Mystery Writing: a Matter of Style

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here, fresh off finishing, with my collaboration (and daughter) Emily Westbrooks, a stand-alone crime novel called THE DEAD SAMARITAN.

SAMARITAN is still a few months from publication as an e-book but moving from this book to my next projects (Brandon Blake number three; Jack McMorrow number eleven), has me wondering how one affects the other. Is there a common style that connects the books? Did the change in setting (Maine to Ireland; Emily is a Dubliner)  change the writing? Do we have a recognizable writing style that we can’t disguise?

OK. So here’s a snatch of SAMARITAN:


They went through the door, into a corridor, and were met by an older man. Gray hair and an earring. He led the way past curtained spaces, people talking and kids crying inside. He stopped and pulled a curtain back and then stepped into one of the exam spaces. Dr. Casey kept going.

“Checking on yer man Manny,” Justin said. “Intensive care.”

“Not good then?”

“The gougers took it to his head pretty good. Some people snap back. Some people don’t. The brain is a very complex organ. Have you seen those diagrams, the brain all sectioned off? The blue part is for long-term memory, the red part for short term, the purple for doing maths and such.”

“Sure,” Sean said.

“Well, you don’t know, when they put the boots to your friend, did they hit the part that does calculus or some part that controls something more important. Like breathing. Never much at maths, meself. How ’bout yerself?”

“No,” Sean said. “Not much at maths.”

He was suddenly exhausted, felt like sleeping right there. There was a bed and a stool. A chart on the wall. The muscular system, the figure jacked, like a superhero made of meat. Someone had drawn on it, arrows down the legs, some long ago consult. Sean sat and Justin leaned.

“How you doing?” he said. “You look pale.”

“Fine,” Sean said.

“It’s like a car crash. You feel it later.”

“Something to look forward to.”

Okay, now a bit of ONCE BURNED, the upcoming McMorrow:

I approached the counter, put the cup down.

 “One dollar, sir,” Harold said. “Pay cash money and we’ll throw in a stale doughnut.”

 He grinned. A round face, bristly salt and pepper moustache, round glasses to match. I handed him a dollar bill. He took a piece of paper from a box, reached in another carton and took out a plain doughnut.

 “Might want to dunk it first,” he said. “Save your dentures.”

  I took the doughnut, held out my hand.

   “Jack McMorrow,” I said.

    “The newspaper reporter,” Harold said, shaking my hand.

    “Word travels fast.”

   “’Round here doesn’t have far to go.”

 “You’re Harold.”

“That’s my name. Don’t wear it out.”

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“You can talk,” Harold said. “Don’t know what I can say gonna be of any interest to folks down in New York.”

He sat down on a stool behind the counter and pushed back his cap. It said Reunion General Store, in case you were disoriented.

“The fires.”


“Have the town on edge?”

“Well, I’d say they got people talking.”

“Ever had anything like this before? Somebody burning buildings?”

“Oh, once or twice, but that was for insurance.”

“And this wouldn’t be for that.”

“Places weren’t worth a whole lot. Sinking into the ground. This just speeded things up.”

“But still,” I said. “It makes people nervous when someone’s out there torching buildings.”

“When it isn’t the fire department,” Harold said.

“So Harold, are you on the fire department?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, like in Reunion it was a given, if you were male and ambulatory.

“Even if the sheds and barns aren’t worth anything, there’s a risk here, right? I mean, you guys are out there putting the fires out.”

“Well, mister, you hit the nail right on the head. You fall off a ladder at a barn fire, your leg’s just as broke as you fell off the roof of a mansion.”

Different story, different setting but same writer, but could you tell? Which brings me to the point of this post. What is it that gives a writer a distinctive style, a recognizable voice? Where does that come from? Experience, certainly. Setting you live in. Books you were raised on. But still, this doesn’t quite explain it. Why is it, if a reader had read all of the writers who are on the top of this page, they probably could pick out their prose with a page. Mysterious, this creativity thing, which is good for all of us.

Thanks for your time.

PS You can check in with me and my writing stuff on Facebook. Love to have you.



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3 Responses to Mystery Writing: a Matter of Style

  1. Lea Wait says:

    An interesting exercise, Gerry — writing with your daughter. I suspect it brought the two of you closer together; but also created a few tough moments! As to style. Of course, we all have our own style of writing, but I also think we can (and do) modify that style depending on what we’re writing. My style in my contemporary mysteries is very different from that in my historicals. Kathy Lynn/Kaitlyn has several different voices for her different genres. And Kate’s Burgess books are written differently than her true crime, or her earlier series. (If I’m misrepresenting anyone — speak up!) So — I think a writer does have a style — but a book/series also has a voice. It’s the combination that is recognizable. Interesting topic! Lea

  2. MCWriTers says:

    I realized some time ago, trying to explain “voice” to my students, that there are actually two voices at work in our fiction. First, there’s the authorial voice, that distinctive style we bring to all our work–the common thread that runs through it. Then, there’s the character’s voice or voices, the way they blend to contribute to the tone and style of the piece.

    So Gerry Boyle the writer (and his collaborator) like a crispy, choppy dialogue style that follows the movement and emotion of the characters. And then his characters have their own voices.

    Really interesting piece, Gerry. I rarely buy e-books, but I’ll definitely make an exception in this case.

  3. John Clark says:

    I could tell the difference, but how much of that is my long familiarity with McMorrow, kinda begs the question. Either way, I’m really looking forward to reading both of them.

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