The Second Black Beacon Book of Mystery will be released on the 8th of July (but the Kindle version is available for pre-order at just $1.99 instead of $3.99, and you can add it to your Goodreads list today) and to celebrate this new volume of short mysteries bound to get armchair detectives the world over donning their deerstalkers, we’re interviewing the contributing authors. Are you ready to glimpse the inner workings of these criminally clever minds? Sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy the following interview—on second thoughts, don’t drink that!
Hi F. K.,
It’s always tricky interviewing a mystery writer about a particular story because we don’t want to give anything away, but can you tell us (carefully) where the idea for your story came from?
I tend to go one of two ways when writing an impossible crime: One way is to start from the desired effect - the illusion that the culprit is trying to create. Starting this way is great fun, since at this stage I'm only concerned with how baffling a scenario I can cook up. From there I work backwards, trying to figure out how the magic trick was done. It can be tricky to walk the line between a compelling setup and a solution that feels both satisfying and fresh. The second approach is the inverse. I start with the solution, focusing on everyday objects or concepts that can be applied in unorthodox ways to create an effect greater than the sum of its parts. Ideas like a murder weapon made of ice, or the poison introduced into the paranoid man's drink via a tampered faucet. Personally, I find these ideas tend to be hard to come by, especially in such a well-trodden sub-genre. But when you have a good one on your hands, you can feel it immediately. From there, it's just a matter of extrapolating out from that core concept in a way that feels organic and interesting. So to answer the actual question, “Lost at Sea” was a result of the second approach. That one small idea that unravels the culprit's plot was what informed the details of the setting and the supporting cast.
A good fair-play mystery is a 2-for-1 deal - both an engaging story and a battle of wits between the reader and the author. It's a game you can't really lose, because even if you don't manage to outwit the sleuth, you still have the promise of a mind-blowing reveal to look forward to. I believe this is one reason that the sub-genre has continued to capture readers, but I think you'll find there are countless different, equally valid answers to this question!
Give us one classic mystery writer you admire and one new talent (not from this anthology) readers ought to discover.
John Dickson Carr. He is practically synonymous with the locked-room mystery, a maestro of the form unmatched in both output and quality. The Judas Window, as one example, is my ideal locked-room mystery, ticking every box: an entertaining cast led by a force-of-nature protagonist, an engaging framing narrative, and a solution that unravels a suffocating illusion in a single stroke. While not a new talent per se, Hiroshi Mori's debut novel, The Perfect Insider, is a refreshing take on the locked-room mystery that I often think back on. It may be a niche-within-a-niche, leaning heavily on technical jargon to evoke its academic setting, but the core mystery is a dark twist on the classic problem with a jaw-dropping solution. It was just recently translated to English, and hopefully it’s the first of many.
If you were a detective, private investigator, investigative journalist, or amateur sleuth, what would be your trademark quirk?
It may be cliché, but I can't say no to a cup of tea. I do all my best thinking over a freshly brewed pot, so I imagine that would translate over into any hypothetical sleuthing!
How important is setting to you in your writing? Have you lived or visited where your story is set?
Fairly important! How I end up using the setting really depends on which of the two approaches (see above) I take. If I'm starting from the result and "solving backwards", the setting is an invaluable tool for making the impossible effect pop. The locked-room mystery in a stately country manor is a timeless classic, but the Ice Floe Mansion built at an uncanny angle on a seaside cliff in Soji Shimada's Murder in the Crooked House drips with character and novel avenues for reasoning about the mysteries presented. With the second approach, the setting is often just the logical consequence of the idea I'm fleshing out. It's no less important than in the first approach, but the details of the setting tend to serve a more practical purpose rather than acting as embellishment. I’ve never traveled by boat, luxury yacht or otherwise!
What do you aim to give your readers?
The stories I love most have felt like sitting across from the narrative’s sleuth over a chessboard, so I'm happy if my stories can provide that feeling for others. But no matter how well-constructed a mystery is, if the narrative doesn't keep the reader engaged, the game is over before it begins. This is why my casts tend to include a character that strings the reader along, playfully taunting them. A character playing this role is the last bit of seasoning that elevates a fair-play mystery from an elegant puzzle to an engrossing experience.
Where can we find you online?
I'm not on social media, but you can find my contact info at fkrestrepo.com - I'm always happy to chat about locked-room mysteries!
Thanks for playing along. Enjoy the tea!