Review of DON’T DARE A DAME by M. Ruth Myers

On M. Ruth Myers’ website, the author claims her books have “strong women–small guns–smart dialogue.”  And Don’t Dare a Dame, the third book in the Maggie Sullivan detective series, makes good on those claims.  And then some.

Set during the Depression Era in Dayton, Ohio, Don’t Dare a Dame starts off in classic P.I. form with Maggie Sullivan taking a seemingly dead-end case. The Vanhorn Sisters, two sweet spinsters, one of them blind, hire Maggie to look into the disappearance of their father, who vanished some quarter of century ago during the Great Flood of 1913.  The investigation immediately turns deadly when the Vanhorn’s stepfather–and Maggie’s chief suspect–commits suicide, and then she gets hauled before the Chief of Police for asking too many questions. From there, the pot really begins to boil as Maggie discovers that the Vanhorn sisters’ suspicions are justified: their father was, indeed, murdered; the only question is: who is the killer?  But before Maggie can identify the killer and bring justice to the Vanhorn’s, her P.I. license, her livelihood, and her life will be put at risk.

Myers definitely makes good on the “strong women” in this novel, especially the protagonist Maggie Sullivan.  Tough and pretty with a smart mouth and a strong moral compass, Sullivan is a “dame” a reader can root for.  This is the passage in chapter one that really sold me on this character when Sullivan takes a bully down:

I hated to persuade him, but Neal seemed like one of those guys who needed taking down a peg or two. I gave him a quick little kitten jab in the snoot. Not enough to break it, just enough to start blood gushing down to his chin and get his attention. . .’Don’t drip on the rug on your way out,’ I said.

Now that’s my kind of detective, but if you remain unconvinced of her toughness, here’s a great exchange between Sullivan and one of her operatives after she’s caught a beating herself:

“Holy smokes, Sis! Someone roughed you up bad.”

“Yeah, but I shot him,” I said to allay his dismay. ..

“Was it Cy Warren’s mugs did it?”

“Nah,” I lied. “Some girls have a fan club. The one they started for me is people lining up to break my nose.”

But it’s not only Sullivan’s toughness and sharp tongue that make this an enjoyable read. It’s also the setting. The descriptions of the area, the secondary characters and how they act, speak, and think, and the police procedural aspects of the novel: all of these elements are authentic and highly readable. And when you add those elements with a formidable lead character and a page-turning plot, it all adds up to a great mystery.

Maggie Sullivan is in the running for my favorite new P.I. series, and I’ve already downloaded Tough Cookie to my Kindle. Don’t Dare a Dame, which was recently named a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. novel,has everything working for it. Go buy it. You will not be sorry.

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http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Dare-Maggie-Sullivan-mysteries-ebook/dp/B00GJQEGO0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404217688&sr=8-1&keywords=don%27t+dare+a+dame

 

 

Checklist for Writing a Mystery Novel

One of the many mystery/crime writing blogs I follow is called Writing Mystery is Murder by Elizabeth Spann Craig.  Craig is an accomplished mystery novelist and award-winning blogger, and she always posts incredibly helpful articles about the business of being a writer.  Recently, I was scrolling through the archives of her blog, and I came across a post entitled “Mystery Writing Checklist.” As I was (and am) in the process of outlining my third book in the Eli Sharpe mystery series, I read the article and found still more useful tidbits about preparing a mystery novel to be sent out into the publishing world.  Below are the items I believe are the most important. A link to the entire article is posted below.

Genre: Have you got a clear genre for your book? Thriller, cozy, police procedural, hard boiled? If you can’t identify your genre to an agent or editor, your manuscript won’t go too far.

To add to that, you might want to have a good idea what published authors write in your milieu; both agents and publishers always want to know where your manuscript will fit in the current market.

An Engaging Beginning: Have you started out with a bang? Or have you started out with some messy backstory that no one wants to wade through at the beginning of your book? Make sure you’ve lured your reader in from the very beginning so they’ll want to stick with you.  Think twice before using a prologue or using flashbacks at the beginning of your manuscript.

Personally, I do not like books that begin with prologues, particularly prologues that do not begin with action. Too, and this is just my humble opinion, many times too much of the mystery is given away in a prologue. Start with action, and sprinkle in relevant backstory throughout the narrative.

A Murder that Happens in First 50 pages or so: Don’t wait until you’re half-way through the book for a body to be discovered. Your reader may give up on you.

When I read mysteries, I want someone to get killed, kidnapped, blackmailed, or beaten pretty quickly. (And yes, I know that sounds awful).

Protagonist: This will be your sleuth or police detective. Are they likable people or at least people interesting enough for your readers to want to spend time with? What special talents do they have that make them capable of solving the crime? Are they easy to talk to? Have they spent many years in the police department? What sets them apart?

Of all the elements in a mystery, the protagonist is the most important to me. If the star of the book is interesting, I’m in. Characterization is always the hook for me. Write interesting characters, and interesting situations will follow. And when interesting situations follow, I’ll be reading.

