Reading and Writing Mysteries

This was originally part of the Suite101 University ecourses offered for free. I wanted to preserve the information for myself and others as Suite101 is taking all of the ecourse University content down.


By Janet Blaylock


This course is a pre-requisite to “Writing Mysteries.”

What are your favorite genres? Romance perhaps? Maybe it’s Adventures or Comedies? How about the more intense genres of Mysteries, Detective Fiction, Suspense, Horror, or just good old Thrillers?

If you enjoy reading books by the earlier writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie; or the later writers such as Catherine Coulter, Nevada Barr, Sara Paretsky; or the famous authors of suspense or thrillers such as Mary Higgins Clark, Tess Gerritsen, Stephen King, or John Grisham; then you may find yourself investigating the cases right along with the detectives. This is the essence of a good thriller/suspense book because they have already captured you and will now hold you hostage until the plot is inevitably revealed.

In this course, you will study the elements of fiction such as settings, themes, characters, plots, etc. You will also be examining different authors and scenarios, and you will be reviewing mini-mysteries and short stories that encourage the reader to solve the crime. You will learn how to ready and analyze the stories you are reading. As a result, you will develop a deeper meaning of the stories than just reading for pleasure.

Are you ready to begin your journey into the world of mysteries and the subgenres? Once you start reading some of these stories, you will find them hard to put down.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Are you ready to begin your investigation of Mysteries? To start your journey, you will learn about the similarities and differences of the subgenres. These four lessons will provide the information you need to develop your understanding of mysteries and the subgenres. The short innovative assignments will teach you the necessary elements of these subgenres.

To begin your journey, you will need a notebook for your journal. By writing down the ideas that are presented in these lessons or any ideas that come to you, you will have the information handy when you are ready to tackle your reading assignments. You will also be analyzing the mini-mysteries and short stories.

This course is a pre-requisite to “Writing Mysteries.”



In Lesson One, you will learn about Mysteries. My objective for this lesson is to help you learn the similarities and differences of Mysteries and the subgenres. As you become familiar with the aspects of this genre, you can apply this knowledge to your writing. Materials I Used To Develop This Lesson (1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2) Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith (3) Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton (4) My articles titled “Detectives,” “Uniform Police Officers,” and Crime Scene Officers” (5) Writing the Novel From Plot To Print by Lawrence Block (6) Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published by Lesley Grant-Adamson (Available in the US and UK) Reading Assignments (1) My articles “Uniform Police Officers,” “Crime Scene Officers,” and “Duties of the Detectives” Suggested Writing Assignment Your first writing assignment will be to answer the question: “Why I Wanted To Take This Course?” This will help you to see what your goals are in reading and writing.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Notable Authors Of Suspense

According to Gillian Roberts in her book, You Can Write A Mystery, “suspense asks the question ‘What is going to happen?'” While you are reading, you are anxiously waiting to see what the characters will do next. This builds suspense.

Patricia Highsmith mentions in her book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, that suspense stories contain “a threat of violent physical action and danger or the danger and action itself.” She further states “that it provides entertainment in a lively and usually superficial sense.”

Reading suspense fiction does provide an entertaining plot as well as the intense desire to keep turning those pages. When you understand how plots are developed in the stories or books you read, you will be able to produce a well-developed plot yourself.

Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published by Lesley Grant-Adamson isn’t available, but she has some great ideas about those genres. The “principle of ‘let ’em laugh, let ’em cry, let ’em wait” sums up suspense fiction, even though laughter is normally reduced to the occasional smile at irony or wit. These novels can be as dark and brooding as the author feels the subject demands, and a grim humour will suffice. Character in decay is a familiar theme. Crime, or its aftermath, is usualy involved but isn’t a prerequisite.” (42) Reading Crime and Suspense fiction will cause readers to laugh, cry, and anticipate all subsequent plot actions. As a result, they are captivated by the plot and anxious to find out what happens to the villain and why he or she committed the crime.

The best way that Lesley Grant-Adamson describes suspense is “by the things it doesn’t have to do. It doesn’t, for example, have to offer reassurance, as the detective story does when the killer’s identity is revealed. Neither does it have to involve crime, nor are there conventions to follow. It can be a quiet book, lacking the dash and flurry that peps up crime novels and especially thrillers.” (42-43)

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine if the story is suspense, detective fiction, or thrillers. Suspense keeps the reader intrigued in the story. Most Detective Fiction writers have a detective as the narrator. Sometimes the villain tells the story. Thrillers can be more intense for readers.

In the next section, we will discuss detective fiction. After that, we will discuss thrillers.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Subgenres of Detective Fiction – Part One

Did you know that there are different types of Detective Fiction stories? You will learn about the following categories: Classic Detective Stories, Modern Crime Novels, Detective Novels, Police Procedurals, Private Detectives, Hardboiled Detective Fiction, Urban Hero, The Amateur Sleuth, Comic Detective Stories, Historical Crime, and Noir.

Questions For You To Think About

(1) What is the difference between Classic Detective Stories and Modern Crime Novels?

(2) What is the difference between Detective Novels, Police Procedurals, Private Detectives, and Hardboiled Detective Fiction?

Lesley Grant-Adamson discusses the different categories mentioned above in her book Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. However, the book is no longer available unless you can find a copy in a used book store or out of print books site.

In Part One, you will learn about Classic Detective Stories, Modern Crime Novels, Detective Novels, Police Procedurals, Private Detectives, and Hardboiled Detective Fiction.

In Part Two, you will learn about Urban Hero, The Amateur Sleuth, Comic Detective Stories, Historical Crime, and Noir.

Part Three will cover the duties of detectives, uniform police officers, and crime-scene officers. These are described in Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published by Lesley Grant-Adamson.

Classic Detective Fiction

Lesley Grant-Adamson in her book, Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published describes Classic Detective Stories as “a short, taut account of a murder investigation. The writer observes certain conventions in telling, most importantly providing the reader with every clue the detective uses to solve the case. Favorite settings are fictional villages or provinical towns, although there’s a current vogue for using real ones. Detective may be either amateur sleuths, private detectives or police officers.” (pg. 30) In detective fiction, the protagonist can be detectives, uniform police officers, or amateur sleuths.

At the end of her discussion of this section, she lists a few books that are examples of Classic Detective Stories. They are Agatha Christie’s book The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Speckled Band. This last story is one that we will be reading later on.

The Modern English Crime Novels

The Modern English Crime Novel refers “to a whole spectrum of novels. At one end are those whose origins in the classic detective story are obvious. At the other extreme are novels that involve no detective whatsoever, and are distinguished from mainstream fiction purely by the fact that they centre on a crime. Social issues and the quest for justice are the usual concerns of the modern crime novel. Detective stories continue to reassure, although less confidently than once upon a time.” (pg. 32) Sometimes detective fiction doesn’t involve crime. They are known as modern English crime novels.

Detective Novels

Detective novels are “[the] whodunit, as it reappears under the heading of modern crime fiction, is justifiably called the detective novel. Rules are relaxed although the basic principles of a murder plus a successful investigation apply. It is a more spacious and profound book that allows the author to study predicaments and personalities.” (pg. 33). Detective novels involve a detective and a case they are investigating and solving.

American-Inspired Police Procedurals

These novels focus on the relationship of the people at the police station. If you are interested in a series of books, then these types of novels are for you. They usually involve series characters.

Private Detectives

Private detectives are also protagonists in detective fiction short stories or novels. If you are interested in reading stories where the protagonist is a private detective, Lesley Grant-Adamson explains that “you need to learn how the real ones operate in the country you are writing about. In Britain, they are no more allowed to run around waving firearms than you and I are. Much of their work lacks drama: they keep watch for shoplifters; check up on errant husbands and wifes; hunt for people who have gone missing; and track down any information their clients can’t find out for themselves.” (pg. 37).

