The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic & Adobo, explains how writers can help their main character solve a mystery when they're the prime suspect.
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We all know what it’s like having your ex-boyfriend drop dead of poisoning in your family’s restaurant, and you suddenly become the main suspect. Super awkward, right?

(How to Write a Mystery Novel)

And look, I get it. You bake cookies, or groom pets, or run a tea shop, or maybe make minimum wage as a restaurant server or library worker. You’re not exactly qualified to conduct a murder investigation. But what’s the alternative? Let the cops handle it? Not if you actually want to stay out of prison! So you decide to put on your amateur sleuthing cap and set out to catch that killer and clear your name. Totally reasonable.

However, there are a couple of roadblocks when it comes to solving a mystery, particularly when everyone thinks you’re the killer. Lucky for you, I’m here to talk you through all of them.

Let’s start with the most practical one first: your job.

Luckily for most amateur sleuths, we’re self-employed or at least part of the family business, so slipping out in the middle of the day to hunt down clues isn’t much of a problem. After all, that’s what other employees are for. Delegate that responsibility! If you happen to have an employer and can’t afford to lose your job, it’s a bit trickier, I’m sorry to say. There will need to be a lot of groveling with either your co-workers or boss to let you skip out on your shift so you can pursue a hot tip. If your job holds you back from actively investigating, you’d better have a good network in place to help you out. This leads me to my next roadblock...

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

Where do I start? Who do I talk to?

Every good amateur sleuth has an extensive network and/or trusty sidekick who can help with their investigation. For instance, that group of nosy aunties who try your patience on a daily basis? You better believe they’re about to become your most trusted source of information. Your outgoing best friend who stayed at home while you went off to the big city to make your mark on the world (only for you to come slinking back for a variety of reasons)? They’ll be the one making nice with the townspeople since a one-on-one conversation can often feel like an interrogation. You don’t want to tip people off that you’re investigating, so having someone with you is not only safer (more on that later) but having another perspective, especially from someone with insider knowledge, is invaluable. It can also help you with roadblock number three, which is...

People thinking you’re even more suspicious because they catch you doing shady things and asking uncomfortable questions

Let’s be real. Chances are good that you’ll be caught around another dead body during your investigation. If they’re not dead, they’re likely in a coma and can’t clear your name. So now you’re looking like the easiest open-and-shut case your small town has ever seen. And if you’re lucky enough to avoid that second (or third) body, there’s still the problem of having people thinking you’re shady AF. As I mentioned earlier, you have to plan your investigative time around your day job. This is fine if you work a 9-5, not so great if you have the closing shift at a restaurant, leaving you to investigate at two or three in the morning. Apparently, skulking about the victim’s/other suspect’s residence at that time makes people uncomfortable and usually leads to a neighbor calling the cops on you. Not that I’d know from experience, of course. This leads to roadblock four...

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

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The police not appreciating your kind assistance

Apparently, cops don’t like it when you conduct your own investigation. They especially don’t like it when you take it upon yourself to trample all over crime scenes and interview witnesses and potential suspects. Something about “obstruction of justice,” I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. They also don’t appreciate a civilian thinking they can do their job better than they can. They don’t like how a civilian inserting themselves into an investigation often makes things messier than when the case first started. And the nice ones don’t appreciate you endangering yourself and those around you. This leads me to my last point...

The danger

So, apparently trying to track down a killer is really dangerous? And often involves you putting yourself into situations that would have you screaming at the screen if this were happening in a movie or TV show. This is why you need investigation buddies and people looking out for you. It also helps if you remember to have your fully charged phone on you, especially if you allow yourself to be lured into meeting with the killer alone. If not, here’s hoping your cardio is good and your day job has helped you build up a decent amount of muscle (restaurant work is hard physical labor, so yay for that at least).

I hope you’ll never find yourself in this situation, but if you find yourself the main suspect in a murder investigation and need to clear your name, at least you’re well prepared!

Writing the Mystery Novel

Do you love reading a good mystery? Have you always wanted to write one? During the Essentials of Mystery Writing workshop, you'll have the choice of creating a brand new mystery story from scratch or working with a story you already have in progress. Spend six weeks on your craft while receiving feedback from a published mystery author!

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