Suspects: Do your suspects all have motive, means, and opportunity? Does their motive make sense and is it believable? Have you given the reader a chance to meet each suspect and learn about them? Have your suspects misdirected your readers and provided some red herrings? Have they lied to the sleuth and the reader? Do they have secrets? Do they have some depth?

Always remember MMO (motive, means, opportunity). And when it comes to suspects, try to avoid cliches.

Clues:  The clues need to be made available to the reader as well as the detective.  You have to be fair with your reader in providing them the clues, but make sure they don’t stand out too obviously in the scene.  If they do, think about pointing the reader’s/detective’s attention in another direction, quickly.  There also needs to be more than one clue–preferably three or more.

 

Exciting Chapter Endings: Don’t let your reader put down your book and go to sleep. Do you have some exciting chapter endings so they’ll want to go on reading?

When I was rewriting the second book in my Eli Sharpe series, I realized just how important chapter endings were (and are). Think of it like show business: always leave the reader wanting more.

Resolution: Did you catch the bad guys in the end? Did you tie up all the loose ends that you created? Did you explain how the sleuth/police followed the clues?

A professor of mine once said that the ending of a story has to be surprising yet inevitable.  The resolution, by extension, must make sense, and, if you’re writing a series, perhaps you could give a bit of hint about what’s next for the protagonist.

http://elizabethspanncraig.com/1386/mystery-writing-checklist/

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Go Go Gato Book Cover

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Here is the cover for my debut detective novel Go Go Gato. This is the first book in the Eli Sharpe series, and it will be released on August 1st (Camel Press). Below is brief “pitch.”

In Go Go Gato, a strikingly handsome young ballplayer named Almario Gato goes missing.  Having recently negotiated a $1.2 million dollar signing bonus from the Colorado Rockies for her best client, Veronica Craven hires a private detective to locate Almario “Go Go” Gato.  Enter Eli Sharpe, an ex-ballplayer turned private detective.  With eight years experience, five ex-fiancées, and charm and wit to spare, Sharpe takes the case.  But after meeting the women in Almario’s life—his statuesque agent, his devoted twin sister, his spoiled girlfriend, and his cocaine-dealing fiancée—Sharpe begins to wonder if Almario is missing or in hiding.  Navigating a quirky cast of characters that could only reside in a hodgepodge town like Asheville, North Carolina, Sharpe soon discovers Almario may very well be in danger.  The mortal kind.

5 Tips from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing

Years ago, I skimmed Evan Marshall’s book The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.  At the time, I was an undergraduate English major who did more drinking and talking about writing than actual writing, so the book didn’t really make much of an impression on me. Cut to six years later.  I was in a graduate program for Creative Writing, and my professors, all accomplished writers with decades of wisdom and knowledge, were explaining to me, in laborious detail, just how much work it was to write well, and it finally dawned on me that I needed to work on my craft. So I dragged a desk, a laptop, and The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing into the windowless closet of my 400-square foot apartment and got to work. One of the first sections of the book I read (and re-read, and annotated, and applied) was Marhsall’s section on breaking bad writing habits. Suffice to say, I was a serial offender (and still am before revisions), and I wanted to pass a few of these along. I’ve excerpted several very helpful tips below from Marshall’s website, which I’ve also linked to at the bottom of the page. Read and apply!

1)Identify Character Perspective at the Beginning of Each New Chapter

A globally popular mystery writer often likes to start a chapter or new section without identifying which character she’s writing about—the character is “he” or “she” and we scratch our heads, trying to guess who it is, until the writer decides to tell us. Then, once we know, we have to go back and reread those paragraphs to get the fully import of what’s been written.
2)Repetition of Phrases or Body Movements
Perhaps the most common bad writing habit is “She nodded.” “He nodded.” One book I read recently had so much nodding that I had a picture in my mind of a bunch of bobble-head dolls, like in the back window of a car.
3)Unnecessary Punctuation
A common bad writing habit is “Morse Code”: constant use of dots (ellipses) and dashes. This is frequently a beginner’s habit. Characters are always trailing off or being interrupted. Remember, fiction is like life, only neater. Try to let speakers finish speaking whenever possible, and save the Morse Code for when it’s really necessary.

4)Edit Descriptions
Delete unnecessary details. Not: He opened the cupboard, took out a can of beans, opened the drawer, took out the can opener, and opened the can of beans. But: He opened a can of beans. . .Don’t describe what doesn’t need describing. We all know what certain things look like. Describe an object only if it differs from what we’d expect.
5)Describe weather…sparingly
Spare us the weather reports. If the weather matters, describe it quickly and move on.
Reading Marshall’s book and applying the principles therein helped me secure a book contract for my detective novel Go Go Gato. I give his books and website my highest recommendation. I plan on dropping many more of these pearls of editorial wisdom in the future. In the meantime, I’ve linked to two articles on Marshall’s website, one called “Breaking Bad Writing Habits” and one called “Novelist, Edit Thyself.”
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