The mystery, like other stories, relies on believable characters, a strong narrative, and crisp prose. But it is also "a way of examining the dark side of human nature," says Writing Mysteries editor Sue Grafton. The book's 37 contributors ponder everything from brainstorming ideas to dealing with editors. Jeremiah Healy jump-starts the book with a piece that considers the unwritten "rules" of mystery writing. Stuart Kaminsky discusses research--experts, it turns out, are just waiting for you to contact them--and Sandra Scoppettone discusses vivid villains. Sara Paretsky contemplates the pitfalls of using a recurring hero, and Michael Connelly contributes a fine piece on characterization. "The best crime novels," Connelly says, "are not about how a detective works on a case; they are about how a case works on a detective." Other chapters focus on amateur sleuths, convincing dialogue, depiction of violence, and specialty genres. The book's short chapters form a sort of mystery writer's antipasti plate. Some won't resonate, while others will leave you wishing you had a larger serving. An ideal primer for mystery writers. --Jane Steinberg
Sue Grafton is the best-selling author of the Kinsey Millhone series. She lives in Southern California.