Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome Eric Keith, whose debut locked room murder mystery is Nine Man's Murder (Ransom Note Press, March 2011 Trade Paperback, 978-0-9773787-7-7).
Today, Eric writes about puzzles and mysteries.
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Before turning to writing mysteries, I designed puzzles for a company that sold original logical games and puzzles. My experience prepared me for the process of writing mysteries: not merely in the general sense that "mysteries are puzzles," because if that were the case, creating puzzles would have prepared me for the institute of marriage. (Maybe the problem was that I created logical puzzles.) But more specifically, the experience of designing logical puzzles helped me to understand the relationship between author and reader that would play such a prominent role in the type of mysteries I was to end up writing.
Photo provided courtesy of Eric Keith
A puzzle maker has a strangely symbiotic relationship with a puzzle solver. It is difficult to describe the unique interaction that takes place between the two. Although some may find the term distasteful, in a very real sense the designer of a logical puzzle "manipulates" the solver — though manipulates him in a positive manner, a manner that is in some ways similar to and in some ways opposite of the way in which a mystery author "manipulates" a reader. It is the unique yet contradictory job of the logical puzzle maker to "control" the solver — to predetermine the exact series of mental processes that will transpire as the solver solves the puzzle — while at the same time providing that solver with a sense of absolute free will. The solver thinks, "Boy, was I brilliant" (as indeed he or she was), while the puzzle creator thinks, "Every step of reasoning that you used, I determined that you would use long before you ever even saw the puzzle."
Is the solver merely the puppet of the puzzle maker, responding simply to strings pulled by the puzzle maker long before the puzzle was encountered? Or is the solver really being clever? Who's right?
Both are. Because a puzzle (especially a logical puzzle) is a paradoxical creature, the interaction of two minds. A puzzle maker can build into a puzzle a potential sequence of logical steps, but until there is a solver, those steps exist only potentially: He needs a solver for those steps to ever be anything but scribbles on a page. Likewise, a solver can only find logical steps, which had to have been placed there by the puzzle maker.
A puzzle thus does not exist until there is a puzzle maker and a puzzle solver. A puzzle is both: It is the interaction of the two.
This was an important point for me to learn, because the type of mysteries I write — and Nine Man's Murder is an example of this type — are classic whodunits. This type of mystery was most popular during the "Golden Age" of the 1920's and 1930's. Perhaps more than anything else, these mysteries were puzzles. The reader was invited to match wits with the detective (and the author) in trying to solve the puzzle. This type of mystery was highly participatory. It was not just a book, but a contest. The reader was involved.
In later years, the emphasis on the "puzzle" was displaced by a focus on other aspects: story, setting, realism, character psychology. While this emphasis admittedly did much to add flesh to the bones of the mystery novel, it was done at the expense of the "contest." My goal was to glean the fruits of modern advances, while trying to restore the Golden Age contest to the modern mystery.
Nine Man's Murder is a classical whodunit in the Golden Age tradition. My experience as a puzzle maker prepared me to write such a novel by teaching me, not only how to make puzzles, but more importantly, about the unique interaction — the "contract," if you will — between puzzle maker and solver, author and reader.
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If you feel brave enough to match wits with a master criminal, visit Eric Keith at MysteriesWithTwists.com, where you will find a logic puzzle to test your sleuthing abilities. Can you identify the would-be killer before he or she strikes again?
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Nine Man's Murder chronicles the fates of nine graduates of the Anderson Detective Agency, a training school for detectives, who attend what they believe is a class reunion at Moon's End, the remote mountaintop resort of their mentor, Damien Anderson. But when they find their host's dead body in the closet, they realize that (a) this is no class reunion, and (b) they'll probably be serving themselves dinner.
When a blown-up bridge traps the guests on the mountaintop, they discover that what they thought was a "reunion" is in fact a deadly game of "Nine Man's Murder." One by one the guests will be murdered, and survival depends on their ability to identify and stop the murderer — who, they soon realize, is one of them. Can they outwit the killer and survive, or will the murderer win this game?
Nine Man's Murder is available in Trade Paperback and popular eBook formats (see icons below book cover above).
You can read the first chapter of Nine Man's Murder below; use the Aa settings button to adjust font size, line spacing, and word density.