Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ME vs. THE MASTER CRIMINAL



From Wikipedia

By E.E. Kennedy

As you may have deduced from the title, as a writer, I’m not fond of the concept of the Master Criminal. You know the ones I mean: Wo Fat, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Red John, Mr. Hyde, those guys. Vindictive, relentless and merciless, they are responsible for a list of despicable fictional crimes as long as your arm.

I blame Conan Doyle. He was probably among the first to introduce such a character in his Sherlock Holmes stories: Professor James Moriarty. “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city,” Holmes declares in The Final Problem. This fellow held all of London’s criminals in his sway. No crime, however petty, escaped his knowledge and was likely launched at his instruction.

If you want me to stop watching a TV show or quit reading a book, simply introduce a criminal mastermind rubbing his hands together and cackling in fiendish glee and I’m outta there. Why is that, I wonder? And why is it I am loathe to have such a villain in the mysteries I write?

That’s not to say that my villains aren’t intelligent. One can be extremely evil and highly intelligent at the same time. In fact, a bright villain makes a better adversary for my hero or heroine to engage and makes for a more challenging puzzle for the reader. So that’s not the problem.

So why don’t I have criminal masterminds in my books? Here are a few of my reasons:

1)      My villains are amateurs. They only dabble in murder. I did a brief mental review of my books to date and realized that in only one of my books does the central villain commit more than one murder. This makes them harder to detect, of course. These villains aren’t like the lions and tigers in stories who, having once tasted blood, are ravenous for more. No, these folks simply used rather extreme means to eliminate an inconvenience. Which is pretty chilling, when you think about it.

2)      Master criminals aren’t cozy. They are extraordinary, larger than life. They make a profession of crime and may even be rather proud of their purported accomplishments. They wouldn’t like the small-town life of my characters, no matter how colorful and appealing my townspeople might be. A master criminal wants a Bigger Canvas on which to paint his Masterpiece of Crime.
 
3)   So much for red herrings! As most mystery readers know, red herrings are part of the fun of deducing whodunit. Derived from the practice of dragging a fish along the ground to deceive hunting dogs, in a mystery, a red herring is somebody who might have dunnit, but we're just not sure. Authors love to sprinkle these diversions throughout their stories to fool the reader. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but if there's a master criminal doing the crimes, you lose that mysterious element.

4)      Master criminals require big guns. It will probably take a government agency or at least a spy with a 00 designation to defeat somebody like that. In my books, all that is required is an English teacher with a conscience and a sense of justice. I think part of the appeal of the cozy mystery is that the reader can put him/herself in the place of the amateur detective. They can help figure out whodunnit along with Miss Prentice.

5)      For me, a master criminal is a copout. Let’s say that there’s a mysterious death in the small Adirondack town where I set my stories. As we follow the plot, we meet all kinds of people who might be guilty--the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker—ordinary folks who, when you meet them make you think Hmm, could he have done it? Now, imagine your frustration when at the end, I pull a Columbian drug lord or Mafia chieftain out my hat and blame it all on him? Nope. Won’t work. It’s got to be the high school art teacher…or is it?

6)      The Master Criminal is possibly too realistic. You have only to watch the news to realize that in the real world, evil has a huge footprint. Look at North Korea, for instance. It’s troubling and diverting to a reader who only wants a few hours of light entertainment.

So when you read a Miss Prentice mystery (or hopefully another book in some one of my future mystery series) don’t wait around for a devious puppet master directing a team of deadly Ninjas or a squad of machine-gun-carrying goons to show up. You’ll find them in some other book. What you are far more likely to find is a corpse in the copy room of the public library or maybe a body in the root cellar of the local B&B. The villain is no less evil. Just, perhaps, a bit less ambitious.

