Retrospective: Writing “Murder at the End of the World”

Murder at the End of the World was born from a single idea: “I want to write a British-style mystery like the kinds that Agatha Christie wrote.” Shortly before I started writing the story, I got caught up in a phase of watching BBC’s adaptation of the Hercule Poirot series. I’d also watched a bit of Granada’s excellent Sherlock Holmes series from the 80’s and 90’s. They reminded me all over again of just why I so enjoyed watching a good mystery. I like the way all the clues and evidence are built up, the way things are complicated by red herrings and witnesses that have their own agendas, and then watching as the skilled detective slowly fits everything together and exposes the murder. So I decided to write my own.

Setting

Part of what makes a great setting is how it feeds into the mystery. I knew from the start that I wanted the setting to play a huge role in the mystery and to almost be a character of its own. I’ve always enjoyed the works of HP Lovecraft, so I borrowed a few bits of inspiration from his work and went with an isolated city by the sea. The town itself is awash in mystery, as few people know very much about it. The city’s nature also leads its people to be very insular and suspicious, almost to the point of being openly hostile to outsiders. They’re not evil people, but their view of the outside worlds has led them to view the appearance of outsiders in their streets as invaders into their private world. Like if you woke one night to find a stranger standing in your living room. You’d want that person gone as soon as possible, even if their intentions weren’t bad.

Character

Of course, without characters there’s really not much of a story. With Allison Newberry, I didn’t want a character who was basically a skilled super-genius that was going to swoop in and solve the mystery in a flash. Allison is young and inexperienced, this is her first real case and she’s not entirely confident that things are going to turn out well. Even so, she’s got a good head on her shoulders, good instincts, and determination. A murder has been committed, that means someone has to be brought in to answer for the crime. A lot of this comes from her experience with her father, as the story eventually reveals. Though he doesn’t not appear in the story itself, his influence on her is clear. Allison does what needs to be done, even when no one else cares.

Mystery

This leads us to the mystery itself. This is the most difficult part of the whole affair, because you need something that’s not immediately obvious and interesting enough to hold your reader’s interest until the very end. It would have been easy to go with a straight-forward murder mystery with a set of clues that led to the killer, but I was determined to avoid something that simple. Obviously I don’t want to give anything away here, but my goal from the start was to use a mystery that becomes deeper and more complex the further along Allison’s investigation goes. Nothing is simple in Illdara, as one of the characters says. How very true that is.

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Filed under Murder at the End of the World, Mystery, Writing

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