I have a shopping problem. For being a frugal person, to the point where I wash zip-lock bags and reuse them, I spend an exorbitant amount of money on one thing: books! It makes sense then that when I decided my next original pilot was going to be a mystery, and I have no experience writing mysteries, that I turned to my favorite source of information.
Enter the Howdunit Series!
The Howdunit Series is from Writer's Digest, which a lot of writers have a beef with, but I feel like they put out some useful stuff. Because I had little time, and didn't know exactly what my story was going to be, I may or may not (okay, I did) have gone a little overboard in my purchasing of books in the series. I figured I can give you a review of the series (at least the ones I purchased) so that you don't have to do the same. Unless of course you are working on your Bell library as well.
The books I purchased:
1. Murder One by Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino
2. Cause of Death by Keith D. Wilson, M.D
3. Scene of the Crime by Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
4. Police Procedure and Investigation by Lee Lofland
5. Amateur Detectives by Elaine Raco Chase and Anne Wingate
6. Modus Operandi by Joseph R. Paglino
7. Just the Facts, Ma'am by Greg Fallis
Luckily these books are fairly old, so buying used meant most of these were only a couple of bucks.
The first thing I would like to point out is that you should use these books like 'encyclopedias' not books on how to write the mystery. You won't find information on how to reveal clues slowly, create red herrings, or create interesting characters in these books; however, the books are extremely useful in their area of expertise. While I read them, I got a lot of fun ideas for stories to explore in the future.
Book by Book
My favorite book was without a doubt Murder One, and it is the only one that I read from cover to cover to date. There is something about murder that fascinates people, and this book doesn't disappoint. Written by people who investigate actual crimes, they do an excellent job of explaining the different murders which occur in the world including but not limited to: contract, familial, stranger, crime of passion, serial murder, and bizarre. If you are a person who has a fascination with serial murders, mystery podcasts, etc. you will probably enjoy this book!
The second most useful book, at least for me, was Scene of the Crime. This is all about the clues left behind at the scene of the crime. Because mysteries are all about slowly letting out clues, knowing what clues would be left behind by the crime in your book is important. The book looks at all sorts of clues like those left behind by firearms, fingerprints, and the human remains. Not only does it look at the scene of the crime, but it also dips into the autopsy and crime lab, which can be useful if you are writing a book with those types of characters.
Amateur Detectives is a book for those of you who want to write a mystery that doesn't have a sleuth working in the police force. This is the type of detective my original pilot will feature, so I looked forward to reading this book; however, while this book has a lot of information, not all of it seemed very useful to me. In part it felt like it was a bit dated regarding technology, but also because I set my story in the past so a lot of the cell phone, faxing, and surveillance tips didn't apply to me. That doesn't mean they couldn't for you though!
Cause of Death, written by an M.D. is amazing and full of information. I highly suggest using it when you decide how your character is going to be murdered so that the body clues and the crime match! While readers are not experts in murder, they are experts in logical thinking, and this can make your book seem real. And besides, sometimes doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel read too when they aren't saving lives!
While I thought Police Procedure would be very useful, it is the book I have used the least. If you are writing an amateur detective series, this won't be very applicable. I have very little interest in learning all the ins and outs of a police force, but I know there are many stories written that way and lots willing to read them! So I suggest you decide on your type of sleuth first, and either get this or the Amateur Detective book depending on your need.
Unfortunately, the last two books were lost in the mail, so I can't review them yet. If they ever arrive, I will add them to the list. Until then...