I grew up an avid reader, and plenty of authors have influenced my writing. While there are oodles of fantastic female mystery authors among the living, such as Rhys Bowen, Susan Elia MacNeal, and Jacqueline Winspear, I’d like to touch on some of the greats who have passed away but left behind a legacy in suspense/mystery writing. Each broke barriers leading the way for the rest of us to follow.
Known for her Regency Romances and wickedly funny writing style, Georgette Heyer wrote many genres including mystery, a variety of historical periods, and modern-day thrillers. While her comedy novels were most popular, she did write stories with tragic endings. Much like her female author contemporaries, Heyer had to wade through the condescension and disdain of male writers and publishers who mocked women for presuming to write. But write she did and with such panache.
I was introduced to Heyer through one of her most well-known romance novels, The Grand Sophy, and I went on to read at least a dozen more of them before stumbling across one of her mysteries, Why Shoot a Butler. In her most popular novels, Heyer amuses us with razor-sharp comedy through her witty dialog and amusing character personalities. Focused mostly on the British upper class, Heyer had a way of weaving interesting mysteries that were sometimes criticized as clichéd. According to her son, Heyer “regarded the writing of mystery stories rather as we would regard tackling a crossword puzzle – an intellectual diversion before the harder tasks of life have to be faced.” Clichéd or not, I can’t help enjoying her upper-crust British tales.
Agatha Christie is considered to be the best-selling fiction writer of all time. Guinness World Records lists Christie as having sold more than 2 billion books worldwide. My first introduction to Agatha Christie was not one of her books, but rather a movie that I happened to stumble upon while channel surfing. It was the 1965 version of Ten Little Indians. When I realized the movie was based on Christie’s book, And Then There Were None, I borrowed it from the library and was soon caught up in the midst of an exciting ride.
One of the things I enjoy about reading Christie is her heavy reliance on dialog to develop the plot and set up the murderer. There are times in Christie’s novel when the reader might find the pacing a bit slow, however, if you skim over these points, you are likely to miss an important clue that will help lead you to the perpetrator. I admit that my own novels have very little resemblance to Christie’s style. While her storylines are quite methodical and deliberate puzzles to solve, my own mysteries are rather fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants style with a good bit of action, adventure, and dumb luck for my heroine, who is not a trained detective. However, I do try to use dialog to a similar advantage that Christie used hers, by explaining plot points and dropping clues.
As you may know, Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym for over a dozen authors who have written for the Nancy Drew mystery series. Edward Stratemeyer, a publisher, and writer of children’s books had the original idea for Nancy Drew. Too busy to write the series himself, he hired ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson, and gave the series the pen name, Carolyn Keene. Benson wrote the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock, published in 1930, on to write 23 more Nancy Drew mysteries for Stratemeyer.
I, of course, wanted to grow up to become Nancy Drew or any female crime-fighting detective for that matter. The TV show, Charlie’s Angels, was popular at the time I was reading Nancy Drew. During sleepovers at my girlfriend’s house, we would run around chasing invisible bad guys and karate kicking them into submission. Clearly, by the age of 10, I knew solving crimes was in my blood. Little did I know, like Benson, I would be solving those crimes on paper rather than on the street.
#2 Mary Stewart
I was introduced to Mary Stewart through my mother. One summer, during high school, she gave me her tattered copy of Nine Coaches Waiting, and I was hooked. Stewart’s Wikipedia page describes her as, “a British novelist who developed the romantic mystery genre, featuring smart, adventurous heroines who could hold their own in dangerous situations.” I could not have written a better description of her writing style, and, as a reader who dislikes wallflower characters, Stewart’s strong female leads were right up my alley.
Both Stewart and I write in the first person which gives the reader insight into our characters’ psyche. It can also amp up the suspense because the protagonist and the reader don’t know what their adversaries are doing behind the scenes. One of my favorite aspects about Stewart’s early novels is, even though they were written in her modern-day, some of them are now over sixty years old. Because I enjoy that historical fiction facet, I’ve decided to write a short story mystery that takes place in the 50s—when ladies always wore dresses, and conservative conformity was at odds with the younger generation’s liberal rebellions.
When I look up Mertz’s pseudonyms online, her novels are labeled as suspense/thriller/mystery, but when I grew up reading them, the library and bookstores placed them under the “gothic” genre. In reality, her novels included romance, history, suspense, and supernatural elements centralized on highly curious, smart, and strong-willed women.
It was through Barbara’s nom de plume, Elizabeth Peters, that I discovered my own fascination with archeology, artifacts, and art crimes. Her three intrepid amateur sleuth series’ featuring Amelia Peabody, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby draws readers into such fantastical locations as the pyramids of ancient Egypt, crumbling Roman temples, or medieval German castles. Every story is woven with a witty and daring protagonist who jumps into each adventure with both feet. Amelia Peabody’s trips to Egypt inspired me to incorporate an Egyptian artifact into my own Karina Cardinal mystery, Pharaoh’s Forgery. Mertz’s mysteries also stirred the juices of my first Karina Cardinal novel, Isabella’s Painting, where I incorporated one of the highest valued art thefts in history. I also learned, through her Vicky Bliss series, that mystery does not necessarily have to begin with a dead body. Thieves, stolen artifacts, forged talismans, and grainy photographs can lead an amateur sleuth down perilous paths with just as much fun and entertainment as a dead body.
Thanks to all of these authors and so many more, not only did they spark my imagination, but they also led me into a career that I love and hope to continue pursuing far into my doddering old age.
A Karina Cardinal Mystery: Book 5
Publication Date: September 1, 2021
There are no softball cases in the FBI…especially when an agent gets dirty.
Karina Cardinal’s Saturday starts out with a bang, and it’s not the home renovation marathon she’s watching on HGTV. It’s the FBI banging on her door, hunting for a fugitive. As if she could easily hide one in her modest condo. Especially one named Mike Finnegan.
The two of them called it splitsville a couple months ago, but Mike? Take a $1.2 million bribe? No and no and no. No matter how much damning evidence the feds claim to have. When a mysterious burner phone shows up in her pocket, Karina has no doubt who dropped it there. Mike is deep undercover and so far off-grid, he needs help to figure out who’s framing him—and why.
Classic Karina, she jumps in with both feet, ignoring the dangers. The trouble with leaping before you look? You can land in a world of dirt. And when an old enemy starts playing hardball, you can end up six feet under it.
International bestselling and award-winning author Ellen Butler presents book five in the Karina Cardinal mystery series! Fans of Elizabeth Peters and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum will adore this gripping mystery adventure.
Ellen Butler is the international bestselling author of the Karina Cardinal mystery series and award-winning historical suspense, The Brass Compass. Fans who enjoy the suspense of Melinda Leigh and the humor of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum will fall in love with Butler’s Karina Cardinal. Her experiences working on Capitol Hill and at a medical association in Washington, D.C. inspired the mystery-action series. The Brass Compass has won multiple awards for historical fiction and is compared to such bestselling novels as Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale. Ellen lives with her family in the suburbs of Washington, DC.
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