Analyzing a few books

This pile encompasses a big chunk of my cozy mystery collection.  (At least, the ones that aren’t in storage.)  I picked them because they’re all about the same size, which makes them easier to stack in a nice pile for pictures like this:


For the next three ‘writing’ posts, I thought I’d look through them to answer three questions I am constantly second-guessing myself on about my own writing- how early should the precipitating murder occur, how long should the book be, and should I write it in first or third person?  (No need to ask Kevin’s opinion on that third one- he adamantly loathes first person.  Won’t read it for anything.)

This isn’t going to be scientific, I’m just going to see what my personal collection says and share it with you all.

Today I’m going to see how early in the story the murder occurs in each book.  Except that one on top, because the precipitating event isn’t a murder.  Also, so I don’t ruin the fun for any of you that want to read these books one day, I’m not going to tell you what they are.  Instead I’ll number them.  These are all trade paperbacks, so the page number might be different depending on if you’re reading a different format.

When the murder should happen is both a very well agreed upon and very divisive subject in mystery writing circles.  I suspect that part of the discord is because every genre should treat it a little differently.  For police procedurals, the murder has to happen first- it’s the whole point.  That’s why so many of them start with the murderer or victim’s perspective before shifting to the protagonist’s.  For something like a cozy, I think it can be more relaxed, because we read them just as much for the characters as for the whodunnit.  Even so, the most common rule of thumb that I hear is “do it within the first three chapters or fifty pages.’  Let’s see how that holds up in the real world, shall we?

  • Book One– Page 19 / Chapter 1
  • Book Two– Page 30 / Chapter 4
  • Book Three– Page 8 / Chapter 1
  • Book Four– Page 23 / Chapter 2
  • Book Five– Page 97 / Chapter 10
  • Book Six– Page 29 / Chapter 3
  • Book Seven–  Page 17 / Chapter 1
  • Book Eight–  Page 52 / Chapter 3
  • Book Nine–  Page 52 / Chapter 4
  • Book Ten– Page 9 / Chapter 1
  • Book Eleven– Page 51 / Chapter 3
  • Book Twelve– Page 82 / Chapter 5
  • Book Thirteen– Page 78 / Chapter 6
  • Book Fourteen– Page 57 / Chapter 7
  • Book Fifteen– Page 21 / Chapter 2

That’s quite a spread.  Book Ten seemed to really want to get it out of the way, didn’t they?  While Book Five was almost putting it off.  I’m not sure what I’ve learned , except that the ‘first three chapters’ rule is even more loosey-goosey than I originally thought.

Do you guys have any preferences for your mysteries?  Off the victim on the first page, or spend more time developing inter-character relationships?

Tune in in two weeks when we find out what my collection has more of- first or third person!  The two books that got orphaned because they don’t contain enough ‘orrible murder get a say this time.

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