Today on the blog, author Joyce Strand joins us to celebrate the release of her new historical mystery, The Judge's Story. Joyce highlights some of the challenges associated with crafting a suspenseful yet believable mystery plot, particularly when you throw historical accuracy into the mix! Don't forget to sign up for Joyce's AMAZING giveaway at the end of this post - you could win a Kindle Fire or Paperwhite, or free copies of The Judge's Story along with generous Amazon.com gift cards! Thanks for joining us today, Joyce!
Mystery, History, and Credibility
Joyce T. Strand
“Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction after all, has to make sense,” Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens.
Recently I read a true-crime book and was dissatisfied with all the loose ends, including the lack of solving the murder and convicting the criminal. Yet, this was a true story. How could it be? I decided then and there that I would never read another true-crime book. I prefer crime fiction, where we get to make up a mystery and solve it with everything tied up neatly.
Spinning a good mystery revolves around interesting characters who need to figure out who-done-it despite misleading clues and villains in their way. But even though it’s made-up, I emphatically agree with one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, “Fiction…has to make sense.”
Credibility and plausibility go beyond accuracy and are crucial to engross a mystery reader. They concern the likelihood of an occurrence. We might overlook an anachronism, such as placing a river in a real city where none exists for the sake of telling a story, but can we readers overlook the action of a five-foot, 100-pound girl managing to overcome a six-foot 200-pound strong man? Not that it couldn’t happen—but we better understand how, e.g., the man was drugged.
Or what about an amateur sleuth—say a winemaker—what gives him the ability to solve a mystery? Why would we believe any amateur could catch a murderer? There must be a reason—maybe he was an intelligence officer in the Navy, or a crime reporter before becoming a winemaker, or has a history of analyzing the source of production problems at a former job.
And if it’s challenging to tell a plausible modern-day mystery, writing an historical mystery complicates the obligation to produce credibility. In an historical mystery we must pay attention to the same issues as in a current-day tale, but they are compounded by the additional requirement of historical accuracy.
There is no doubt that by setting my story in 1939, I had great fun introducing a new element to tantalize the mystery reader dedicated to solving a puzzle. Historical setting offers interesting opportunities to enrich a mystery. The year 1939 offered a backdrop of the effects of the Great Depression, the looming WWII, and the advancement of movies, air travel, and automobiles without the benefits of cell phones, the internet, or Amazon.com.
For example, my protagonist gets trapped in a storm a dozen miles from assistance. In today’s world, he would simply whip out his cell phone and call for help. In 1939, not only did he not have a cell phone but the building in which he was trapped had no phone, electricity, or running water either. This added a different dimension to how he could be rescued and offered an opportunity to build suspense.
However, despite the contribution of an historical setting, it definitely complicated the issues of believability and credibility, essential to entice readers into the plot.
When I wrote The Judge’s Story, set in 1939, to assure credibility I had to check almost every sentence to assure it was accurate for the time period. The opening scene occurs in a courtroom on a hot day. Could I introduce electric fans? And how long did it take to drive from Ventura to Los Angeles? Could my juvenile criminal have driven to Los Angeles from Ventura and back in a day and still have had time to commit a crime? How fast could cars go in 1939? Did everyone have a telephone? Did refrigerators produce ice cubes?
In an historical mystery, anachronisms could cost credibility, which might lead to a reader’s lost interest. If I enabled my juvenile criminal to travel from Ventura to Los Angeles and commit a crime and return in the same day in 1939, a mystery reader at best would question the validity of the statement and at worst stop reading.
I truly enjoy reading and writing mysteries. I’ve written several current-day mysteries and now my first historical mystery. But whether our sleuth is an amateur, private eye, or lawman tracking down clues in 1939 or 2015, he/she must be credible. “Fiction after all, has to make sense.”
Autographed copies may be purchased at Unicorn Bookstore in Ramona, CA.
About The Judge’s Story
A Superior Court Judge with a passion for social justice as well as the law strives to discover the truth behind the mystery of a robbery-murder in a small California town in 1939.
When the Judge hears testimony against a 14-year-old teenager, he realizes that the boy participated in a robbery-murder. However, the accused did not actually pull the trigger. But unless the boy identifies his partner, the Judge must sentence him as a murderer, which would result in prolonged jail time. The Judge’s investigator, along with the precocious 16-year-old girl who identified the boy as one of the thieves, explore different approaches to uncover the murderer. In the backdrop of escalating war in Europe, the financial scarcities of the Great Depression, and the Judge’s caseload, their attempts to find justice for the accused boy and unmask the killer lure the Judge and his friends into sordid criminal activities.
About the Author
Mystery author Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. She is the author of the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE and the Brynn Bancroft mystery HILLTOP SUNSET. Strand received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.
To find out more about Joyce, visit
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