LORI ROBBINS – The Amateur Sleuth: Dis-Armed and Probably Not Dangerous
Lori Robbins is the author of the On Pointe and Master Class mystery series. She won the Indie Award for Best Mystery, the Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery, and is currently a finalist for a Mystery & Mayhem Book Award. Short stories include “Accidents Happen” in Murder Most Diabolical and “Leading Ladies” in Justice for All. She is also a contributor to The Secret Ingredient: A Mystery Writers Cookbook. Lori’s experiences as a professional dancer, English teacher, writer, and mother of six have made her an expert in the homicidal impulses everyday life inspires.
Latest Projects: Lesson Plan for Murder, the first book in my Master Class mystery series, will be re-released in September. The third work in my On Pointe mystery series, Murder in Third Position, will release on November 22nd. All are published by Level Best Books.
A killer in the shadows. A ballerina in the spotlight. One missed cue, and the curtain will fall on Leah Siderova’s career. And her life.
Despite my devotion to crime fiction, I’m not in the market for a Glock. Nor do I plan to engage upon a high-speed chase anytime soon since I still get nervous merging onto the Garden State Parkway. As for courage under fire, I would never follow a suspect down a dark alley if there was the slightest chance of running into a rodent of any size. And don’t get me started on the topic of creatures with more than four legs. Staring down a threat like that is simply not happening unless I was armed with an industrial-sized can of bug spray and could aim it from a remote location.
Perhaps this is why I prefer to write and read stories with amateur sleuths. One of the great pleasures of this genre of crime fiction is it enables a vicarious experience that allows us to be a better and braver version of ourselves. We’re given the opportunity to investigate with a detective who possesses the deficiencies most of us share. And when a flawed hero or heroine overcomes weakness and delivers justice, this feels like a win for ordinary people everywhere.
As a writer, my heroines pose a creative challenge of no small proportion. They won’t leap into danger unless forced to do so, and even then, they constantly threaten to pack up and go home. The only way to credibly place these risk-averse characters at the heart of a murder investigation is to make the impossible seem inevitable, and narrowing my protagonists’ options is how their transformation from hesitant to heroic happens. Actions that would have been unthinkable on page two become the only means of survival on page two hundred. In order to make their journey believable, I imagine myself in my character’s place. That’s why both my mystery series are inspired by lived experiences.
My first career was as a dancer. It’s a world I know intimately, and because it’s filled with inherent conflict, it works well as a dramatic framework for a murder mystery. A ballerina’s professional life is brutally short, even without a fictional crime thrown into the mix, and this vulnerability makes dancers extremely susceptible to all kinds of pressure. An added element of tension is the fact that dancers aren’t simply in competition with each other. They’re also in competition with themselves: their own bodies and their own frailties. The stresses dancers face didn’t need much in the way of exaggeration to provide plenty of motivation for murder. The emotions are real, even if the situation is fiction.
Much of what makes the amateur-sleuth genre of crime fiction so satisfying is that an unexceptional person is challenged with the opportunity to do extraordinary things. But the quests aren’t one-dimensional. In Murder in First Position, for example. Leah’s journey takes place externally, in the context of a murder investigation, but it also takes place internally as well. She learns there’s more to life and to her than being onstage. You don’t have to know the difference between a plié and a pirouette to understand the heartbreak of losing a much-loved job or the triumph of achieving a hard-fought victory.
Ideally, the mundane elements of an amateur sleuth’s life become her superpower, and tapping into those resources is how armchair detectives connect with their fictional alter egos. The English teacher in Lesson Plan for Murder uncovers the identity of the killer using clues from the literature she teaches. The ballerina in the On Pointe Mysteries draws upon her knowledge of stagecraft to hide in plain sight.
Amateur sleuths bring order out of chaos armed only with their wit, their intelligence, and their determination to see justice done. There’s nothing ordinary about that.
I’m a member of the NY/Tristate Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America [NY], and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
I’m most active on Instagram, but I also post on Facebook, with the occasional tweet thrown in. Honestly, I’ve tried and failed multiple times on Twitter.
Lori, you sound like you have enough ideas to keep your protagonist on her toes. Pardon the pun, but I’ve always been in awe of dancers, and you seem like you have a great sense of humor. My feet hurt just looking at your cover. Best of luck to you with your new one.