I just finished reading a mystery novel in which a wife was pushed over the side of a cliff while trying to reconcile with her estranged husband. The husband was the obvious suspect, but in the end it turned out to be her jealous, wheelchair-bound sister who actually committed the crime. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this frustrated me.
The crime must always be believable. If not, the entire story unravels and bags of burning dog poop should be left on the author’s doorstep. And, in this case, the resolution to the mystery borders on criminally ridiculous. How would the jealous, wheelchair-bound sister get up to the mountain cliff in the first place? And even if she could somehow get there, how could she knock her sister over without the estranged husband seeing it? And how did she not leave tire marks behind?
The author was making the least likely character turn-out to be the murderer, and I’ll admit I didn’t guess the ending. But that reveal left a lot of questions on the table. While the motive made sense — jealousy — the means and opportunity aren’t plausible. The physics of the murder don’t make sense.
So, the lesson here is, all the little details of the murder (the how, where, and why) have to come together cohesively. It’s the missing puzzle piece that must fit perfectly to complete the puzzle. Your reader will feel cheated if the crime is not something that could really happen.
Want to read more? Check out:
- Writing a Murder Mystery: Motives for Murder
- Hiding the Murderer in Your Mystery
- Bad Guys: The Whole Point of the Mystery