Posted in Cozy, Guest Post, mystery on September 22, 2017


Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort by Stan Schatt
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Self Published
Publication Date: July 12, 2017
Paperback: 238 pages


When a very disagreeable resident of the exclusive River Bend Retirement Resort is murdered, bestselling mystery writer Miriam Lipsky has to find the real killer to save her dear friend from prison. She finds the retirement home seethes with intrigue, passion, and jealousy. To make matters worse, it’s hard to distinguish what residents actually saw from what they imagined.

Miriam finds she has to search for the killer while juggling an autistic grandson, a divorced daughter with a tendency to choose the wrong man, her best friend’s overly friendly husband, and a stalker who who leaves her more and more threatening notes. To make matters worse, her rabbi who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to fixing her up.

Miriam, a widow after a disastrous marriage, has given up on love. Just when she is sure that part of her life is over, someone new appears from a very unexpected place.

Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort is a cozy mystery with a sleuth who has to learn on the job. Despite her best intentions, Miriam makes mistake after mistake and yet moves ever closer to discovering a cold blooded killer who has no remorse.

Guest Post

Mystery Readers and the Writers Who Love Them

Supposedly Sigmund Freud’s last words consisted of a question: “Women, what do they want?” I’ve been mulling a slightly different question: “Mystery readers: what do they want?”

According to the National Endowment for the Arts has published a depressing report that shows that the percent of Americans reading fiction has declined ever since 2008. Only around 47% of all readers choose fiction to read. Why the decline? Social media has to accept some responsibility. One study reported Americans spend an average of twenty-three hours a week twiddling their thumbs in various social media applications. It also could well be that fiction is a victim of too many entertainment choices chasing too few hours available for recreation.

Some researchers have focused on the measurable benefits of reading fiction. Recent psychological studies have pointed to gains in empathy. Readers who experience a character’s particular emotion are more likely to recognize signs of that emotion on other people’s faces. Philosophers tell us that readers of fiction can learn morality. Graphing Jane Austen, a 2012 tract, described the evolutionary roots of the social lessons fiction taught and claimed those lessons learned go way back to humanity’s early days as hunter-gathers.

Of course these studies have focused on literary fiction, the kinds of books that target  “serious readers.” Bookstores generally proudly display their “literary books” in their most conspicuous locations while being very careful to segregate them from genre books such as mysteries, romances, and science fiction. Genre readers who visit bookstores and slink into the genre sections could be forgiven if they feel that they are slumming and revealing their secret pleasure much like an opera fan might feel if he visits a bluegrass festival and takes his shoes off to tap his feet to the music. It’s almost like the way fans of certain types of porn must feel when adult bookstores point them to the curtained off area containing the “good stuff.”

Literary critics dismiss most genre novels as mere entertainment. That does not mean genre lovers aren’t serious readers. When genre lovers find authors they like, they rarely are content until they collect a large stack of their novels. That can be challenging for a Michael Connelly fan, as an example, because he’s been publishing a novel a year for the last couple of decades.

Since I write mysteries, I’ve been pondering a subset of the question I raised earlier: What do mystery readers want? Of course the first problem when answering a question like that is that there are multiple categories of mysteries. Just as Caesar found that Gaul was divided into three distinct parts, the mystery terrain fragments into such separate fiefdoms as cozies, police procedure, paranormal, detective/private eye, etc. Interestingly enough, readers tend to find their comfort zone and narrow rather than broaden their horizons as they zero in on the authors who provide them with exactly what they want. That’s not to say some readers won’t take a plunge into the deep end of the reading pool and try a different mystery type, but generally they come home to the tried and true. At least that’s my experience reading hundreds of reader comments on various bulletin boards as well as reader reviews on Amazon.

I have dabbled in different types of mysteries, something that probably has hurt my sales and confused my readers. In doing so, I have learned some of the strict rules that readers expect authors to follow when writing stories in a specific category.

Let’s start with police procedure novels. I have published A Reader’s Guide to Michael Connelly’s novels. His devoted fans line up every year for the next Harry Bosch mystery. What do they expect? Harry is a kind-hearted first-rate detective who exhibits fearlessness, tenaciousness, a fine moral code, and a love for his daughter. Of course he also has his faults. He can be prickly, frequently disobeys orders, and he can’t seem to hold on to a girl friend. Connelly generally begins his novel with the call that Bosch receives, generally late at night. There is always pressure on Harry to take the easy out when it comes to solving the crime, but he never does so. His life usually is not in danger even though occasionally he sustains gunshot wounds; readers know he’ll survive for his next book and adventure, and they find that comforting.

Connelly lets the readers follow Harry from one clue to the next. Sometimes he leaves red herrings that lead Harry astray, but there is a logical, rational road that Harry follows to capture the villain. Harry is no youngster anymore, but he still has love affairs. Connelly’s readers have come to expect him to fall in love with an attractive middle-aged woman who is damaged in some way. Harry will enjoy some happiness, but it never will last. Similarly, readers expect Connelly to create at least one conflict between Harry and whoever happens to be his current partner because the crusty veteran will be far more committed to the “true detective’s code” than a partner willing to cut corners. Readers now also expect an appearance by Harry’s daughter. There will be at least one major disagreement, perhaps a slightly dangerous situation involving her, and then a resolution between the two. See how satisfying it is for a reader to know what to expect?

