Murder has come to the Colony of Edge in the second book of the series, Upon Another Edge Broken.
It wasn’t hard to decide to write a murder mystery in the second book of the Colony of Edge series. I love murder mysteries almost as much as I love heists, and science fiction contains some of my favorite mysteries. Whether it’s something like Gun, With Occasional Music or Altered Carbon or Lock In (all affiliate links), I’m right there picking apart clues and fully immersed with the intricate PUZZLE of it all.
Upon Another Edge Broken packs a lot of murder mystery goodness into a novella package, and I loved writing it. But writing a mystery isn’t easy, so it forced me to really think about what I love about my favorite sci-fi murder mysteries. Here are a few of my thoughts:
Characters are the number one most important thing in all my favorite stories, but there’s MORE needed in a murder mystery. First, the story simply needs MORE characters. I’ve read mysteries where there is really only one viable suspect. Turns out they were guilty. It’s not much of a mystery at that point.
BUT for the stories I really love, I want a few viable suspects, along with a few characters who are NOT viable suspects. Maybe a few in the gray area. Scratch that. I want EVERYONE to live in the gray area. It’s not easy for me as a reader to track all of those characters in a story, so I depend on cues the author gives me.
I’ve seen a bunch of techniques that do this. It can be as simple as a visual cue. The character’s funky goatee is always mentioned, or they always wear a certain style of shirt. It can be an audio cue in the tone of their voice or a certain smell always associated with that character. Done well, it’s SUBTLE, and the reader doesn’t need to actually notice that it’s happening. This is the equivalent of hearing Darth Vader’s theme song whenever Young Anakin is in a grumpy mood. Oh, right, he’s THAT guy.
My favorite by far are emotion-based cues. The point of view character HAS OPINIONS about everyone. Maybe a guy comes across as skeevy, so every time he shows up those emotions take center stage. Maybe the point of view character thinks someone can DO NO WRONG. Well, that’s probably a tip-off that they’re the murderer. Never mind that one.
The point is, I’m BAD at keeping track of a large cast of characters. A good murder mystery helps me out. The coolest part is that the more I lean on this help, the more I’m susceptible to…
Agatha Christie was a master of misdirection. She’d fill her novels with a whole bucket of red herrings, then pick one out at the end and claim that they were the murderer all along. Maybe they were. I don’t know.
A great murder mystery MUST use misdirection. It dazzles the reader with possibilities, playing on dubious qualities of the human condition to offer plausible suspects at a dizzying pace.
Sci-fi murder mysteries are no different, but those possibilities can be further complicated by the introduction of technology. How does someone get away with murder in a surveillance-heavy society? Who has access to a system locked down by security? Who has the power and who thinks they can still get away with anything? The questions change in science fiction, but the result is the same…
The Ah-ha Moment and the Big Reveal
The absolute best thing about a murder mystery is the ah-ha moment, when the surprising yet inevitable clicks into place. Throughout the book, puzzle pieces fly in all directions. The reader grasps at them, decides what’s really important (and who’s lying) and maybe, just maybe, figures things out. Different readers figure things out at a different pace, so the best murder mysteries need to be interesting even if the answer is revealed. For what it’s worth, this is a big part of why I love a good sci-fi mystery. Science fiction stands well on its own. It mixes incredible elements into the story and keeps everything fresh.
Then there’s that BIG REVEAL, where the book reveals the answer. There are a million ways to do it, but it’s so exciting to see how it plays out. Who was the murderer? What are the consequences? How does this change everyone else in the story?
And, in science fiction, we also ask what does this say about the society in which we live? What is it about our culture that leads people to murder? How do we handle that revelation?
Upon Another Edge Broken
Murder has come to the Colony of Edge.
Ash doesn’t want anything to do with tracking down a killer. She doesn’t want to delve into the anger and darkness that caused such a horrible act. It frightens her deep down into the core of her being.
Well, it’s just that she’s curious.
Upon Another Edge Broken comes out January 18th. I hope you’ll join me for this mystery in the Colony of Edge. It’s not a big community, it’s not a dangerous population, but they say that about small British towns, too, and look how that turns out.