Hardboiled Detective Fiction

Hardboiled detective fiction is the next term Lesley Grant-Adamson mentions in her book. Hardboiled detective fiction “has long been applied to American stories about macho characters who make their living as private detectives.” (pg. 38)

The “hardboiled detective story is akin to writng a thriller. Pace is frenetic, narration is staccato, and your average hero is a man in a hurry, not one to wait upon events. He is a memorable character with a taste in cars or clothes that make him stand out from the herd.” (pg. 39) These two passages have given you a description of the protagonist. The main character is a private detective who is a strong, tough guy and have specific tastes in clothes and the type of cars he drives. He wants people to notice him. Also, the style of writing the author uses in hardboiled detective fiction is related to the style of writing in thrillers.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Subgenres of Detective Fiction – Part Two

In this section, you will learn about the Urban hero, amateur sleuths, comic detective stories, historical crime, and noir.

The Urban Hero

In Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published by Lesley Grant-Adamson, “[the] hardboiled detective story is fundamentally an urban one. Unlike other detective heroes, but rather like thriller heroes, the man may be capable of enacting crimes as appalling as the ones he sets out to investigate.” (pg. 39). The Urban hero is similar to thriller heroes yet more of a black sheep.

She also mentions in another passage that these heroes try to get themselves out of the messes they are involved in, even if it means killing someone. Writers need to “avoid killing him off because he might have the makings of a series hero.” (pg. 39)

Some examples of stories featuring Urban heroes are Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet.

Amateur Sleuths

Amateur Sleuths are another kind of protagonist. They “are an attractive proposition because they have even fewer restraints than the private detective and you can use a background you already know.” (pg. 40) Anyone who enjoys investigating circumstances or does it as their occupation will make great amateur sleuths. An “amateur who is in a natural position to investigate, someone like a journalist or an insurance investigator, has better scope. (pg. 40)

Some examples of stories with amateur sleuths are Wild Justice by Lesley Grant-Adamson and A Second Shot in the Dark by Annette Roome.

An amateur sleuth according to Gillian Roberts in her book, You Can Write A Mystery, “is Everyman, confronted with a problem that challenges the best of what he’s got. (pg. 12) Amateur sleuths can be anyone who has been confronted with a problem that has overwhelmed their curiosity. They are intrigued by the situation and have the desire to solve the case.

They also “run the gamut of occupational possibilities, a tiny portion of which include Nevada Barr’s park ranger, Annette Meyers’s Wall Street headhunter, Barbara Neely’s domestic worker, Aaron Elkins’s forensic paleontologist, Sarah Andrews’s geologist and Abigail Padgett’s child welfare worker.” (pg. 12) Amateur sleuths have all kinds of jobs that lead them to investigate crimes that have been committed in their environment.

The Semi-Pro

The semi-pro is another investigator. they are “[somewhere] between amateurs and professionals are the semi-pros–the journalists, lawyers and insurance investigators who in many ways have the best of both worlds.” (pg. 13) Anyone who normally investigates situations can be amateurs or semi-pros.

Comic Detective Fiction

Lesley Grant-Adamson additionally discusses the different kinds of detective fiction stories. She mentions the Comic detective stories. These kind of stories “tend to be pastiches of the real thing. The comedy depends on characters going about their business in a serious fashion, unaware that the situation they are in is ludicrous. The result should be hilarious but a fast tempo is needed to bring it off.” (pg. 41) Later on, we will be reading a Comic Detective Fiction story.

Historical Crime

Historical crime is “a story appropriate to its period, and then bringing that period alive for the reader. Some writers look no further than their own childhoods, to days whose memory shines brightest. Kingsley Amis harked back to the thirties for his version of the Golden Age detective story, complete with victim staggering in through the french windows.” (pg. 41) Some writers have looked to their past to write historical crimes. You can even try looking to elderly relatives for story ideas.


Noir is another type of detective fiction that Lesley Grant-Adamson mentions in her book. Characters for a noir novel may include “prostitutes, gangsters, drug dealers and other losers who exist on the margins of society. Characters are bitterly anarchic, the language is fierce, and phsical violence erupts frequently.” (pg. 42) These type of stories are more violent and contain foul language that wouldn’t be appropriate for certain ages. Some people are opposed to these kinds of novels because they would rather read novels without profanity, sex, violence, etc.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Subgenres of Detective Fiction – Part Three

In the first two sections, you learned about the different types of detective fiction. Now, you will learn about the duties of detectives, crime scene officers, and uniform police officers.

I wanted to interview a detective so that I could gather information for the stories and novels I wanted to write. Therefore, I had to do some research. These articles will provide you with the information you need to know about detective fiction stories or novels.

I called up a detective and scheduled an interview. Besides visiting with me on the different duties of uniform police officers, crime scene officers, and detectives, he took me a tour of the police station. He explained everything that happened at the station and who did what duties. That was a very interesting experience for me. As a result of that interview, I came up with three article ideas: “Uniform Police Officers,” “Crime Scene Officers,” and “Duties of the Detectives.”

Suggested Reading Assignments

Here is the first article that I wrote about my interview. At the end of this article, you can click on the other links to read the other two articles.

Uniform Police Officers

This article is the first of three parts. I interviewed Detective Randy Mills from the Detective Division in Topeka, Kansas. He shared with me the duties of the uniform police, crime scene officers, and detectives. The first part will be about the duties of the uniform police officers.

When a crime has been committed the uniform police are called to a scene. After they arrive at the scene, people are quite anxious and out of control. The uniform police have to gain control of the situation and slow things down so they can proceed with their investigation. The suspects are apprehended and taken to the police station. At that time, the uniform officers do not have to read them their rights. This is done at a later time.

The uniform officers also administer first aid to anyone who needs it. After that, they separate the witnesses. They will either place the witnesses in separate rooms or in one large room with a police officer standing guard to see that they do not converse with each other. The officers need to know what each person saw without being influenced by another person’s viewpoint.

When uniform officers enter the crime scene, they pick a path, which is usually next to the walls, and stay on that path coming and going. They choose this path instead of the path people normally take when they enter their house because they do not want to disturb any evidence that might be there. Yellow crime scene tape is placed around the crime scene area so that people will stay away from the area. A uniform officer will stand guard and write down the activity that is happening at the crime scene. When the uniform officer is relieved of his guard duty, then he returns to the station to write his report. The officer has to write down anything that is taken from the scene or brought into the crime scene as well as people who come and go. If there is not any activity going on at the crime scene the officer still has to write down that he stood there for a certain time period, such as two hours, and that no activity occurred during that time frame.

Crime Scene Officers…

Duties of the Detectives…

In detective fiction, the protagonist is the detective. The story is usually told in first person. However, some authors have used third person. Raymond Chandler has used both view points in his stories and books.

In crime fiction, you have to decide who your detective is going to be. You can use amateur sleuths, private investigators, police, detectives, or the semi-pro. After you make that decision, then you need to research their job so you can make them realistic.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Readers Beware! Thrillers!

According to Gillian Roberts in her book, You Can Write A Mystery, “thrillers can involve espionage, technical terrors, mutant viruses, prehistoric monsters – or lawyers.” (pg. 8) I have seen espionage in the book I’m reading now titled “Call After Midnight” by Tess Gerritsen. She is a writer of Medical Thrillers.

Shannon OCork defines the thriller novel as a “spy-thriller.” Spy-thrillers involve more “danger and action back and forth between continents. Often it is the free world the hero is trying to save, and usually the violence is sophisticated and sly.” (pg. 16)

Thrillers also use “World Wars I and II as background, perhaps as often as it uses the possibility of WW III and global annihilation, and it uses Europe, Asia, and the Middle East more than it uses America.” (pg. 16)

She also mentions Tom Clancy’s books. She classifies them as “techno-thrillers.” They “are virtual tracts on U.S. defense systems. There are thrillers of high finance and the corporate world, and thrillers involving invasions by other worlds.” (pg. 16-17) Some books that Tom Clancy has written are The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. I have seen the movies, but I haven’t read the books yet. They are great shows, and I’m wanting to read the books when I have time.

Sue Grafton has two complete chapters on thrillers in her book Writing Mysteries. The chapters are on Medical Thrillers and Legal Thrillers. Tess Gerritsen has written the chapter on Medical Thrillers. Linda Fairstein has written the chapter on Legal Thrillers.

