In Praise of Amateur Sleuths

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Friday, July 15, 2011
So by now, most of you know that I write an amateur sleuth mystery series.  Amateur sleuth mysteries are a popular subgenre, fun for both the author and the reader, but they hinge on a remarkable bit of "suspension of disbelief".  Because the crime solver is neither a police officer nor a private detective.  Recently, I did an interview with my amateur sleuth, Cassie O'Malley.  Cassie remarked:

"You know, I used to watch that TV show, I forget the title, you know, the one with Angela Lansbury and every week in Cabot Cove, she'd find another dead body.  After a while, I wondered why her friends and neighbors didn't give her a wide berth, 'cause you knew every week one of 'em was going to die."

There's very little reason for an amateur sleuth to be out solving crime.  And that, in a nutshell is the challenge.  To put our sleuth in the position to be able to solve the crime, to be uniquely able to solve the crimeIn my mystery series, Cassie writes for a barely reputable tabloid magazine and stumbles into the dead body in the course of covering stories for the tabloid.  Across the subgenre, we find inn keepers and barristas, bee keepers and doll collectors (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker). 

"Whether it is shrewd spinsters (Miss Marple), curious clergy (Father Brown) or high-schoolers with hunches (Nancy Drew), the world of fiction has its fair share of amateur detectives, outwitting the local plod."    (In Praise of... Amateur Sleuths).

We need to find a reason for our amateur sleuth to be out catching the bad guy, a reason that our readers will find plausible.  But sometimes, the only reason an amateur sleuth needs is the determination to do so.  I am reminded of that by a story in the news this week, the gruesome murder of nine-year-old Leiby Kletzky in New York.  Today, the Daily News is reporting that the police are crediting Yaakov German with cracking the case. 

"Yaakov German isn't a cop or a private detective.  He's a property manager and a father of 12 with a reputation as a do-gooder.  By banging on doors and scrutinizing grainy video, he uncovered crucial clues that led cops to confessed killer Levi Aron." (Amateur Sleuth Yaakov German helps cops capture Levi Aron and solve murder of Leiby Kletzky)

If I were to write an amateur sleuth mystery featuring a Chasidic property manager and father of twelve, you might tell me that's implausible.  But today, Cassie and I tip our caps to Yaakov German.

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