The Inverted Detective Story by Christine Husom

Richard Austin Freeman is credited with creating the first inverted detective story. His collection of short stories, The Singing Bone,was published in 1912. I found this quote by him on Wikipedia, “Some years ago I devised, as an experiment, an inverted detective story in two parts. The first part was a minute and detailed description of a crime, setting forth the antecedents, motives, and all attendant circumstances. The reader had seen the crime committed, knew all about the criminal, and was in possession of all the facts. It would have seemed that there was nothing left to tell, but I calculated that the reader would be so occupied with the crime that he would overlook the evidence. And so it turned out. The second part, which described the investigation of the crime, had to most readers the effect of new matter.”

The first three books of my Winnebago County Mystery series are a modified version of what Freeman described. He was more intentional in the construction of his stories; I was more organic. When I sat down to write Murder in Winnebago County, it seemed the most natural beginning was a look inside the mind of the soon-to-be killer. She had carried hatred in her heart for ten years, following her son’s suicide in prison. So when the opportunity for revenge presented itself, she goes into plotting mode.

Instead of watching her commit the actual crime, however, I switched to protagonist Sergeant Corinne “Corky” Aleckson being called to help locate a missing hospital patient, after the fact. When the body of the judge was found, although there is no obvious evidence of foul play, Corky’s instincts tell her something is off.

Then I switched back to the antagonist relishing in the successful murder–the steps she had taken, and how she had made it look like a suicide. Or so she thought. Feeling rather pleased with herself, she determined she should kill all the principals involved in her son’s criminal case. And her short killing spree began.

Writers use many methods when creating their stories. Some follow a basic formula expected in specific genres. For me, the mystery in the first three books was in how the Winnebago Sheriff’s Department would determine who the bad guys were. And I wanted to give the readers a deeper look into the minds of the killers, their motivations, their backgrounds, and what led them to act as they did.

That was the first three books. Then I sat down to write The Noding Field Mystery, and the inverted detective model didn’t work. It may have been because of the crime. It may have been the number of suspects. Or a combination of the two. So the fourth book in the series is a more of a traditional mystery/police procedural. As I plan the next two books, I’m not sure which way I’ll go. The fifth may best fit in the traditional model, and the sixth will be more of a thriller involving the nuclear power plant in Winnebago County. The mystery of writing a mystery.

I’d love to hear about your writing, and what led you to your genre and methods.

Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, and The Noding Field Mystery, to be released in the fall, 2012.


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12 responses to “The Inverted Detective Story by Christine Husom

  1. dellanioakes

    I’ve got your books on my review list, Christine. I loved “Winnebago County” and the way you handled the two different points of view. When you mentioned inverted story, it put me in mind of “Columbo”. It started with us knowing the killer and we watched in amazement as Peter Falk put the pieces together and finally arrested the guilty party.

  2. Although I’m not at all familiar with mystery writing techniques, I did notice a difference when I read my advanced copy of The Noding Field Mystery. (I know, lucky me…) And I think you have another winner. It definitely had a different feel, but it is also classic “you”. The best of both worlds!

  3. Inverted detective story. That’s a good term for that plot arrangement where you know right up front the what, where, and who of the crime. The suspense of the story is in what happens during the ensuing struggle to resolve the conflict. Not all mysteries are “who done its.” I’ve had a few people comment that they figured out early on who the villain was and what he/she had done in my novel, Carpet Ride. But to me, that wasn’t really the point of the story. I believe there’s a category of fiction that falls somewhere between a simple mystery and a suspense novel.

  4. Thanks for sharing the idea of the Inverted Detective Story. I love suspense and character building. In Altar by the River, the idea of the ticking bomb was under my feet right from the beginning until the very end. For me, knowing something horrid Will happen is more terrifying then the deed itself. It sounds like you do write organically, and I can’t wait to find out why you chose not to use a modified IDS for Noding Field Mystery!

    • Thank you, Mickie! I just couldn’t make the The Noding Field Mystery work as a modified IDS. The crime and the characters didn’t work in that format. It’s more police procedural with a subplot that ends up being the most suspenseful part of the book.

  5. I’d not heard the idea before but it makes sense and I love having a label for it. Looking forward to Noding Field Mystery.

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