Medical Thrillers

Tess Gerritsen’s novels focus on scenes of hosptitals “where we experience the best and the worst times of our lives: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one. Here is where we witness both joy and tragedy, and becasue of this, we regard hospitals with apprehension and even fear.” (pg. 234) These feelings that result from our experiences in hospitals can result in plots for a medical thrillers. However, in order to make the settings and information authentic, you need to have medical knowledge, experience, or research this field.

Legal Thrillers

Linda Fairstein discusses legal thrillers. If you want to write a legal thriller, then it might be “because you have been a participant in a dramatic courtroom battle-as a defense attorney whose skill exonerated an inncocent client, as the beneficiary of family herilooms in a hard-fought will contest, or as a juror who second-guessed the tactics of the litigators throughout a protracted trial.” (pg. 240)

John Grisham writes Legal Thrillers. If you are interested in this type of genre, then I would recommend his books.


Lesson 1: Introduction

Searching For Great Books


Mary Higgins Clark – If you want to experience heart throbbing plots, then you need to read books by Mary Higgins Clark, who is known as the Queen of Suspense. My favorite book that I have read is “A Stranger in the Night.” Once you pick up that book, it is very difficult to put it down. You will keep turning the pages to find out what is going to happen next.

Joan Lowery Nixon – Young adults will enjoy reading books by Joan Lowery Nixon. She has written excellent books that will chill your insides from the beginning to the end of the book. Even adults will find her books enjoyable.

Detective Fiction

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – If you enjoy well written classic detective fiction books, you will enjoy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books. His famous detective is Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson. There are several collections of short stories that feature Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is also featured in “Detective Stories” by Philip Pullman and “Mystery Stories” by Helen Cresswell.

Agatha Christie – She is also another great classic writer of detective fiction. Her main detectives are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Two of her books that I have found very interesting are “The Unexpected Guest” and “The Spider’s Web.” These two books are both intriguing. You will be surprised at the endings.

Catherine Coulter – She has written an excellent FBI series. Her first book titled “The Cove” was very exciting and suspenseful. I kept wanting to read it to see what was going to happen next. Her other books include “The Maze,” “The Target,” “The Edge,” etc.

Nevada Barr – If you enjoy reading about forest rangers, her books are a must. I have read one of her books so far. They are very intriguing. You’ll want to pick up a copy or more of Nevada Barr’s books. They are easy to read and very exciting.

Carole Nelson Douglas – Are you a cat lover? If you are, you’ll enjoy the books about Midnight Louie. He is a Private Investigator. “Catnap” is the first book in the series. She also has a collection of short stories titled “Midnight Louie’s Pet Detectives” edited by Carole Nelson Douglas. This book features different authors like Lawrence Block, Nancy Pickard, Anne Perry, Lilian Jackson Braun, etc.

Gillian Roberts – She is the author of the book that I have required for this course. She has also written other books featuring Amanda Pepper. You’ll enjoy these books. One of her books is titled “Adam and Evil.”


John Grisham is the famous author of “The Firm,” “The Client,” “The Partner,” “The Summons,” and other well known legal thrillers. These are known as legal thrillers because the protagonist is a lawyer. The setting deals with courtrooms are legal situations.

Stephen King – Stephen King is the famous author of horrors, but he is also known for some thrillers. One book that I would classify as a thriller is “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.” If you enjoy good thrillers, you have to read his books.

Tess Gerritsen – Tess Gerritsen is well known for her medical thrillers. One book that I have and recommend is “Call After Midnight.”

Tom Clancy – Also writes thrillers and is known for the following books: “The Hunt For Red October,” “The Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger,” etc. I have seen the movies and am looking forward to reading the books so that I could compare the movie with the book.

These are just a few of the authors who have written great books in these subgenres.

Some great websites for these genres are the following:






I have written several reviews of books that I have read from various authors in these genres. You can read these book reviews at the following URL:…

Lesson 1: Introduction


This is the list of books that I have found valuable. Some of these books are still available, and some are out of print or a limited number of books are available.


Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1986. Grafton, Sue. Writing Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 2001.

Grant-Adamson, Lesley. Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. Chicago: NTC Publications, 1986.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

OCork, Shannon. How To Write Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1989. Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc., 1998. Rberts, Gillian. You Can Write A Mystery. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1999.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

When you read a mystery or a subgenre, do think about the setting, theme, characters, plot, or do you just read for pleasure?

Reading for pleasure is okay, but if you are interested in finding a deeper meaning to the story, then you will want to concentrate more on the elements of fiction.

Think about the elements of fiction as you read. Why did the author choose this particular setting? What about the characters? What are they like? What is the main idea the author is trying to reveal to readers? What about the plot? Were the clues to easy to figure out? Were they hidden or revealed? All of these questions are basic elements of writing. You will be learning the definitions and how to analyze them in the stories you read for this course.


When you start to read, make sure you have a spiral notebook and a pen where you can write down the list of elements such as setting, theme, characters, plot, and clues. You will also want to write down the solution and how the protagonist solved the crime.

Here are some questions for you to think about as your are reading and writing down your information.

Who is the protagonist? Is it a female or male? Is the protagonist a detective, amateur sleuth, private investigator, or uniform police officer, etc.?

What about the villain? What type of character is this person? What crime did he or she commit? Do you think this person will escape or be caught?

What about the other characters? Who are they? What are they like? Are any of them suspects?

What about the genre? Is it a suspense, detective fiction, thriller, or what? Knowing the type of genre or subgenre is important to the development of the plot. What about the clues? Are they hidden or revealed?

If the themes, settings, characters, and plots are well developed, then you won’t want to stop reading. You will keep turning those pages until the last page.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction


Themes are the basic idea of the story. For this lesson we will be discussing my article I wrote about themes.

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) Read the article titled “Themes.”…

Recycled Themes

Just as story ideas can be recycled, themes can be too. For example if you have a theme dealing with good and evil, you can have two women who are friends, but one woman may develop other friendships that lead her in a different direction–a direction of criminal activities. The other woman could be going in the direction of helping others learn how to overcome their trials.

Another example could be about a criminal and how he wants to straighten out his life. He meets another person whom he likes and receives help from.

Relationships that deal with the theme of good and evil can be recycled into all kinds of stories with different characters and circumstances.

According to Patricia Highsmith in her book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, “a writer has a theme or a pattern that he uses over and over again in his novels. He should be aware of this, not in a hampering way, but to exploit it well and to repeat it only deliberately.” (pg. 138) Some writers want to use the same theme in different novels, but they would use different characters, settings, and plots.

One theme that she has been used over and over in her novels is the theme of “relationship between two men, usually quite different in make-up, sometimes an obvious contrast in good and evil, sometimes merely ill-matched friends.” (Highsmith, pg.138) This type of theme can be used more than once. I have written short stories about children and their experiences with pets. One theme was about a child who had to put his puppy too sleep. He was given another puppy, but he had a difficult time accepting the new puppy. As a result of the puppy coming up to him, the child began to accept the puppy. Almost all of my stories have a pet involved because I have dogs and hamsters and enjoy them.

Themes May Not Appear

Later on, she mentions that “[themes] cannot be sought after or strained for; they appear.” (Highsmith,pg. 139) Sometimes writers may start writing their novels and may not know what point they want to make. As they begin their novel, it becomes evident that they are trying to get across a certain theme to their readers. Sometimes they might end up with a different theme than they thought of in the beginning.

In my book “Strange Happenings,” I have changed my themes a few times before I decided on the particular point I wanted to make. My story has two themes. The story is basically about Christy and Megan, who are identical twins. Megan isn’t as secure in her self-image as Christy is. Megan isn’t sure that she can do things like Christy. Throughout the story, Megan and Christy experience all kinds of interesting obstacles. When the climax happens, Megan begins to realize that she can do things on her own.

Another theme is the idea that something good comes from something bad. Even though the girls are experiencing different trials, they begin to realize that something good will happen, and it does. More than they realized in the beginning.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction


Part One – Settings Are Important

Settings are an important element in stories or novels. It is where the story takes place.

