Saralyn Richard is the author of award-winning mysteries that pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. An active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature.
Her favorite thing about being an author is connecting with readers like you.
Detective fiction, also known as police procedurals or crime fiction, began in the English-language literature in the mid-nineteenth century with Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, a brilliant thinker who used “rationcination” to solve crimes. (The word detective hadn’t been invented yet, but Dupin’s name has its roots in “duping” or “deception.”) The enormously popular Dupin was followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
All three of these fictional detectives became larger-than-life and inspired generations of mystery authors. Thus, a subgenre of mystery fiction was born and has grown into one of the most preferred types of novels today. I’ve enjoyed detective fiction since I was a young girl (Nancy Drew), so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to analyze what makes it so engaging.
1. First, we have the age-old concept of good vs. evil. The detective is the force for good, seeking truth, determined to restore order by bringing evildoers to justice. How can the reader help rooting for that kind of hero?
2. A well-written detective novel invites the reader to follow the clues to join in solving the intellectual and emotional puzzle of the mystery. This participatory involvement brings readers close to writers who have laid out the puzzle for them. Whether I’m able to figure out the puzzle before the big reveal at the end or not, I’m thoroughly in sync with the author as I read along.
3. Detective novels reaffirm certain principles of culture and life. They underscore that bad things happen; that sometimes people fall prey to sin, corruption, and inhumanity; but also that when injustices occur, there are those who will work hard to right the wrongs. Crime doesn’t pay.
Detective Oliver Parrott, the righter of wrongs in my Detective Parrott Mystery Series, (whose last name is a nod to Poirot), carries all the charm of a good guy up against extremely difficult odds. Young, African American, and raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood, Parrott is an outsider in the opulent Brandywine Valley, where many of America’s wealthiest and most powerful live. Parrott’s intelligence, ambition, and strong moral compass give him the power to see beyond the glitz and secrecy and dare to challenge it.
Unlike Poirot and the traditional detectives, Parrott shares much of his life’s experience as he goes after criminals. His fiancée is doing a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Navy. His cousin has recently been killed as an innocent bystander by police fire. Parrott’s struggles are woven into the mystery in a way that makes him authentic and relatable. In each of the three books in the series (and a fourth coming before year’s end), the reader comes to know Parrott in a deeper way—he becomes as close as a neighbor, a relative, a friend. Like many other readers, I can’t wait to go along on Parrott’s next adventure. How about you?
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