That all changed for me when I read Mary Higgins Clark’s All Around the Town.
I was taking a novel writing class as an elective and for the class, we had to select a book we would read and analyze. While we did that, we would write the first three chapters of our own novel in the same genre as the book we selected. I had always loved mystery, thriller, and suspense fiction, but never thought I would or could write it. There’s so much to think about when writing a mystery and making sure the puzzle(s) fit just seemed too daunting. So, as a challenge, I picked AATT, one of the few books from Clark that I hadn’t read.
I loved it. Still do. Once I year, I still read it.
There were many things I gleaned from the book. I think the thing I liked so much about All Around the Town is that as a reader you had sympathy for the main character and for those characters close to her, but Clark did not write in this syrupy,I'm going to make you feel sympathy by laying the sympathy on thick way. Her writing in that story, at times, is pretty straight forward. I was just rereading it a few weeks ago, and I thought, Man, this could be considered emotionless writing if I didn't know better, because in that book, it's not how much sympathy a writer can create in words but how the actions (or inactions) of the character evoke the emotions and the sympathy. And Clark's also quite good at being pretty concise, getting in where she needs to, and moving out the scene. She doesn't linger around, adding words for fluff, and she doesn't add that one more adjective that makes the reader cringe and go, "Yeah, overkill." She's also good at layering. The story, in the big sense, is about a young girl who is kidnapped and suffered unimaginable abuse for years and is finally returned one day. We see this girl, older, trying to live as stable of life as she can, despite the fact that the kidnappers still exist, and one of them still loves/wants the girl, and with the girl starting to talk about her past, the kidnappers want her silenced indefinitely. With that storyline, we have many layers, from the girl's (main character) story to her parents' story after she's kidnapped and when she comes home, to her older sister's story of trying to be protector now that she's back, to the kidnappers' stories, to the doctors that try to help/save the girl. And none of it is confusing, and all of it comes together to tell one great story. And as a mystery/suspense novel, that layering is also key in how well Clark embeds intrigants throughout the story that payoff for the reader the more he or she delves into the story. With each page turned, the breath of the reader catches as he/she waits, knowing something is going to happen and being enthralled that Clark is making them hold out—just a little bit longer.
After that novel writing class, I had a renewed love and respect for the mystery/suspense field, and I had the first three chapters of what would end up being—many, many years later—my debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell. I just finished the second book in the series, Into the Web, and feel like this is a genre I can make a home in for a while.