Elements of Amateur Sleuth Mysteries
Fascination with puzzles is an important element in human nature. Many newspaper readers believe they could solve crimes more quickly and efficiently than the police, and apparently many of those readers are busy writing mystery novels featuring amateur sleuths much like themselves. Thus, the audience pool for amateur sleuth mystery seems unlimited, and the author pool is also huge, with even the children of former U.S. presidents writing novels set primarily in Washington, D.C. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt solves crimes in books written by her son Elliott Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman, has written several mysteries; and Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan Ford has drawn on her experience as a child of the president to create an amateur sleuth.
Despite surface differences, such as settings and the sleuths’ backgrounds and personalities, these mysteries tend to follow a similar overall pattern. In the course of their daily activities, the amateur sleuths—who may have no previous experience solving crimes—encounter mysteries whose circumstances render them uniquely qualified to unravel. Either completely alone, or assisted by close friends or family members, the amateur sleuths uncover series of clues, and survive physical perils (often because of timely rescues). Finally, they provide answers to law-enforcement authorities, who are often uncooperative or even hostile up until the resolution of the crimes. Because the writers provide readers all the information their amateur sleuths possess—including red herrings—the primary appeal of these mysteries is the challenge for readers to unmask the culprits before the sleuths do. However, a secondary appeal is that readers enter the sleuths’ worlds. They become acquainted with basically likeable characters and gain new understandings of various groups and occupations. Amateur sleuth novels often end with the sleuths promising never to get involved in another mystery; however, readers generally hope that a series will follow.