Guest Post: Writing a Mystery Novel by Elizabeth Buhmann

by - Friday, June 07, 2013

Happy Friday, my dear readers. :) Today, let's all welcome Elizabeth Buhmann, author of Lay Death at Her Door. She has prepared a guest post about writing a mystery novel. Read on ...and be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post. :) Have fun!

I love a really good mystery! There is almost nothing I would rather read.

What I like is the discovery of a hidden reality—dark and terrible—that underlies appearance. And there is satisfaction in seeing evildoers dragged out in the open and brought to justice.

When you set out to write a mystery novel, you invent not one, but two stories. One of them is about a secret. For example, one person might be jealous of another. He quarrels with her, kills her, conceals the body, concocts an alibi, etc. That’s what really happens, but it’s hidden. No one knows about it.

When I write a mystery, I start with this kind of story—the story of a crime. I write out a detailed synopsis of the action, which culminates in murder and includes the killer’s effort to conceal what he’s done. This is the unknown that has to be discovered, the injustice that needs to be set right.

This underlying story could almost be a novel in itself, but it wouldn’t be a mystery. It would be a drama—a tragedy, perhaps. The mystery is a second story—about how the first story comes to be known.

The actual plot of the mystery begins with the first public sign of a violent reality that’s hidden beneath a placid surface. Shots are heard, or someone disappears, or—classically—a body is found.

The plot, then, is a chain of events inexorably leading from that first sign to a full exposure of the hidden story. Only then can justice be restored.

In many mysteries, the first inkling of the hidden story leads to a detective being hired or police being called to a crime scene. My book, Lay Death at Her Door, departs from this formula, but it still has the heart of a mystery. It’s all about the laying bare of a hidden story.

My main character Kate once got herself into a situation which led to a man getting shot and Kate being beaten and raped. To protect herself, Kate lied on the stand, and an innocent man went to prison.

So in my book, the eruption of violence—the murder and the rape—was initially explained away by a false solution. The wrong man took the blame. The first inkling of reality in Lay Death at Her Door comes twenty years after the fact (in chapter one), when the innocent man is exonerated by new evidence.

In another departure from the usual structure of a mystery novel, I chose a main character in the hidden drama as my protagonist. More often, the protagonist is a detective who solves the crime.

I wanted to tell the story from the inside, even though it meant my main character would be a dark one, morally complicit, however unwillingly, in the real killer’s crimes.

Like most mysteries, Lay Death at Her Door is ultimately about justice. In Kate’s story, there was a very real possibility that the truth would never be revealed. What breaks the case is Kate herself. Her own character is her downfall. And this to me is a compelling idea—that justice comes down from within.


Elizabeth Buhmann is currently on blog tour for her newly released mystery novel, Lay Death at Her Door. 

Cover and Book Description: 

Buy it now: 

Twenty years ago, Kate Cranbrook’s eyewitness testimony sent the wrong man to prison for rape and murder. When new evidence exonerates him, Kate says that in the darkness and confusion, she must have mistaken her attacker’s identity.

She is lying.

Kate would like nothing better than to turn her back on the past, but she is trapped in a stand-off with the real killer. When a body turns up on her doorstep, she resorts to desperate measures to free herself once and for all from a secret that is ruining her life.
About the Author: 

Elizabeth Buhmann, Author of Lay Death at Her Door
Photo courtesy of Red Adept Publishing
Elizabeth Buhmann is originally from Virginia, where her first novel is set, and like her main character, she lived several years abroad while growing up. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. For twenty years, she worked for the Texas Attorney General as a researcher and writer on criminal justice and crime victim issues.

Elizabeth now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, dog, and two chickens. She is an avid gardener, loves murder mysteries, and has a black sash in Tai Chi.
Know more about Elizabeth: Her website and Facebook.

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