Visualize Your Setting

The way that some authors describe their settings, readers can visualize them and feel like they are right their with the characters.

Lesley Grant-Adamson mentions in her book, Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published, that “[every} location and building you use has to be fixed in the reader’s mind.” (pg.19).

When you are reading, think about the setting. Can you visualize it? Does the setting seem realistic or unrealistic? What type of setting or settings were used?

Writers can also use a real setting, but fictionalize it by adding other areas and a fictional name. This is what I did in my book that I’ve written. Here is an example of a setting that I used. The city has a fictious name, but I’ve used some of the buildings and outdoor settings of my home town when I lived on a farm.

Example Number One: River City

They climbed on their bicycles and started searching the nearby streets. River City had a main street with five blocks on each side. On the main street were several stores such as a grocery store, meat market, bank, restaurant, general store, post office, courthouse, etc. The side streets consisted of houses. One of the side streets had the school and a church. One street led to a country road where there were farm houses and the river.

This passage gives readers a visual setting of River City. By visualizing the setting, it becomes more realistic. It indicates a main street and how many side streets there are, and that one side street leads to a country road. There are also farm houses and the river.

Imagine Your Setting

Lawrence Block mentions in his book, Writing the Novel From Plot to Print,that writers should use settings that are familiar to them. However, if you aren’t familiar with a setting, then you can do some research on that area. He states that maybe “there’s no such place in reality, but you can build one in your imagination readily enough.” (pg. 98) You can always develop an imaginary setting and make it realistic.

He also suggests that writers can use settings of their past experiences. For example, any place where you have lived can be used as a setting. If you can’t remember exactly what the setting was, you can imagine it.

Before I wrote the description of River City, I made a list of the items I wanted to include in my settings. My mother, who also enjoyed writing, made a map of the farm we lived on when I was younger. I used the general description of the city and our farm, but added fictional settings and changed the name of the city.

Part Two – Ways Settings Can Be Used

There are three ways that Gillian Roberts mentions how settings can be used: action, characterization, and emotional information.


Settings can be used to illustrate action. Action will move the plot forward.

When Christy and Megan climbed off the bus, they noticed that the lane leading to their house was wet. “It must have rained here,” Christy said.

“It looks that way. I wonder why it didn’t rain at at school?”

“I guess it rains some places and not others. Our school is five miles from here.”

“That’s true. It must be far enough to rain in one place and not the other. Since we live in the country, and our school is in the city, it would be too far to walk.”

The plot is moving forward and going from their school in the city to their farm five miles away. The girls ride the bus to get from their school to the lane that leads to their farm. Then, they walk down the lane to their farm.


Settings can be used as characterization. They can reveal something about the characters.

“I can’t put these clothes on. What am I going to do now? I don’t want mom to see us dressed alike. You know how she feels about us wearing different outfits.”

“I know. I’ll go around to the back door and distract Mom somehow” Christy replied.


Megan is worried that she will be caught and doesn’t know what to do. Megan likes to be sneaky, but she doesn’t like to be caught. Christy doesn’t want to be caught either, so they usually come up with plans to get away with their sneaky actis.

Emotional Information

Settings can also provide emotional information. The following passage illustrates Megan’s emotions about the weather.

“Oh no!”

“What’s wrong?” Christy asked.

“My clothes. I hid them under the bushes this morning.” Megan rushed to the bushes and picked up her clothes. “They’re all wet.”

“I know. I guess you shouldn’t have left them there.”

“I didn’t know it was going to rain. The sky was clear. Why did it have to rain here?”

“I don’t know.”

Megan noticed that the sky wasn’t cloudy that morning. However, when they returned home from school, Megan saw that the ground was wet. She wondered why it didn’t rain at their school. Her emotions began to stir up inside when she remembered her clothes were underneath the bushes.

Think about these different types of setting as you are reading short stories. See if you can recognize the different settings.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Characters – Who Are They?

This section covers characters. Characters need to be realistic. Readers want to identify with one or more of the characters.

Think about these questions: Who is the protagonist? Is the protagonist and male or female? What is this person like? What about the villain? Is the villain a male or female? What is the villain like? Why did he commit the crime? What about the suspects? Who are they? What are their motives? Did any of them have solid alibis during the crime?

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) Suspects and Their Motives by Janet Blaylock

Making Your Characters Real

It is important that the characters (protagonist, suspects, victim, and the villain) in the stories or books you are reading are realistic. You want to identify with the characters in the stories you are reading. When you read a story about someone experiencing a difficult trial such as a relationship between a man and his wife, then you might be able to relate to that couple if you are married. The main focus of stories is the characters and the obstacles they have to overcome. Therefore the characters need to be well-developed and need to have realistic obstacles they can overcome. Everyone experiences some kind of turmoil in their lives, so it helps when you read a book about a character who is experiencing similar trials.

Example of Character Description

The following passage is an example of how I made my characters realistic.

“Christy and I want to ride our bicycles.”

“After you eat breakfast,” her mother ordered. She stood up to clear the table.

“Can I be excused?” Christy asked.


“Megan, I’m, going downstairs to start the laundry. When I return, you’d better be finished.”

Hoping that her mother wouldn’t hear her, Megan dumped her food in the sink and turned on the garbage disposal. Megan ran outside to escape before her mother caught her. When Megan heard the back door open and her mother calling her, she walked back inside. “What do you want, Mom?”

“You can’t fool me. I heard the garbage disposal running. Now, you’ll stay in your room.”

“I want to go outside.”

“Sorry, go to your room.”

Stomping upstairs to her room, Megan plopped onto her bed and cried.

These passages reveal that Megan likes to be sneaky. She thought she could get away with fooling her mother, but she couldn’t. She was also angry and hurt. Her actions showed this in the last sentence.

The door opened and another man, who was a bit taller and thinner entered the room. “Who’s this?”

“She won’t tell me.”

Christy tried to escape out the window. “Jim, go outside and catch her.”

“She won’t get away. Remember the thorn bush below the window?”

When Christy screamed, Megan realized she landed in the thorns. As she stood up, Jim and Frank grabbed her and pulled her back inside and removed the thorns. “What’a we gonna do with her?”

“Let’s tie her up. We could ask for a ransom.”

This passage indicated the interaction between Christy and the two kidnappers. Christy wouldn’t respond to any of their questions. She wasn’t about to give them her name. She was also brave enough to try to escape even though she was caught. Readers could sympathize with Christy now because she had been caught and tied up. The scene changed at this point. It moved to Megan and her thoughts as she lay under the bed and watched what happened to Christy.

Suspense also increased in this passage because readers don’t know what was going to happen to Christy or if the kidnappers would find Megan.

Suspects and Their Motives

When a crime has been committed, the detective, private investigator, or sleuth will enter the scene and start their investigation. They will first find out what happened, who the victim was, and the possible suspects who were in the area at the time of the crime. They will make a list of the suspects and their possible motives or alibis. I suggest reading my article titles “Suspects and Their Motives” for additional information on this topic.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Narration – View Points

This section will cover point of view. When you are reading the stories in the next two lessons think about the viewpoint. Who is telling the story? Who is this person? Why did the author choose this particular person to tell the story? What would the story be like, if it was told in a different viewpoint?

Suggested Writing Assignments

(1) In your notebook, write down the different points of view that are listed below.

Now you will learn about the differen view points writers can use. First person, third person, or omnisicient view points are all used by writers depending on the style they choose.

First person view point uses the pronoun “I. Most detective fiction stories are written in first person. However, some of them are written in third person. The detective is the one who usually tells the story in detective fiction. He is the protagonist. Readers can identify with the protagonist. When stories are told from the detective’s point of view, readers can solve the crime right along with the detective. The following passages on view points are found in You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts.

First Person View Point

Writers “may never violate the idea that you are inside the character. You couldn’t, for example, write ‘I searched the chest, a frown contorting my mouth’ because the character doesn’t see that frown.” (pg. 39). Writers need to be careful of the way the narrator is speaking. The narrator cannot see the expressions on his/her own face unless he/she is standing in front of a mirror. The narrator is inside the protagonist when the story is written in first person view point. Narrators can feel their muscles or aches, but they cannot see their expressions.

