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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lemon Meringue Pie Murder... by Joanne Fluke


OK, most of you know the drill. I'm an aspiring mystery writer, reading mysteries to glean techniques and tips to improve my own writing. So while this entry will have some elements of a book review, generally I diverge and talk about my own work. You've been warned. :)

I almost always begin reading a series at the beginning. But I had wanted to check out a sample from this popular cozy series, and that book at BJ's was only four dollars and change. It doesn't really matter anyway, because after reading one, I went to the local Barnes and Noble and bought the rest of the series--despite the fact that my 'to be read' pile gets bigger and bigger. Now if only I could figure out why so I could bottle it and apply it to my own writing!

The mystery was adequately developed. Yes, I did figure out whodunit--and very early. But that is par for the course for me. I think red herrings could have been a little better developed--I wasn't sure who else I was supposed to suspect. So while that is not a deterrent, it is not the thing that has drawn me to this series.

I'm sure part of the attraction is characterization. Amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen is more at home in her cookie shop. (Yes, there are recipes.) She fights the same battles that many of us do--in this book she struggles with weight and self-image, unclear relationships, a ticking biological clock and a match-making mother. The town around her is quirky and diverse. I liked the inclusion of a man with learning disabilities--you don't always see that. This book also mentions children and the elderly, people that are often left out of many mysteries.

But I half-suspect the biggest draw is the romantic potential. Fluke has done what almost everyone who has captured me to a series (whether it is in television or in books) has done. She has intrigued me with a potential romance. And not a romance that takes place in the course of a book. It is a relationship that stretches over a series. It is not so much the bringing of two people together--it is the magnetism that is created while keeping them apart. This is money in the bank. In this book, she has two potential suitors. It made me want to know how that situation came about (so I bought the older books) and how it will be resolved (so I bought the later books).

That being said, a series hook doesn't necessarily need to be romantic. An unanswered question, an unresolved conflict, or an unfinished quest can be just as satisfying. Other non-romantic hooks that have caught me were the fugitive's quest to find the one-armed man who killed his wife, and similarly Monk's quest to find his wife's killer. The incredible Hulk's attempt to fix his condition kept me turning in. And of course, Gilligan and the castaways kept trying to get off the island.

While the germ of an idea for my second book will include more of a romantic subplot, I'm wondering if I have included enough in my first attempt to hook the reader into a series. I hope the characterization is there. Early critiques of Wendy are positive. People like her--especially beta readers in my target audience. And on my second pass, I hope to cozy up my town a little more. Since Wendy is happily married, the greatest romance potential is opened up between my sidekick and my protag's daughter. And I only touched on it. I'm not sure if I have effectively created enough magnetism there to make people want it. I'll take another look at that too.

Meanwhile, Fluke has given me a lot to think about. Is there another unanswered question or unrealized quest that I have included, or could include in my book? Five dollars, er... more like eighty when you add the rest of the series, well spent.

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