Monday, October 10, 2011


I’m an extremely eclectic reader. Take a look at my list of books on Goodreads, and you’ll see what I mean. Or check out the two books I’m currently reading: Mama Does Time by fellow Midnight Ink author Deborah Sharp and Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick. So this week’s question, What Was the Most Surprising Book You Read This Year? is an interesting one for me.

Surprising in what way? Surprising that I liked it? If I’m not enjoying a book, I don’t keep reading. My TBR piles are way too tall for me to waste time on a book that isn’t holding my attention.

As a mystery author, I always worry about whether I’ve left too many clues or not enough clues for readers to figure out whodunit. I know who the killer is, but I don’t want my readers to know until they reach the book’s climax. At that point I want them to slap their heads and say, “Of course! Why didn’t I figure that out sooner?” It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’ve found that although I have managed to pull it off with most readers, there are always those who figure out whodunit way too soon.

I once read a debut book by an author who was receiving platinum promo from her publisher. She was being hyped as the next big star in her genre, and because of all the publicity, she has had a very successful career since that first book. However, I figured out whodunit less than a third of the way into the book. For the remainder of the book, I kept hoping she’d thrown me a red herring and would surprise me in the end. She didn’t. Worse yet, I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief over her “hiding in plain sight” denouement. I’ve never read another book by this author. No matter. I doubt her income is suffering because of it.

As it turns out, I’m one of those readers who usually figures out whodunit way too soon. I want to be able to slap my own head. Unfortunately, I rarely do, but I did awhile ago with two outstanding books: The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard and City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin.

In Pickard’s book, the killer made perfect sense, yet she kept me guessing, never suspecting the one person who actually committed the murders. Franklin’s book contains a twist at the end that is brilliant. I’m not going to say more about either book because I don’t want to let loose with any spoilers. Let’s just say that I highly recommend both books and don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Lois Winston recently finished the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,


Pat Dale said...

I've always suffered from my nack of solving 'whodunit' too soon. I don't stop reading, though. I enjoy a good novel, even when I know the eventual outcome. I have to admit, though, I long for a book that makes me sit up at the end and say, "I never saw that coming.". Ah, well...

Lois Winston said...

Pat, then I highly recommend you check out the books I mentioned in my post. And if you do, I'd love to hear from you to see if you were as surprised as I was.

Meredith Cole said...

I still haven't read Nancy Pickard's latest--and I'll have to check out Ariana Franklin's book. I love getting recommendations for great books!

Lois Winston said...

Meredith, I also loved Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series. You might want to check those out as well if you enjoy historical mysteries.

Liz V. said...

So many books in TBR pile but will check out your recommendations.

jenny milchman said...

Oh yes, SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING had so much to offer in the way of surprises! I adore this book. I hadn't heard of Franklin's book--thanks for the rec.

A book that surprised me? THE AFFAIR by Lee Child just recently. I wasn't totally surprised by SJ Watson's BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, but I loved every word.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Liz and Jenny.

Jenny, I haven't read either of the books you mentioned, but now I'll have to add them to the toppling TBR pile.

Merlin said...

I love a challenge and Pat Dale has just thrown down the gauntlet, so I would like to invite both her and anyone else who enjoys a few surprises to check my INNER SPACE Murder Mystery trilogy of stories and see if you can guess the outcome, not once but three times !

Each is a complete story revolving around my central character Detective Inspector Nick Burton who is not exactly any ones idea of a perfect policeman. Going through what can be best described as a mid-life crisis he is drifting through life until the day his best friend and immediate superior is arrested for murder.
Not convinced of his boss’s guilt Burton tries to find the truth but his investigation is hampered when his friend dies while in police custody.

Ripped from his lethargic comfort zone Burton quickly finds himself out of his depth in an investigation that takes him into a world he never knew existed.

There is no prize for working out who did it, I tell you that right from the start.... So where’s the mystery and the Challenge ?

The question is not Who.... But Why !

E. F. Watkins said...

I "read" THE BONES OF THE BARBARY COAST by Daniel Hecht as an audiobook because I had very much enjoyed his novel CITY OF MASKS. I was first surprised that it started off very slowly, with the transcript of a report his heroine had delivered on the case after-the-fact. When it got into the actual story I was much more engaged, and by the end of the book I realized it was as much as literary novel as a mystery. The biggest surprises were in terms of characters--one guy you expected to be sympathetic was in fact pretty bad, and one you expected to be a villian actually was very sympathetic. Hecht turned a couple of familiar tropes on their ears, very skillfully.

Lois Winston said...

Eileen, I think the keyword in your comments is "skillfully." I once read a romantic suspense where the villain from the first book became the hero in the second book. This guy was so totally vile in the first book that there was no way I could buy into the author's explanation for his actions and how he was really hero material. I think there have to be some hints along the way. Otherwise readers won't suspend disbelief.