Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries — Writing Craft Book Recommendation

Title: Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries

Author: Gail Bowen

Publisher: Regina, SK, Canada: University of Regina Press, 2018

Genre: Adult non-fiction

Topics: Writing craft, writing advice, a writer’s first-hand experiences

Opening Sentences: (I love this!) I began writing when I was forty-three. I mention this because a surprising number of people believe that, if they haven’t written something significant by the time they’re forty, it’s game over. … By the time you’re forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, or ninety plus, the well is primed. … If you have always longed to write this is the time to get started because this is the time you have.

Synopsis: The publisher’s website says this of Sleuth: “A smart, practical, and often funny guide for those who aspire to write mysteries, Sleuth reveals the secrets behind the curtain from a bestselling and award-winning master of the genre.”

Although the title suggests this book is primarily for those who want to write mysteries, and, indeed, the author is one of the top mystery-writers in Canada, I believe the book has a great deal of value for writers of all sorts of novels.

With chapters on prewriting (including researching and mapping where you intend to go with your novel), point of view/narrative perspective, setting, characterization, plot, and style, among other topics, this makes a great handbook that will coach the reader through the writing of a first novel – or a tenth.

The book is written in a warm, accessible, understandable style, and Bowen’s teaching methods, as evidenced through the way she explains each segment that goes to build a complete novel, make the process clear. She was a university English professor for years, and reading this book made me wish that I’d been fortunate enough to take one or more classes from her in university.

Bowen gives examples from her own writing (if you haven’t read all her mystery novels, you will find spoilers) and from other writers. She also provides many helpful writing exercises at each stage of the process.

I highly recommend this book.

For Further Enrichment: If you like reading mysteries, may I suggest you read Gail’s excellent Joanne Kilbourn series? Read them in order, and be aware that the series is still growing.

Here’s Gail’s website.

Publishers Weekly had good things to say about this book.

Here’s an excellent interview with Gail about the book on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter.

Availability: Hot off the press! Should be available, or your local (or online) indie bookstore will be able to order it.

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