Gillian gives an example that writers could use: “‘Every muscle in my face tightened and pulled down.'” Since the narrator is inside the protagonist, they can feel the aching muscles or the face tightening.

In another passage, she mentions how “[first] person is definitely a way to give your detective a unique sound, world view and opinions. The downside is the possibility of your detective’s preaching his views too much, so beware.” (pg. 40)

Third Person View Point

Third-person point of view is told by someone who moves about throughout the story. There is objective point of view and close third point of view.

Close third point of view. By using close third point of view, you “can actually hear his thoughts and feel his emotions, often without needing the words he thought or he felt.” (pg. 38)

Omniscient Point Of View

Omniscient point of view. If writers use omniscient point of view, then the “author can go anywhere in time and space and can be in any character’s mind. This point of view option distances the reader. We can’t identify with anyone because the God-like author is talking about ‘those people,’ leading us around, telling us what they think and what they can’t know.” (pg. 41) This point of view is okay, but readers won’t be able to identify with any particular person, like the protagonist. Everything will be known through the eyes of the narrator, who will be able to get into the mind of every character, anywhere, and at any time.



Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction


Gillian Roberts in her book, You Can Write A Mystery, refers to three functions of dialogue in her book. They are: Provides information that’s needed, moves the story forward, and characterizes the speaker.

Provides Information That’s Needed

Dialogue provides information to the reader. For example, let’s look at the following passage:

“I’m glad we live in town. It’s nice to walk across the street to school.” Megan said.

“I know. River City isn’t too large. We could live almost anywhere in the city and be close to the school,” Christy replied.

“That’s true.”

This passage indicates the size of the city where Christy and Megan live. It also shows readers that their school is across the street from where they live.

You can use dialogue to reveal any kind of information that you want readers to know. You might discuss the weather, size of the setting, people, etc.

Moves The Story Forward

In chapter fourteen of Gillian Roberts’ book, she mentions that “[good] dialogue is action. If your story contains dialogue that advances the action, then you have written it correctly. If your dialogue is stale and doesn’t advance the action, then you need to get rid of it.”

When you are searching for a book to read, you probably open it up and see how it is written. If it contains very little dialogue, you are likely to put in back. If the story contains dialogue, then you will pick it up and read it.

One author whose books I have read and enjoyed is Jay Bennett. He writes young adult suspense books. His style of writing moves the action along. The books are short and easy to read because it contains short speeches between the characters.

There needs to be a balance between narration and dialogue. You don’t want the whole book written with dialogue, and you don’t want to read a book that contains very little to no dialogue.

Characterizes the Speaker

Think about the types of characters the author is using in his/her story. The dialogue reflects the character’s personality. One passage Gillian mentions in her book is, “Think about the roles people play and have yours speak accordingly. Do you have a yes-man? A negotiator? A smoother-over? An agitator? A confrontational devil’s advocate? A timid, fearful, non-commital type? Each would shape different sentences.” (pg. 87) People don’t speak the same way. Everybody has developed their own style of speech. Therefore, your characters need to develop their own style of speech that fits their personalities.

You learned that characters need to be believable and realistic. Dialogue is the same way. It has to be believable, too. It should sound natural.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction


Plots are the main structure of the story. Without plots (main and subplots), you wouldn’t have a story.

Who is the protagonist? Is he the detective, amateur sleuth, private investigator, or someone else? Who is your villain? What crime did he or she commit? What was his or her motive? Did he or she know the person they murdered? Were they related? What other characters are involved in the plot? Are they going to be suspects? All of these questions need to be answered and connected to form the structure of the story.

Stories are also character driven or plot driven. Let’s look at character driven first.

Character Driven

If a story is character driven, then the protagonist will be changing throughout the story. The character has learned how to overcome his or her obstacles that he or she has faced in the story.


In the book that I have written, “Strange Happenings,” Megan and Christy, who are twins, go through different circumstances such as being trapped in a shack and kidnapped, escaping from the kidnappers, having separate bedrooms, having to develop their own identities, puppies disappearing, and Christy disappearing. By experiencing these different circumstances, they learn and develop their character. Megan has felt that she wasn’t able to do things as good as her sister. At the end of the book, she realizes that she can do things.

Plot Driven

If a story is plot driven, then the story is moved by the action of the story. The characters don’t really change throughout the story.


If I had written this book to be plot driven, then Megan and Christy wouldn’t have changed. It would be just a book of action. I would have told about them being trapped in a shack and kidnapped, escaping from the kidnappers, having separate bedrooms, puppies disappearing, Christy disappearing. Neither of the girls would learn anything through their experiences or change.

As you read your stories or books, see if you can tell whether the short story or book is plot driven or character driven.


Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction


Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1986.

Conrad, Hy. Whodunit Crime Puzzles. New York: sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.

Grafton, Sue. Writing Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 2001.

Grant-Adamson, Lesley. Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. Chicago: NTC Publications, 1986.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

OCork, Shannon. How To Write Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1989. Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc., 1998. Roberts, Gillian. You Can Write A Mystery. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1999.


Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries

For this lesson, you will be reading different mini-mysteries and puzzles that I have written. A mini-mystery is a very short story that has one or more questions at the end for readers to solve.

An excellent book that is full of intriguing puzzles to solve is “Whodunit Crime Puzzles” by Hy Conrad. These mini-mysteries feature Sherman Holmes. He believes he’s the great-great-grandson of Sherlock Holmes.

Another great book is “Detective Stories” by Philip Pullman.


Are you ready for fun and excitement? For this lesson you will be reading and solving a puzzle, mini-mysteries that I wrote, and a collection of mini-mysteries from Whodunit Crime Puzzles by Hy Conrad.

Besides reading these for enjoyment, you will learn how they are structured and how to help the detective solve the cases. As a result, you will be able to write your own puzzles and mini-mysteries.

In Section Two, you will read and solve a puzzle titled Car Theft, which I wrote.

In Sections Three and Four, you will read and solve some of my mini-mysteries.

In Sections Five and Six, you will read some mini-mysteries from the book Whodunit Crime Puzzles by Hy Conrad.

In Section Seven, you will write a comparison and contrast review of two mini-mysteries that you read for this lesson.


Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries


Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) Car Theft A puzzle for you to solve.…

(2) Solution to the Car Theft…

Reading and solving puzzles as well as mini-mysteries will help you see how writers plant their clues. Besides learning how to analyze these puzzles, they are also fun to do. You are challenging your mind to think like a detective.

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) Sherlock Holmes Whodunits is an excellent book for readers to challenge their analytical minds. Some of them are easy and some are a little more challenging. If you enjoy puzzles, you’ll enjoy this book. I recommend it highly.

(2) Great Book of Whodunit Puzzles by Falcon Travis. This is an excellent collection of mini-mysteries for readers to solve right along with the detectives. If you enjoy mini-mysteries, you’ll enjoy these. They are great for all ages.

(3) Clever Quicksolve Whodunit Puzzles by Jim Sukach. You will enjoy these mini-mysteries as well. They are quite intriguing and will challenge your mind. I recommend this book for all ages.

Recommended Sources

Here are some other sites that you might enjoy searching if you like puzzles, mini-mysteries, etc. You’ll want to bookmark these websites.

(1) Mystery –

(2) My puzzles and quizzes can be found at:…

Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries

The Dusty Suitcase by Janet Blaylock

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) The Dusty Suitcase.

The following is a mini-mystery that I wrote titled The Dusty Suitcase. The link to the solution is included at the end of this lesson.

The Dusty Suitcase

Detective Mallory was called to investigate a bank robbery that happened two days ago in a nearby town. A young couple ran off with twenty thousand dollars. The girl, who was called Teri, had long brown hair, brown eyes, and was very slender. Her boyfriend, Ron, was average weight and a little taller than the girl. Kari drives around her neighborhood looking for garage sales. She suddenly comes upon a sale six blocks west of her house. As Kari parks her car, she notices a rather handsome young looking man enter the house. Kari climbs out of her car and walks over to the items. She sees a very old dusty suitcase at a garage sale. The owner says, “This suitcase has not been opened for years, so I don’t have any idea what’s in the suitcase.” “Why are you selling it without knowing what’s in it?”

