The best books that share the secrets of great mystery writing

Peter Lovesey Author Of The Last Detective
By Peter Lovesey

The Books I Picked & Why

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why this book?

One of the world’s most successful writers tells it from the heart both as a memoir of his early struggles and a masterclass sharing the secrets of what he calls his toolbox. His advice can be applied to every kind of fiction but many of his examples of effective writing are drawn from the great mystery writers. He is creative, persuasive, honest, and never preachy. Everyone, from the most experienced author to the absolute beginner, will benefit from King’s generous insights. I was excited when I found it. I learned much and have recommended it to others ever since.


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Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

By Patricia Highsmith

Book cover of Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

Why this book?

No one can deny that Patricia Highsmith knew how to create suspense. Alfred Hitchcock saw that Strangers on a Train was the ideal spine-tingler for a great movie. Other directors have found the Ripley series perfect nail-biting stories to work with. Highsmith takes us through the process of building suspense from the germ of an idea through the plotting, the drafts, and the revisions, using examples from her own work, short stories, and novels. I’m not surprised this book has stayed in print for over fifty years. I still dip into it and get inspired.


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Behind the Mystery

By Laurie Roberts

Book cover of Behind the Mystery

Why this book?

Here is a rare treat: a chance to see inside the homes and workplaces of seventeen great American authors and hear them questioned about their beginnings as writers and their work habits. It’s both a picture book and a series of dialogues. I have been fortunate enough to know and visit several of them personally - Sue Grafton, Evan Hunter, Sara Paretsky, and Donald Westlake - and it’s a joy to see and hear them again explaining their ways of writing a mystery. You soon realize how many different approaches are possible.   


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How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America

By Mystery Writers of America

Book cover of How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America

Why this book?

Although I’m a Brit, I joined the Mystery Writers of America early in my career and benefited enormously from the friendships I made. This newly published volume is a virtual encyclopedia of the advice their experts are willing to share. With more than seventy contributors, it covers the field and more, including mysteries for children, graphic novels, and true crime. None of it is treated as gospel. I laughed out loud when I found the chapter "Always Outline" by Jeffery Deaver, followed by "Never Outline" by Lee Child. Even the follow-up process of reaching out to readers is explained in "Building Your Community" by Louise Penny. This is a must-visit workshop for anyone serious about the craft.


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Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club

By Martin Edwards

Book cover of Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club

Why this book?

Founded in 1930, the Detection Club celebrated its ninetieth birthday with gems of advice from ninety of its members from the Golden Age onwards. Where else could you hear from Agatha Christie on the secrets of plotting, Dorothy L. Sayers on partners in crime and Margery Allingham on dialogue? Or the great spy writers, Ambler, Deighton and le Carre? The list of contributors reads like a history of the genre, right into the twenty-first century with the likes of Lindsey Davis, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, and Peter James. The mostly British line-up nicely complements the MWA book. As a long-standing member (from the days when Christie was our president) I have been privileged to hear from many of the greats about their struggles and successes. How pleasing that so many are included here. 


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