of money?) Then she fills in an business plan and her application goes through in a day. (No red tape in England.) Then she rents a store and, in a trip to London, fills her store with valuable antiques. (Made of money!) So a week after landing she’s in business. British reviewers had a lot to say about all this. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravo, you’ve highlighted something that is a pet hate of mine! From historical inaccuracies to Dick van Dyke’s appalling English accent in Mary Poppins, trying to authenticate something you know little or nothing about is asking for trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. the farther back in history one goes, the harder it may be to verify small details, but when it comes to questions that could be answered fairly easily with a bit of research, writer integrity demands it.
      I was thinking of a book I started one time, set in London around 1944. A 17yr-old girl falls for a Canadian soldier based in London. Whoa!! The Canadian army base was NOT in London. She wouldn’t have been there, either; she’d have been evacuated with all the other children. Her parents were opposed and she couldn’t have married him at age 17 without parental consent. Etc, etc…

      Liked by 1 person

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