“I just didn’t want to take the time to open it. I’m in a hurry to sell these items, so I can leave town.” “I see. Where are you going?”

“Mexico. My boyfriend and I are leaving in the morning.”

“By the way, I’m Kari.”

“I’m Teri. Before I forget. The suitcase is locked, but I do have the key.” She gave Kari the key, and Kari walked back to her car.

When Kari returned home, she took suitcase to her bedroom and set it on the bed. Then, she took the rusty key and unlocked the suitcase. Kari stood in awe as she looked at the contents. “Wow! Money! This is weird. I wonder why the owner didn’t realize there was money hidden inside. Maybe she did. Oh no! Maybe this is stolen money!” Kari closed the suitcase and sat on the edge of her bed as she pondered over her situation. Finally, she said, “I’ve got to tell the police.

Kari took the money and hid it under her bed. Then, she called Detective Mallory and asked him to come over as soon as possible.

Within a half hour, Detective Mallory arrived at Kari’s house. “Hi, Kari, what’s wrong?”

“I have something to show you. It’s in my bedroom. I’ll go get it.”


Kari brought out the dusty suitcase and opened it. “I bought this suitcase at a garage sale today. When I brought it home, I opened it and saw all this money.”

As Detective Mallory studied the money, he said, “This is the money that was stolen in a bank robbery two days ago. Where did you say you got it?”

“From a garage sale. A woman had the suitcase and told me that she had not opened it for several years. She also said that she was in a hurry to leave town.”

“Did she say where she was going?”

“Yes. She said she and her boyfriend were going to Mexico.”

“I see. I’ll have to go over there right away and visit with her about the money.”

Kari gave Detective Mallory the directions to the house.

On the way, Detective Mallory called for back up. When Detective Mallory arrived at the house, the woman was closing down her sale. “I just sold everything, and I’m in a hurry.”

“Well, I’m going to have to delay you with a few questions. I’m Detective Mallory.”

“I don’t mean to sound rude, but I’m in a hurry. I have to catch a plane to Texas. I’m meeting my boyfriend. We are getting married tomorrow morning.”

“I see. This won’t take too long. I want to know where you got the money that was hidden inside an old dusty suitcase that a woman bought here this morning.”

“Money! I don’t know anything about a suitcase full of money.”

“That’s not what I hear.”

“You have some wrong information.”

“A woman came here this morning and bought an old dusty suitcase. When she got home and opened it, she saw a pile of money inside. Where did you get the money?”

“I don’t know anything about it. Right now. I really have to catch my plane or I’ll be late for my job interview.”

“I’m afraid you aren’t going anywhere except to the police station. I’m placing you under arrest for robbery.”


“That’s right. I know you committed the bank robbery. All I have to do arrest your boyfriend.”


1. What clues did Detective Mallory have that convinced him Teri was involved in the bank robbery?

2. Where is her boyfriend? Is he in Mexico, or is he in the house?

Solution to The Dusty Suitcase

You can find the solution to The Dusty Suitcase by clicking on the following link:…


Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries

Sadey, The Pet Detective

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) Read the four part mini-mystery titled Sadey, The Pet Detective.

Sadey is the name of my chihuahua. She is 18 months old, and she acts like a detective. A few weeks ago, my dad lost his sunglasses. We looked in different places and couldn’t find them. One day while I was working on the computer, I happened to hear Sadey in the hall playing with something. I quickly got up and went to her. She’s a character for getting into things and ripping things up. However, I was shocked to see what she was doing. She was playing with my dad’s sunglasses. She found them. My dad and I still don’t know where she found them.

As a result of this incident and her other activities, I decided to write a story plot about Sadey, the pet detective. Also mentioned in the story is Penny, Abby, and Tippy. They are also my dogs. Penny is part poodle and chow. Abby is terrier, spaniel, and chihuahua mix. Tippy is part akita, sheep dog, and Irish wolf hound. I used these three dogs as Sadey’s teammates.

I hope you will enjoy this mini-mystery. I originally started out as the mini-mystery, and solution, but it continued to develop into more pages as I wrote it.

This mini-mystery can be located at the following URLS:

Part One…

Part Two…

Part Three…

Part Four…


Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries

Where’s Sneaky Dan?

Suggested Reading Assignment

This is a mini-mystery for readers to solve. Where’s Sneaky Dan?

Detective Mallory recently placed Sneaky Dan in jail for robbery. Simon The Inventor created a box that could accomplish strange acts when certain buttons were pushed. Sneaky Dan knew what this box could accomplish. He wanted that box. However, Simon the Inventor was also sneaky and didn’t reveal all of his inventions to Sneaky Dan. He had one invention Sneaky Dan didn’t know about.

One day, Sneaky Dan climbed into a window of Simon the Inventor’s office and took a small box. This box was an important invention that Simon the Inventor had just built. Sneaky Dan knew about the box and wanted it so he could be even sneakier. Sneaky Dan placed the small box in a secret pocket inside his coat. Just as he climbed out the window and turned around, he couldn’t move. Detective Mallory grabbed him and cuffed him. Sneaky Dan couldn’t believe what had just happened to him.

Here’s a couple of questions for readers to think about: How did Detective Mallory know that Sneaky Dan was inside Simon the Inventor’s office? What was the other invention that Sneaky Dan didn’t know about?

After they went to the city jail, Sneaky Dan was placed in a holding cell for questioning. Detective Mallory didn’t search Sneaky Dan at that time, so he didn’t know about the hidden box that Sneaky Dan had taken.

When Detective Mallory returned to the holding cell, Sneaky Dan had disappeared. Detective Mallory was very confused and wondered how Sneaky Dan escaped.

Here’s some other questions for readers to think about: How did Sneaky Dan escape a locked room? Why was that small box Simon the Inventor invented so important to Sneaky Dan?

Detective Mallory immediately called for a search of the city police station and for all doors to be locked. After a complete search of the building, nobody found Sneaky Dan.

Here’s some other questions for readers to think about: What happened to Sneaky Dan? How could he escape a police station with all of the police officers around guarding the doors? Does Simon the Inventor find out about Sneaky Dan’s disappearance? If he does, will he help the police locate Sneaky Dan?

Where’s Sneaky Dan? – Part Two

This is Part Two of Where’s Sneaky Dan?

Sneaky Dan had taken a small box from Simon the Inventor’s office. This box was important to Sneaky Dan because he could be even sneakier. However, something happened to Sneaky Dan. When he climbed out the window Sneaky Dan was caught by Detective Mallory.

Here are the questions that I gave readers to think about:

How did Detective Mallory know that Sneaky Dan was inside Simon the Inventor’s office? What was the other invention that Sneaky Dan didn’t know about?

Detective Mallory knew that Sneaky Dan climbed inside Simon the Inventor’s office because of the invention Simon had made. He invented a secret alarm that would sound only to the police. This alarm gave the location of Simon the Inventor’s office so that the police could come immediately and catch the criminal.

After they went to the city jail, Sneaky Dan was placed in a holding cell for questioning. Detective Mallory didn’t search Sneaky Dan at that time, so he didn’t know about the hidden box that Sneaky Dan had taken. When Detective Mallory returned to the holding cell, Sneaky Dan had disappeared. Detective Mallory was very confused and wondered how Sneaky Dan escaped.

How did Sneaky Dan escape a locked room?

Sneaky Dan escaped the locked room by pushing a button on the little box he had taken from Simon the Inventor.

Why was that small box Simon the Inventor invented so important to Sneaky Dan?

Sneaky Dan could escape his crime scenes. He could disappear and nobody would know where he was.

Detective Mallory immediately called for a search of the city police station and for all doors to be locked. After a complete search of the building, nobody found Sneaky Dan.

What happened to Sneaky Dan? How could he escape a police station with all of the police officers around guarding the doors?

Sneaky Dan disappeared by pushing a small button on the box he had taken from Simon the Inventor. He was able to go through the police station and hide without anyone seeing him.

