In mid-August, family arrived on a Thursday for a four-day visit. As usual, my husband and I hustled to vacuum, dust, and blow up an inflatable bed downstairs for two teens to sleep. Everything looked peachy-keen.
At supper, our refrigerator ice/water dispenser quit working. Nary a light on the front-panel display. But the refrigerator kept making ice, so no big deal. We just scooped ice from the freezer box and called a repairman who arrived at suppertime on Friday.
He installed a new “computer” control, but the dispenser panel still wouldn’t light. Then he found a short. No electricity. He fixed the wire, and voila we had water and ice.
On Saturday, the boys mentioned seeing a dark spot on the ceiling by the fireplace—no where near the upstairs kitchen and not a water pipe of any description within 20 feet. Finding waterlogged ceiling tiles by the fireplace and wet spots in the center of the room, my husband searched for roof leaks near the chimney. We’d had a heavy rain a few days before and figured it could have taken a while for water to meander to the basement.
Long story short. We found the leak a week later. The refrigerator. No evidence of water under the refrigerator, but it had seeped through the oak flooring and run along the subfloor and wires until it found outlets to exit into vulnerable ceiling tiles below. Ruined tiles were scattered across the room like a chess board. The last tile to show any sign of water damage was under the &*$%&^% refrigerator.
So what does this have to do with writing a mystery?
I hope to remember how water operates when I begin plotting my next mystery. Water offers an excellent guide to plotting secrets. Here are few of the lessons I learned during our most recent water torture:
- The genesis/cause/motive can be totally unconnected in space and time to the crime (murder or leak) and its ultimate discovery (dead body or fouled ceiling tile).
- Like water, strong human emotions can flow undetected beneath the surface until some anomaly presents an outlet. And the trigger can be something that seems inconsequential. (A nail hole in a subfloor, a curse, or a weapon that’s handy at just the wrong moment of rage.)
- Early clues (the refrigerator short or a suspect’s change in routine) may seem unconnected and thus be ignored.
- Clues may be time delayed. This can make it difficult to pinpoint when the crime began or how long it’s been going on. (The slow warping of floorboards, a person’s change in routine, when a serial killer began.)
- Logical avenues of inquiry may lead an investigator along unproductive paths. (A bone dry attic or a seemingly air-tight alibi for when you think the crime occurred.)
- Dead ends can frustrate investigators and make them cranky.
- Witness testimony can be missing or unreliable. (If we hadn’t had company, we might not have ventured into our basement for weeks. Would teen boys notice a wet spot in the ceiling if it didn’t drip on them?)
Have you incorporated any mundane mysteries into your writing? What lessons have you learned trying to solve everyday mysteries?
Linda Lovely has published two books in the Marley Clark mystery series—Dear Killer and No Wake Zone—with a stand-alone romantic suspense novel, Final Accounting, set for release in October. Her romantic suspense novels serve up a main course of suspense, action, and adventure along with generous helpings of romance and humor. Her manuscripts have won or earned final spots in 15 contests, including RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier contests. Dear Killer, the first in Lovely’s Marley Clark mystery series, was a finalist in the 2011 RWA Golden Quill competition for published novels.
A journalism major, Lovely pursued a career in PR. One of her clients, the international investigative firm that served as a prototype for the heroine’s employer in Final Accounting, introduced the author to forensic accounting and other techniques for catching savvy criminals who operate on a global scale.
During five terms as president of the Upstate SC Chapter of Sisters in Crime, she also established ties with a number of law enforcement experts—professionals graciously willing to share their expertise with authors.
She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and the South Carolina Writers Workshop. A popular speaker, Lovely often visits book clubs. She also teaches genre fiction and writing classes through
Lifelong Learning Institute. Clemson