Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not All Dead Bodies are Created Equal

I will be the first to admit, murder mysteries used to turn me off, primarily because they were so clichéd.
Here’s the modern murder mystery round up that wound find me pulling my hair and tossing the book:
  • Humble but sexy woman with obvious hawtness characteristics gets involved with a dead body because her lover/friend/brother/mom/employee is the main suspect. She has a cat, runs some business around food, or is the happy proprietor of a B&B that barely makes enough money to pay the rent. Sometimes all three.
  • Hawtness has run-ins with the Salty Detective on the case who blames her for “meddeling.” Secretly, these two want to shag, and the reader can practically smell the sexual tension on the page.
  • Instead of giving into carnal desires like normal single people, each has sex with someone else in a bad case of projection.
  • Hawtness finds clues because she is a smart, stubborn woman. Who’s hawt.
  • Hawtness has personal problems as a side plot.
  • The murderer comes for Hawtness because she is too smart for her own good, and monologs.
  • Salty Detective saves the day, but only because Hawtness showed him the real clues, which he was conveniently coming back to discuss, thereby interrupting Hawtness’s impending murder.
  • Hawtness has more celebratory sex (which may or may not be torrid), but not with Salty Detective, because the next book needs to start with some TENSION BY GOD!
Admit it. You’ve read this novel.
I used to hate this kind of book but I have grown to appreciate it for what it is: bubblegum. On occasion, I like bubblegum. Some days I want to mindlessly chomp on something sugary and fun and blow bubbles.
Now, at my house, this leads to a sticky mess because my kids really, really, really, (really) want to blow bubbles and it bothers them to no end that I can blow these monster bubbles and they can’t. So they practice.
Hey, the Old Man is good for something. Sometimes I go for a drive so I can chew bubblegum without explaining for the tenth time it is not necessarily to blow so hard the bubblegum sticks to the ceiling. The vaulted ceiling.
But, I digress.
My problem with these types of murder mysteries was just that: my problem. Instead of appreciating the fun little romps that they are, I just moved on. The Wife Unit was the mystery reader, not I.
Then I started reading one of the WU’s Falco books, A Body in the Bathhouse, by Lindsey Davis.
Wait… what?
This book is good!
That’s when I learned in any given genre, there are sub-genres, and like science fiction and fantasy, there are types of books for every mood. Some are so much better than others are, some are bubblegum and some make you cry your eyes out as they press all your buttons.
The moral of this story, Dearest Readers, is if you pooh-pooh a genre, perhaps your narrow vision needs work, and it’s not so much the genre as a lack of research into finding the sub-genre that interests you.
In the end, I decided I love a good murder mystery, which is not just character driven, but also thought provoking. If it has a great setting, so much the better, and I found out I like the historical murder mystery. I like it a lot.
There is certain purity in a dead body. The stakes are high. Someone died. The murderer my kill again. It’s up to the main character to come to grips with this death and solve the mystery. And boy-howdy (boy-howdy is a technical term), a good book when the stakes are high is the cat’s meow.
My name is Anthony Pacheco, and I thought I would never, ever say this: I write murder mysteries. It’s what I do. I have other book projects, but from a writer’s perspective, seeing the dead body on the floor in my mind’s eye sends chills down my spine. I type as fast as I can, because I can’t wait to find out how the main character solves the mystery!


  1. My latest dead body mysteries and thrillers are written by Greg Iles. I've read "Dead Sleep", "True Evil", and "Turning Angel". They were all great.

  2. I also write murder mysteries; but not like the ones you've described. Mine are far more character driven and take place in pre-WWII and WWII England. I don't write whodunnits, I write whydunnits.


  3. Caleb Carr's The Alienist is, imho, the absolute best of this genre. he's genius ;)


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