Did Simon the Inventor find out about Sneaky Dan’s disappearance? If he did, did he help the police locate Sneaky Dan?

Simon the Inventor found out what happened to Sneaky Dan. However, the police found out something about the box that didn’t help them solve the case right away. It led them to another case. Simon the Inventor placed another button on the box that caused Sneaky Dan to be placed in the Past or the Future. Detective Mallory had to decide if Sneaky Dan went back to the Past or moved to the Future.

Did Sneaky Dan know about the other button that could place him into the Past or Future, or was he still in the Present? Find out next week what happened to Sneaky Dan. Will he be caught?


Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries

Where’s Sneaky Dan? – Part Three

Suggested Reading Assignment

This is Part Three of Where’s Sneaky Dan?

First you will read what happened so far in the mini-mystery.

In the last part of Where’s Sneaky Dan? Sneaky Dan had stolen a small box that Simon the Inventor had created. This box made Sneaky Dan disappear. After Sneaky Dan had taken the box and climbed out the window, he was surprised by his visitor. Detective Mallory was waiting for Sneaky Dan. Sneaky Dan didn’t know how Detective Mallory knew he was going to be there. Simon the Inventor created a devise that let the police department know when someone was breaking into his place. Sneaky Dan was taken to the police station and placed in a holding cell. Detective Mallory didn’t realize that Sneaky Dan had the small box hidden in his jacket. When Detective Mallory returned, he couldn’t see Sneaky Dan. Nobody in the police department knew what happened to Sneaky Dan.

Detective Mallory notified Simon the Inventor about Sneaky Dan’s disappearance. The police found out that the small box had a button on it. When someone pushed that button, that person would become invisible. The police also found out that if someone pushed another button, that person would go back to the past or to the future. As a result, the police had another problem. Where was Sneaky Dan? Did he go back to the past or did he go to the future? How far back or how far into the future did he go?

Where’s Sneaky Dan? – Part Three

When Simon the Inventor searched the holding cell, he found the small box that Sneaky Dan accidentally left behind. Simon the Inventor found that the button for the past had been pushed. Detective Mallory watched Simon the Inventor push the button for the future. Right before their eyes appeared Sneaky Dan. “Well, hello again, Sneaky Dan,” Detective Mallory said.

“What happened?” Sneaky Dan asked, with a surprised look on his face.

“Simon the Inventor pushed the button to the future on the small box that you left behind. He was able to bring you back to the present time since he realized you had gone back in time,” Detective Mallory replied.

“Thanks a lot, Simon. I thought I could trust you.”

“Sorry. That will teach you to steal my inventions. I don’t plan on using my inventions for crime.”

Detective Mallory arrested Sneaky Dan again. Sneaky Dan couldn’t escape again since he didn’t have the box.Mini-Mysteries

You have been reading some of my mini-mysteries. They are short story plots with questions at the end. If you have enjoyed reading these mini-mysteries, you will probably enjoy reading my other ones which you can read by clicking on the following link:… Happy Reading.

Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries

Writing A Comparison and Contrast Review

For this section, you might like to choose two different mini-mysteries that you read and think about how they were written.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Write a review of the mini-mysteries. Choose two of the mini-mysteries I wrote and write a review. Analysis of Mini-Mysteries

For this paper, you could try writing a brief summary and state your opinions of two mini-mysteries. You could compare the similarities and differences of the characters, motives, suspects, clues, or plots.

Other Mini-Mysteries

There are also books that include mini-mysteries that you might be interested in reading.

Whodunit Crime Puzzles by Hy Conrad is an excellent book. he has written other mini-mysteries.


Lesson 3: Analyzing Mini-Mysteries


Conrad, Hy. Whodunit Crime Puzzles. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

If you have a burning desire to know how short stories are written, then you need to know how to analyze them. This is what you will learn in this lesson. You will be reading and analyzing different short stories.


You are about to investigate the process of going beyond reading for entertainment. Before you read the suggested reading assignments, you need to read the article that I wrote about understanding the elements of fiction and how to search for clues. This article is titled “Searching for Clues.” I explain how different styles of writing can be difficult for readers to understand. I also explain how readers need to be detectives when they are reading. The article can be found at…

After reading the article, you will be prepared to read and analyze the other required assignments.

Suggested Reading Assignment

These books mentioned in this course are only suggested reading material. You will learn what you need to in the course by reading my stories that I have written and mentioned throughout the course.

(1) “A Late Night Visitor” by Janet Blaylock.

(2) In Detective Stories by Philip Pullman, you will find the following short stories.

(1) “Maddened By Mystery” by Stephen Leacock

(2) “Fingerprinting A Ghost” by Tony Fletcher

(3) “Cold Money” by Ellery Queen

I have selected this book because it has an excellent collection of short stories. These stories reveal different styles of detective fiction such as: comic detective fiction, a story told by the villain, story using crime-scene techniques, a true form of detective fiction, and stories using amateur detectives.

I have enjoyed reading these stories and am hoping you will as well. There are other stories I haven’t assigned, but they are just as good.

Another book that I would recommend is titled Mystery Stories chosen by Helen Cresswell. This is another collection of excellent short stories by various authors that I’m sure you would enjoy reading.

Another Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) “Too Much to Bare” by Joan Hess – You can find a review I wrote on this story by going to the following link:…

This short story is found in the anthology titled The Best of Sisters in Crime edited by Marilyn Wallace.

Suggested Writing Assignments

(1) Write a summary of one of the short stories.

(2) Write a review of a short story. A review is more than a summary.


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

A Late Night Visitor by Janet Kay Blaylock

Story ideas come from anywhere. Sometimes ideas come from dreams, a thought that runs across your mind, experiences you had as a child, experiences you have as an adult, listening to others talk about their lives, etc. The list goes on and on.

This story came to me after someone came to my house late in the evening. She needed help and wanted me to take her to a gas station. I wouldn’t do it because I had never seen her before. I wasn’t about to go anywhere with someone I didn’t know, especially late at night. Since my parents were home, I did let the person use the cordless phone to call for help. However, I didn’t let her inside the house. I was glad I lived with my parents. I wasn’t as afraid with someone else in the house as I would have been if I was alone. It’s always a scary feeling answering the door after dark and finding someone standing there whom you do not know. Even though I answered the door and everything was all right, I still learned that I needed to be more careful. You never know who might be around or what they might do. I learned that it is better to not answer your door after dark, especially.

“A Late Night Visitor” can be found at the following URL:…

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You are to read the story and be prepared to answer the questions below.

Questions To Think About For Your Summary

(1) Who is the detective in the story?

(2) Who were the main characters?

(3) Who was the villain?

(4) What happened in the story?

(5) What was the theme of the story?

(6) Did you like the story? Why or why not?

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Write a summary of the story you just read.


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

Maddened By Mystery by Stephen Leacock

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) A suggested reading assignment is “Maddened By Mystery” by Stephen Leacock. This is found in Detective Stories by Philip Pullman.

There are different types of Detective Fiction stories. There are historical detective fiction, comic detective fiction, pulp fiction, noir, etc. This particular story, “Maddened By Mystery” by Stephen Leacock is a comic detective fiction story. It is not written in the normal style of detective fiction. For one thing, the protagonist is killed.

>b>My Summary of “Maddened By Mystery” by Stephen Leacock>/b>

In “Maddened By Mystery,” The Great Detective was hired to find the Prince of Wurttemberg. A woman went to see The Great Detective because she was upset about the prince’s disappearance. The woman described the prince, so The Great Detective felt like he could locate the prince. The Great Detective, who had many disguises, set out to investigate the case. Every place he entered, he used a different disguise. He also bought something.

The prince needed to be in a show in a few days. Therefore, The Great Detective didn’t have a lot of time to search and locate the prince. His time was just about up, so he pretended to be the prince.

What happened in the end of the story?

You want to leave the readers in suspense when you write a summary.

(2) As you read, remember to take notes on the main points.

(3) Think about following questions as you read.

Questions To Think About

(1) Who was the protagonist? What was he/she like?

(2) Who was the villain? What was he/she like?

