Today it is our pleasure to host a guest blog from William Andrews, and introduce you to his Maine-based mystery series:
William Andrews: I had a call recently from someone who is teaching an adult-education course on mystery novels that deal with thefts of art works and other valuable artifacts. She’s including my Stealing History (Islandport Press, 2006), the first of what is so far a three-part series featuring Julie Williamson, the director of an historical society in rural Maine who becomes adept at solving thefts—and murders. I was obviously flattered to have her use the book—and happy that the 65 students in the course would be buying it. It’s a good fit for her course since it centers on Julie’s efforts to locate several valuable items that had gone missing from her historical society’s archives prior to her arrival as director.
So when she called I assumed she wanted to ask about the missing items, the most valuable of which is an original letter from Abraham Lincoln to Hannibal Hamblin. She did, but only to ask the obvious: was that real? No, made up, like the rest of the book. She said she guessed that but then talked about what really motivated her call: the descriptions in Stealing History of meetings of the historical society’s board of trustees. She loved them and laughed out loud at what various trustees had to say. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Her response was actually typical of comments made at the signings and talks I did when the mystery was published. It was what people wanted to talk about. Anyone who has served on a board of trustees of a nonprofit organization—or just attended a lot of meetings–can find familiar types among those I depict:
*the pompous fool who talks not to say anything but to capture air time
*the stickler for parliamentary procedure who thinks Roberts Rules of Order came down alongside the Ten Commandments
*the quiet person who says nothing until he sticks his knife in the ribs of another trustee who presents an argument wholly lacking in logic
*the one who interrupts a discussion to note that of course all of these points had been made 5 or 10 or some number of years earlier and so not worth time now
And so on. Over the course of my career before I started writing mysteries I sat through probably hundreds of board meetings, some as the board’s CEO and others as a trustee myself, and the chance to depict some of the behavior I remembered—and perhaps to skewer the people who did it—was irresistible when I wrote Stealing History. The next two in the series–Breaking Ground (2011) and Mapping Murder (2017)–continue that little tradition, with the same trustees saying similar things and with new ones starting their own traditions.
So what does all that have to do with writing mysteries? A friend who’s an avid reader of the genre says that while he likes to figure out Who Done It, his main motive is to find what he calls “incidental pleasures.” All good mysteries have these, whether directly tied to plot or characterization or, as is perhaps true in my case, because the writer just likes to have fun. While I think incidental pleasures are to be had in all good mysteries, they probably tend to be more common in the “cozy” sub-genre that my mysteries represent. Still, when I read hard-boiled, blood-drenched police procedurals, I almost always find and enjoy such incidental pleasures as the witty and sarcastic to-and-fros among hard charging cops, the eccentric behavior of a prosecutor, the culinary peculiarities of a perp, or the sartorial sins of someone’s boss.
I cultivate and enjoy such incidental pleasures, and I’d like to hear from more experienced writers what they think: Do you like reading them? Writing them? Do they get in the way or help?