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How to Write Killer Fiction author Carolyn Wheat talks books – Page 2

The yin and yang of detectives and villains, plus the female detective perspective..

RV: Which characters in all of these books are the ultimate detectives? Who are the quintessential villains and why?
CW: Holmes may still be the ultimate detective even after all this time. He embodies the passion and intellect that is essential to The Great Detective and he clearly commands a following (a century and a quarter after his birth) that few other detectives will achieve. Actually, I’ve developed a theory of six detective archetypes that represent different aspects of the human qualities needed for the art of detection:
· Sherlock Holmes – The Great Detective – Intellect Personified
· Jane Marple – The Great Amateur – Intuition Personified
· Sam Spade – The Hard-Boiled Dick – Integrity Personified
· Nancy Drew – the Girl Detective – Innocence Personified
· Sgt. Joe Friday – “Just the facts, ma’am” – Persistence Personified
· Perry Mason – The Mouthpiece – Advocacy Personified
So, the ideal “villain” for each archetype would be the one perfectly matched to his strengths and weaknesses. In fact, the true “villain” is the internal flaw that could push the detective to the dark side of his or her own talents.

The most dangerous villain for the Great Detective is not Moriarty, but the villain of Ellery Queen’s Ten Days’ Wonder, for this villain uses Ellery’s massive intellect as his own tool, creating false clues that lead him down the wrong path and cause more death instead of bringing light to the dark places of the mystery.
The Great Intuiter’ s Achilles heel is her tendency toward seeing human nature through her own prejudices. I feel that somewhere in the Marple canon there’s a grievously wronged maidservant who was both brighter and braver than Miss Marple could believe her to be. In my alternate universe, this tweeny got away with murder because Miss Marple couldn’t accept the truth of a servant’s being her equal.
Sam Spade’s most dangerous opponent: someone equally cynical, yet with far fewer scruples. Check out Chinatown to see this in the flesh. As with Queen, the detective is manipulated by his own best as well as worst qualities.
Nancy Drew is the eternal innocent, and ultimately innocents do not want to know certain truths. Once they agree to know those truths, they are no longer innocent and become complicit and ordinary. In short, Nancy grows up.
The dark side of Sgt. Friday is all those psycho cops created by James Ellroy. Power corrupts, and nightsticks corrupt absolutely. Just ask Easy Rawlins.
Perry Mason’s greatest villain is hardly poor old Ham Burger. Look instead to his predecessor at the bar, Randolph Mason. The fast-talking lawyer who can get an innocent man off on a technicality can oh so easily do the same for a guilty one who can pay him enough money.

RV: You mention that women detectives bring a different sensibility to mystery and suspense investigations and there seems to be many successful female mystery and suspense authors. What is it that makes the female sensibility successful in this genre?
CW: In the Golden Age, it was thought that attention to detail and the ability to make minute observations were inherently feminine qualities. Some women writers went so far as to suggest that all Sherlock Holmes did was apply “feminine intuition” to solving cases. Since Holmes himself would have scoffed at the notion that he used intuition at all, this is not the full answer by any means.
In addition, two of the most famous intuitionists in the detective genre are Father Brown and Inspector Maigret, both of who are male yet identify strongly and emotionally with the victims in their cases. One thing modern female detectives bring is an awareness of human relationships. The old-style detective with the magnifying glass cared only about fibers and fingerprints; today’s detectives, particularly amateur sleuths, delve into the human psyche to understand motives. Women seem more open to this kind of detection than do many male authors, and many create novels with rounded characters who just happen to have a murder in their midst.
RV: How did a sunny place like LA become the basis for the noir, hardboiled detective, mystery genre?
CW: Simple answer: because Raymond Chandler lived there.
RV: Are we seeing to much murder on TV, in films and in fiction these days?
CW: In real life, absolutely. On television and in books: never.
How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat is published by John Daniel/ Perseverance Press.