(3) Who were the other characters?

(4) What happened in the story?

(5) Did you like this story? Why or why not?

(6) Would you recommend it to others?


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

Fingerprinting a Ghost by Tony Fletcher

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) “Fingerprinting A Ghost” by Tony Fletcher. (2) While you are reading, remember to take notes.

My Summary of “Fingerprinting a Ghost”

This story, “Fingerprinting a Ghost” by Tony Fletcher is a very interesting story. When I first read the title, I wondered how anyone could fingerprint a ghost. I was interested in the story because of the title, and then in the paragraph about the story before you read it, I saw that the detectives use the “crime-of scene techniques.” This is one thing that I mentioned in lesson one. We discussed the different duties of detectives, uniform police officers, and crime-scene officers.

In this story, Tony Fletcher is the narrator. It is written in first person. Tony Fletcher is a fingerprint expert. He was asked to fingerprint a ghost, but he refused to do the job. He didn’t believe in ghosts, and he thought it would make him look foolish.

David Cohen is another character in the story. He is the Secretary of the Manchester branch of the Psychical Research Society.

Sergeant Rowland Mason is also a fingerprint expert.

One day, a woman came to see Sergeant Mason. She told him what was happening in her house. Her son and daughter also lived with her. The woman’s husband passed away. The woman told the sergeant that she kept hearing noises. She heard someone playing a violin. She finally asked her son if he had been up in the night playing his violin. He told her that he hadn’t been up. He said that it was Nicholas. His mother didn’t know who Nicholas was. He told his mother that Nicholas was an old man who played for him.

Sergeant Mason and David Cohen were going to try to fingerprint the hands that the woman said kept appearing at the seance. They were going to use scenes-of-crime technique. Sergeant Mason prepared the scene by dusting the tambourine that kept dancing around the room. During the event, the duster was flung in his face. After the lights were turned on, Mason dusted the tambourine for fingerprints. However, he couldn’t find any. The tambourine was clean. He finally decided to take the fingerprints using a chemically charged pad. After that, they decided to have John Cheetham, a photographer take pictures of the ghost. The photographer used infrared lights. They were able to get a picture of the chair, but all that was seen was a crease in the seat of the chair.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) After you are finished reading, then you can write a paragraph about the crime-scene techniques that the detectives used. Were these techniques successful? If not, why not? What finally worked for the detectives?Questions To Think About

(1) Who was the protagonist? What was he/she like?

(2) Who was the villain? What was he/she like?

(3) Who were the other characters?

(4) What happened in the story?

(5) What crime was committed?

(6) Who were the suspects?

(7) What clues were given in the story?

(8) Did you like the story? Why or why not?


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

Cold Money by Ellery Queen

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) “Cold Money” by Ellery Queen.

Here is my summary of “Cold Money” by Ellery Queen:

This story is an example of how true detective fiction stories are written. It is told by Ellery Queen. It is about a man named Mr. Philly Mullane. He had been registered at the Hotel Chancellor in New York. One day, the house detective, Winston F. Parker, helped Inspector Richard Queen catch Philly. He was shackled and taken from his hotel room number 913. He had robbed a Manhattan payroll and escaped with the cash. The question for Inspector Queen to solve was, Where did Mullane stash the money?

When he was arrested, the room was searched and the money wasn’t located. Years later after he was released from prison, he returned to the same room at Hotel Chancellor. During that time, he never left his room. He also had his food delivered to him. Only the hotel service people entered the room.

What happened after that?

Was the money found?

What happened to the villain? Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Write a short story review of Cold Money.

Writing Reviews

A Review of a short story or novel is similar to a summary. To begin, you write a summary of the short story or novel. Then, you will give your opinion of the book. Did you like it? Why or why not? After that, you will state whether or not you would recommend this short story or novel.

Below are the questions you need to think about while you are writing your review. Questions For You To Think About

(1) Who was the protagonist? What was he/she like?

(2) Who was the villain? What was he/she like?

(3) What happened in the story?

(4) What crime was committed?

(5) Who were the suspects?

(6) Was the villain captured?

(7) What was different about this style from the other stories you read so far?

(8) Did you like this story? Why or why not?


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

Too Much To Bare by Joan Hess

Suggested Reading Assignment

The story you are to read for this section is titled “Too Much to Bare” by Joan Hess. It is found in the anthology titled The Best of Sisters in Crime edited by Marilyn Wallace.

“Too Much To Bare” by Joan Hess

This story starts out with Marjorie saying that her husband is going to kill her. Readers would start to wonder what she meant by that. Why would her husband want to kill her? What had she done wrong? Marjorie sat at a table in the Happy Hour Saloon with Sylvia, Bitsy, and Anne. They were drinking beer and chatting. Normally Marjorie didn’t want to put up with Sylvia’s type of communication, which was gossip and off-color humor. However, that night she decided it was going to be okay.

The saloon was filled with over 200 women who were drinking beer and smoking. The music was so loud that the people who to speak loud in order to be heard above the music. On the way to the bathroom, Bitsy told Marjorie she didn’t know why they let Sylvia talk them into going to such a place as this. When they returned to their table, Marjorie mentioned again that her husband was going to kill her.

Suddenly, the music stopped, and everyone became quiet. A man wearing a pale blue tuxedo came onto the stage and asked if they were ready. He repeated his question. Everyone anticipated the next statement and what was going to happen. The emcee announced if they were ready to meet the men. Everyone hollered that they were ready. Then, he announced that they would have the opportunity to order one more round of drinks before they met the men.

Anne started thinking about her plan to kill Sylvia and Paul. Paul was Anne’s husband. Sylvia was having an affair with him. She faked the suicide note and would call the police on Sunday night or Monday morning and tell them she was worried about Paul and wasn’t sure where he was.

Within a few minutes, a man in a policeman’s uniform appeared on the stage, so her thoughts turned to the action. He was carrying a billy club. The women stared at him. He had a stern expression. The policeman told the crowd he should take them all in and interrogate them. They didn’t want that. He asked them what they wanted. They all yelled back and said “Take it off.” They wanted him to undress like he was to do for the show.

Now you’ll have to read the story to find out what happened. Did Anne get away with her plan to kill Sylvia and Paul? What happened to her? What happened to the other women in the story? What did Marjorie’s husband do or say when he found out where she had been? Did Marjorie even tell him?

If you enjoy mysteries, you will find this story intriguing. The review is found by clicking on the following link:…


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories

Writing A Critical Analysis

For this section, you will choose one of the stories below that you would like to read. These stories are found in Detective Stories by Philip Pullman.

Suggested Reading Assignment

Choose two of the stories you have read and read them over again.

Required Writing Assignment

(1) Write a short story review. You will compare the two stories.

In the previous sections you have read a few short stories. You also wrote a summary, answered questions, wrote a review, and now, you are going to write a critical analysis. In order to do this, you need to know what a critical analysis involves.

Analysis of Short Stories or Novels

A critical analysis involves more in depth writing. For this paper, you will not be writing a summary. You will choose one of the topics below and write a critical analysis. You will be writing a paper about your opinions on a subject. For example: You may want to write a paper on the villains in two of the stories. You would first write a thesis statement. You would state in one sentence the main point you are trying to discuss in your paper and then back up your statement with passages from the two stories. You might want to say: The villains are very different in both stories. Then, you would defend your statement by the passages and your opinions of the passages.

Below is a list of topics that you could choose from to write your analysis. You could compare any of the following topics:

(1) The protagonists in each story.

(2) The suspects and their motives.

(3) The structure of the story. How was the plot developed? (4) The villains and why they committed the crimes.

(5) What type of detective fiction stories were they? How can you tell the differences?(Comic Detective, Historical Detective, Hardboiled Detective, English Classic Detective, etc.)

(6) What clues did you find in the story? How were they planted? Hidden or revealed?

(7) What about the themes in the two stories? Were they easy to see and understand?

(8) Which style of writing did you prefer and why?


Lesson 4: Analyzing Short Stories


Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. New York: Kingfisher, 1998.

Wallace, Marilyn Wallace. The Best of Sisters in Crime. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1997.



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