Fans of police procedure novels expect authenticity when it comes to police procedures, legal procedures, and forensics. Some authors who want to write this type of novel attend academies where they absorb this information from experts. I was fortunate enough to work for a large municipal police department and even co-author a book on some police procedures long before I ever thought of writing mysteries.

A year ago I published Hello Again. It’s a paranormal mystery in which a man starts to receive texts from his lover AFTER she dies. While the novel has the trappings of the supernatural, it is an old-fashioned mystery in which the paranormal does not play a role in the killer’s capture.

My Frankie and Josh series of paranormal mysteries combine police procedures with a paranormal element. That’s where it gets tricky. I feature a fearless female detective and a male tabloid reporter who has some psychic abilities. It also helps that he’s a former Ranger who can take care of himself. He is the only one who can see a beautiful, sassy guardian angel.

In combining these two types of mysteries I found myself having to bend over backwards to follow the rules of police procedure novels. In other words, ultimately the police capture the bad guys through rational police work rather than through supernatural intervention. Readers of police procedure novels would feel cheated if a supernatural figure appeared in the last chapter to solve a crime

Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort is my latest book, a cozy mystery set in a retirement home. Cozies keep all the violence off-stage and rely on a non-professional to solve the crime. In my novel the protagonist is a mystery writer much like Jessica Fletcher in the Murder She Wrote series. Other cozies feature specialists in various fields. There is an entire class of cozies that feature an art critic while others feature cooking experts. Kathy Reich features a forensic anthropologist in her Bones series while the old TV series Quincy featured a medical examiner played by Jack Klugman.

The civilian protagonists in cozies generally have some kind of relationship with law enforcement so that they can learn key details in a case, details generally not made public. In Faye Kellerman’s Peter and Rina series of mysteries Rina is an orthodox Jewish housewife who learns crime details from her LAPD detective husband. Faye Kellerman’s husband, Jonathan, writes his own series of mysteries that features a psychiatrist who teams with an LAPD detective. In Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort author Miriam Lipsky strikes up a friendship with a sheriff, and they agree to share information since the retirement home’s residents are far more likely to talk with Miriam than with a law enforcement official.

To add even more interest, cozies can feature various animals that “help” in solving a crime. There are several series that target cat lovers. Miranda James writes the Cat in the Stacks series while Claire Donally writes the Sunny and Shadow mystery series including “Did Curiosity Kill the Cat Lady?

Other cosy mysteries target dog lovers.  Susan Conant wrote A New Leash on Death, a novel that features Holly Winter, a dog expert. When a dog owner is murdered, she tracks the killer down using the victim’s Malamute. Leslie O-Kane wrote Play Dead, one of her Allie Babcock dog mysteries.

Cozies also feature other types of creatures. Clea Simon wrote Parrots Prove Deadly: A Pru Marlowe Mystery featuring an animal psychic and a parrot worth interrogating. I published Jane Blond, International Spy, a cozy mystery that features a parrot that overhears a conversation in a foreign language and then repeats it to my young heroine.

While I don’t have any pets in Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort, I do fill the book with Miriam’s concerns regarding her autistic grandson and her wayward adult daughter who has a tendency to always choose the wrong man.

What makes a mystery author’s task so challenging is that the various different types of mysteries have rules that need to be followed. I suppose it is very much like fans of various types of cuisine. Lovers of Szechuan Chinese food would be bound to express their dismay on Yelp if a restaurant claiming to serve that type of food holds the chili peppers and, perhaps even worse, adds various fruits to the stir fry.

When I mention rules, keep in mind that lovers of a cat mystery fully expect the cat to play a leading role in the next novel the author publishes and all subsequent novels. So, authors have to be very careful with their initial novels. When I wrote Silent Partner, the first of the Frankie and Josh novels, I never expected Pen-L to insist that I follow with two additional novels (A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer and Death and Donuts). Readers have told me what they like and what they dislike about certain characters. I can’t simply start over and recreate these characters. I’m stuck with them for better or worse. Thankfully, I like them.

I’ve created a set of characters in Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort that I do like. In fact, given the very positive response I’ve received so far, I expect to follow with additional Miriam Lipsky adventures. One key point to make is that there is a growing audience of older readers who apparently like reading about detectives who are almost old enough to collect Social Security. That’s particularly true if the heroes face everyday problems real people face. It doesn’t hurt for the writer to add a touch of romance. Miriam finds to her surprise that she’s not too old for someone to make her think of romance.

Sigmund Freud might have been looking for a single sentence answer when he asked what women want, but the question of what mystery readers want is far more complicated. They stake out their territory and their favorite authors and expect to be entertained with characters they have learned to love to the point where they have become like members of their family. They also have come to expect the world in these novels to operate a certain way. Authors who deviate from the rules that govern these various worlds do so at their peril.  I hope readers find that Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort not only follows the rules but also provides them with good deal of enjoyment.

About the Author

Stan is the author of over 40 books including the Frankie and Josh mysteries. He has published books on career changing, technology, and writers that include Michael Connelly and Daniel Silva.

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