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Old 02-12-2020, 04:16 PM   #5
Quoth
the rook, bossing Never.
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I wonder is that an Ian Rankin I've not read yet? Don't say.

US TV tends to reveal the criminal at the start (Colombo).

The criminal shouldn't be obvious, but should be a reasonably early character.

There are really 5 versions:
1) The reader or viewer knows at the start and the fun isn't the mystery but the characters.
2) The criminal is one of the characters maybe first 1/4 or 1/3 of the book, but you'll maybe only guess. Dashiell Hammettt, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tay etc. You are not meant to figure it out, though sometimes you can. Some Perry Mason stories are like this. These are often the best if properly done.
3) The criminal is one of the characters maybe first 1/4 or 1/3 of the book, and if you are clever you can solve it.
4) The nasty, stupid story. The criminal is the Detective, or someone totally incidental, or only introduced near the end. That's not a proper detective story, maybe an exception are well done "Police Procedural" stories, of which maybe Ed McBain was the origin?
5) The distraction. Everyone seems to forget the serious crime and be running after something else. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is an example. The REAL issue is WHO KILLED Miles Archer! But we are totally distracted by the Maguffin, the black bird. These are usually also type 2 or 3.

The butler / maid / doorman almost never does it as that would be a cheat.

You don't need contemporary (don't forget Conal Doyle, Hammett, Chandler, Alliingham, Marsh, Christie all did contemporary), the Caves of Steel and many other Asimov classics with Robots are really detective stories, the whole point of the 3 laws is really a sort of locked room mystery. It's why I only like the Early Foundation novels, the later ones are retconning characters really invented for detective stories, they have other issues too.

Georgette Heyer's romances were mostly Georgian & Regency. I think all her detective stories are contemporaneous with when they were written.

Some of the LeCarré Spy stories are really detective stories. Really none of the Ian Fleming actual Bond books are spy stories at all. They are adventure romps with Spy background. Len Deighton has an interesting balance of detective and spy in many of his stories. Certainly many involve solving a mystery, Hook, Line and Sinker series?

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and at the end the author ends up doing all sorts of contortions and gymnastics to justify why that character did it.
Unless the main point of the story is human drama, romance or what ever, then that's just a rubbish mystery/detective story.

Also a good mystery/detective story doesn't need to start with a mutilated woman's corpse. TV seems especially guilty of that. You don't even have to have a murder. See Baroness Orczy, Conan Doyle, Maurice Leblanc. Not always murders, though it's very traditional.
There are thousands of brilliant stories on Gutenberg. I find many current or recent authors too "gritty". I'm not into horror disguised as a detective story.
Decent modern mysteries & detective stories may be currently "hidden" in so called "YA" fantasy.
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