Like a lot of other folks I know, I can’t resist a good whodunit. Of course, we all have our standard of what exactly a good whodunit is. As you might expect, I’m about to tell you what I think makes a good whodunit.
First of all I use the term whodunit as a broad term to include what is normally labeled mystery in the bookstore. It includes novels about private detectives (Sherlock Holmes), police detectives (Harry Bosch), regular cops (Jim Chee), CIA operatives (Emily Polifax), private citizens (Miss Marple), investigative reporters (Fletch), wealthy playboys (Lord Peter Wimsey), medieval priests (Caedfel), medieval samurai (Sano Ichiro), bookstore owners (Cliff Janeway), burnt-out musicians (Kinky Friedman), aged barristers (Horace Rumpole), have I gone on long enough, yet? Yes, I believe I have.
A good puzzle is table stakes. You can’t even get into the game without one, so we will take that as a given. A good whodunit has memorable characters to go along with the puzzle. The main characters should have some mysteries of their own. They should struggle with more than just the case; they should have to wrestle with themselves as well.
Disqualifiers: see Murder by Death for the initial list. In addition, I get extremely annoyed when the main character does something extremely stupid, like getting romantically involved with the suspect, especially if he/she already knows the suspect is probably guilty. Even worse is going to bed with the prime suspect. Just how stupid can you be? I also get annoyed when I can see the obvious clue but it takes the protagonist multiple chapters to figure it out. The author should be better at hiding the solution.
I prefer a minimum of sex, profanity and graphic violence. A good whodunit depends on the quality of the puzzle and characters and doesn’t need to highlight the sex lives of the characters to tittilate the readers. (You know, that’s a pretty weird word.)
Even with these self-imposed restrictions, there are so many good books out there that it would take me years to read them all. So what am I doing sitting here writing this? I think I have a good one on the shelf right now!