How to Write a Really Terrible Mystery

On October 28th, I’ll be giving a talk at the Blacksburg, VA Public Library. “How to Write a Really Terrible Mystery (and HowHow to Write a Really Terrible Mystery Poster Not To)” will feature tips from my alter ego, Mandy Quagley. Below is a little sneak peek at the kind of colossally unhelpful advice Mandy will give to mystery readers and would-be mystery writers.

There will be lots of audience participation, and lots more terribly hilarious writing samples. Hope to see you there!


Instead of laying cunning clues that lead your reader little by little toward the finale, withhold all information. I mean, this is a mystery, people! Be mysterious. You don’t want to give anything away. So at the end, dump all the information on your reader like a trash collector tipping his load into a fetid landfill.

Take one or more chapters right at the end to reveal in excruciating detail who committed all the murders and how they did it. Ideally, they should do this in one really, really long monologue while your protagonist is tied to a chair or something, but I know this isn’t always possible. A good rule of thumb is that this exposition should recap your entire book.

Here’s a quick example from The Weiner Schnitzel Conundrum by Mandy Quagley:

“Remember that jar of poisoned pickles in the first chapter?” Baron Otto Von Killerstein said, stroking his menacing goatee. “Well, they weren’t poisoned after all!  That character just had a heart attack, you fool! But actually that gave me the idea to poison those pickles in Chapter Five. The ones the other character ate.”

“You mean Count Nebulous Throckmorton died from eating poisoned pickles?” Juliette asked, her blonde curls quivering with fear.

Nine, he’s the one who got bitten by the snake. Don’t you remember? I just told you about the snake I trained specially to be attracted to the scent of mango chutney, and then I gave Count Throckmorton the mango chutney scented cologne?”

“Oh, oui. So it was Professor Leopold von Fingerschweitzen who ate the poisoned pickles.”

Nine! Think about it. Chapter Five? The one with the redhead and the hunchback?”

“Wait, you mean you and Bavaria Bumbersnickle were working together this whole time?” Juliette asked, her ample bosom jiggling with anxiety.

Baron Von Killerstein pulled back the cleverly fitted mask that covered his face. “I am Bavaria Bumbersnickle!”