 

 Ellen Edwards Kennedy, aka E.E. Kennedy, is the author of a cozy mystery series about a high school English teacher. The stories are set in the Adirondack region of NYS, where she grew up. The fourth one in the series, Incomplete Sentence, will be released February 1 by Sheaf House Publishers. Ellen and her husband live in North Carolina. Her website is www.missprenticecozymystery.com

Leave a comment below and be eligible to win a copy of one of Ellen's books, your choice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


25 comments:

  1. Hmmmm...sounds like your books aren't crammed with useless garble. That makes for good reading. Which of your books would you recommend to a first-time reader?
    debsbunch777(at)gmail(dot)com

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  2. You have an interesting idea.

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    1. Anonymous, you need to leave your email so I can put your name in the hat!

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  3. I'd recommend the first in the series, IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER, Chappy Debbie. They're on eBooks and in paperback, and if your name is drawn, yours will be free!

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  4. I've never been a big fan of criminal masterminds either.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

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  5. I couldn't agree with you more!
    karen(dot)kenyon(at)rogers(dot)com

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    1. Karen, check out the sample chapters at www.missprenticecozymystery.com

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  6. Hmmmm...sounds like your books aren't crammed with useless garble. That makes for good reading. Which of your books would you recommend to a first-time reader?
    debsbunch777(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. LOL, we got tangled in the list, didn't we, CD? You could start with IRREGARDLESS, but each one will stand alone and I think my favorite would be #3, MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE. It's about Amelia's experiences in summer stock theater.

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  7. Miss Prentice sounds like a series that I would really enjoy. If I'm the lucky winner, I'd chose the first book in the series. Thank you for offering! mychildsclosetbiz at yahoo(dot)com

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    1. A good choice, Kimmie. However, if you'd like to sample the various books, there are free sample chapters on my website: www.missprenticecozymystery.com

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  8. I really enjoy cozy mysteries. Miss Prentice sounds like a series I'd enjoy.
    betsylu2@msn.com

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    1. Beth, check out the website www.missprenticecozymystery.com for free sample chapters to see if you'd like them.

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  9. I like mysteries and this sounds great. Thanks.

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    1. Oops - forgot my email - steveandellengray(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    2. I think you'd like the series. You can read free sample chapters at www.missprenticecozymystery.com

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  10. I totally agree! I used to love The Mentalist. Simon Baker is so nice to look at. But I got so freaking tired of hearing about Red John, I quit watching. Person of Interest...loved that show. But then they went on and on and on about that other computer and its protagonists...and I got bored. I like for the mystery to be solved, the villain to be caught, and move on to the next one.

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    1. Those are two of my favorites that were sunk by Uber Villains, Sally. I lost interest, too. Sally, leave your email address so you will be eligible for the book drawing! BTW, check out the sample chapters at www.missprenticecozymystery.com

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  11. sounds like a good mystery. cheetahthecat1986ATgmailDOTcom.

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    1. Kim, I hope you check them out and enjoy them. There are free chapters at www.missprenticecozymystery.com
      The drawing will be in a few days.

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  12. I love it--you just helped me figure out my genre--cozy mystery! There's some suspense, yet still plenty of not so suspenseful story to go along with it--and NO Master Criminal. I'm thinking I need to read one (or more) of your books for research and what better way than to win a free one to get me started? ;-)
    Vicki

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    1. Vicki, I'm so glad you have found cozy mysteries! BTW, you'll need to leave your email for the drawing in a few days.

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  13. The LUCKY WINNER of a copy of (her choice) IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER is Ellen Gray. Thanks to everyone who commented!

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  14. I just saw your post on FB and decided to visit your page. I love a good mystery. One of the most recent mysteries I read is called Messages. The culprit was one I briefly considered early on in the novel, then decided it was very unlikely to be that person. I like mysteries that are a challenge to figure out. The criminal mastermind works well in movies for that edge of your seat 'how is he going to be caught?' feeling. I can't recall a criminal mastermind in recent novels I have read unless you count Carpathia in the Left Behind series. I especially like point #2 in your argument. The mastermind is always larger than life. The realism you state that you create in your books could almost give validation to the criminal's intent and in some cases could almost create a feeling of empathy for the criminal. I look forward to reading one of your mysteries.

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