Posted by: nancycurteman | February 20, 2011

How to Feed a Mystery Novel Reader’s Thirst for Learning

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The modern mystery novel reader still wants a story filled with twists and turns, suspense and excitement. However, s/he also enjoys a good read in which s/he learns something new. How can the modern mystery writer create a novel that is a learning experience as well as an adventure? Here are two easy ideas that will work.

• Choose an interesting profession for a sleuth—bounty hunter, herbalist, ostrich farmer, volcanologist—the list is endless. Research the tools, tasks, problems and jargon associated with h/er job. Make her specialty work for her in solving the mystery murder.

• Select a setting that is off the beaten path. I chose Khayelitsha Township outside Cape Town, South Africa as the setting for my current novel. I set another of my stories in the Australian Outback. Again, research is critical. In addition, I always visit the places I send my sleuth. Think about unusual places you have visited or would like to visit. Create a reason for your sleuth to travel to a certain destination and wrap a mystery around it. As s/he follows the twisty path that leads to the slippery villain, plunge her into the culture, geography, weather, history and traditions of an unfamiliar people and place.

One important caveat: Don’t turn your mystery into a travelogue or job description. Your reader wants the new information incidental to the protagonist’s pursuit of justice.

A good mystery subtly laced with new information enhances enjoyment for knowledge-seeking readers.

More tips:

6 Ways to Avoid “Information Dumps” in a Mystery Novel



  1. Wonderful tips, NC.

    When the setting of a mystery, or the background of a sleuth, adds tasty tidbits to the story line. . . it makes for a more interesting read.


  2. You think of the most delightful desserts to place in front of your readers as they travel through the pages. Such a grand idea that costs the writer more time and effort in research and experience, but so well worth it! Thank you for sharing the ingredients to a first-class mystery write. Blessings to you, Nancy…


  3. Nancy ~ All I had to do to leave is this comment is type it in the open box and press Post Comment.


  4. I tried writing a bit of historical fiction and learned just how hard it is to describe a setting that you can only imagine in the point of view of a character that you’ve just met. Had a devil of a time, but the resulting chapters were a blast to read. Shame that I couldn’t find a way to weave them into my story line in the end.


    • I have a partially completed novel set in 53 BC among the Parisii people who inhabited the island in the middle of the Seine River when it was called Lutece. So, I know exactly what you mean. Someday I plan to finish it.


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