February. The month of love. That time of the year when everyone thinks about romance and chocolates and flowers.
So I’m pondering murder.
(Come on. Don’t pretend you didn’t see that coming.)
Specifically, I’m thinking about one of my favorite pieces of a good murder mystery, a moment I like to call “the Find.”
It’s that moment, toward the beginning of the mystery, where the body is discovered, often by the main character.
What do I love about it?
- It sets the tone of the book. Does the character trip over the body, landing eyeball to eyeball with a corpse? Then you know that humorous style will continue throughout the book. Does the heroine enter a dark room, her foot landing on something squishy with a strange crunch as chills run up her arms like baby roaches? I’m betting the rest of the book will embrace a suspenseful tone.
- It reveals vital information about the killer. Was the body carefully wrapped and placed in the ductwork? The author is showing you the killer is cunning and meticulous. Was it dumped on the side of the road in a public place? Then you know they’re probably a bit reckless or were in a hurry.
- The main character’s reaction is priceless. It tells you who they are. When faced with someone else’s death, what do they do? Run away screaming? Fight off the rats that are nibbling on the corpse? Throw up on the body? The Find is an incredible opportunity to reveal the main character’s personality, how he/she handles unexpected and gruesome discoveries.
- Finally, the possibilities for locations are endless. I’ll be honest, it’s a favorite game of mine. Um, not murder itself, or body-dumping. Don’t run away! Let me explain: if I ever find myself bored in public, I start considering the best places to hide a body. How long would it take for someone to notice a body duct-taped to the ceiling? Would a corpse fit in the cabinet over there? If a body were lying on the skylight, how many people would notice the body-shaped shadow on the ground? What would someone do if they found a body in their own trunk? (Don’t worry. I usually don’t ask these questions out loud. Not in public, anyway.)
There’s nothing quite like it, the Find. It’s the first whisper of a delicious mystery wrapped in the initial pages of book. It’s like a dark, murderous surprise party. It could be lurking anywhere. You, as a reader, have the advantage. Unlike the main character, you at least know it’s coming. But when? Where? Only the author knows…