Cheryl Ann Guido: When Is a Murder Mystery Not a Mystery or, “Just One More Thing.”


Image: ©NBC Universal (Image not used for commercial purposes.)

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? You know the kind, where we see the clues lead us to the culprit through the eyes of the detective or the hero of the story. In just about every tale of murder, the sequence of events is, the body is discovered, the detective is called, and we watch through the detective’s (protagonist’s) eyes as he or she follows the clues to catch the murderer.

If we are crime writers, we all attempt to put our own personal spin on this sequence of events. Some of us are more successful than others but that doesn’t mean that our readers don’t have fun along the way.

But I want to talk about a different approach. Being a crime buff all my life I have read about and watched many murder mysteries on tv and in the movies and enjoyed the investigative prowess of many detectives. The authors of those tales pull me in and keep my eyes riveted to the page or screen right up till the end. But one of my favorite characters of all time is the guy in the picture, Lieutenant Detective Columbo of the LA Police.

What is unique about this series is that in the beginning of each episode we actually view the murder being committed. We know right from the start who the murderer is and how he or she committed the crime. In this series, we do not follow the clues through the detective’s eyes. We follow them through the eyes of the murderer as he or she observes Columbo following clues in order to solve the crime. We are never told Columbo’s first name although in current times an astute viewer screenshotted a scene where he flashed his badge revealing that his first name is Frank. But remember, those techniques were not available when his character was created, so we go through every story knowing only his last name and he is so endearing that we don’t even mind.

Columbo is an everyday Joe, someone often not recognized as a Lieutenant because of his rumpled raincoat and old, falling apart Peugeot. He constantly smokes cheap cigars and clumsily knocks over items often causing the suspects minor annoyances all the while praising and buttering up the killer. Yes, it’s a set-up. As he hones in on the perpetrator, his pestiness increases, always employing his signature “just one more thing” as he turns around from heading out the door, invoking the suspect’s impatience and anger until the climax where he confronts the murderer, usually with some small detail they overlooked and reveals how he or she committed the crime. He never carries a gun and takes a lot of chances but somehow he is never hurt.

Yes, a lot in this series is outdated since it was written many years ago and many of Columbo’s techniques would never hold up in a court of law today however, his charisma, likeability, pestiness, and relentless determination to bring the murderer to justice is something we just cannot look away from even today and even though the sequence of events follows the same basic pattern in every screenplay.

All in all, knowing who the murder is from the beginning and seeing the crime solved through the criminal’s eyes is quite a unique approach to writing and it’s absolutely brilliant. The point of all this as it pertains to writing? Don’t be afraid to be different. You don’t need to follow accepted patterns in your genre. Think outside the box. Build your character’s personality and showcase his or her skills. This should be applied to stories in all genres, not simply murder mysteries. That way your story will stand out in a sea of many others swimming around in the same pond.

Happy writing!

About the Author

Cheryl Ann Guido is a retired mother, grandmother, and animal lover. To date, she has published two books, The End in the Rainbow and The Golden Huntress Murder Unscripted. An article she wrote about a cat she rescued was also published in CATS Magazine. Several of her poems appeared in anthologies published by the National Library of Poetry. She has written several children’s short stories along with numerous serialized fanfiction stories as well as standalone and rhyming narrative poems that are posted on various websites. She also served as the writer/producer/director of an in-house movie for one of her previous employers. Cheryl’s love for the written word began at a very young age and she continues to be an individual who is not afraid to let her imagination fly free.

Enjoy and visit Cheryl on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/cherylannguidoauthor

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