Take it away, Jeannie!
Question: Can a mystery contain elements of the supernatural and still be a mystery?
Answer: Of course it can. However, playing with the supernatural doesn’t give the author free license to play fast and loose with the rules.
The Alexandra Sabian books are a blend of genres. I admit this. At their core is a mystery unraveling to the ticking clock of a thriller. They’re fantasy with a romantic twist, and science fiction that quietly slips into the dark realms of horror. And yet, it is a mystery that is the beating heart of each book.
Alex Sabian, my protagonist, possesses some unique psychic abilities in addition to being a vampire. She’s also a federal agent charged with policing the vampire population of a small Mississippi town. Playing with vampires and the paranormal does make for greater temptation to wave a magic wand and avoid some of the corners I’ve inadvertently painted myself into in the past. However, as I said, inclusion of the supernatural doesn’t free me from my obligations as an author to fulfill readers’ expectations. I could easily have Alex use her abilities to solve cases. But I don’t. I force her to rely on familiar police investigative procedures and practices, including the use of forensic science. This doesn’t mean I don’t alter these practices slightly to fit my needs and file the differences until the heading of “Vampiric Law.” After all, it is fiction and a little creative licensing is not only expected but encourage.
I can think of other authors who have included the paranormal in their mysteries—Carolyn Haines with Jitty the Ghost in the Sarah Booth Delaney series and Charlaine Harris with telepaths, vampires, and a host of other creatures in the Sookie Stackhouse series both come to mind.—and saw a continuation of their work labeled as “mystery.” But I can also think of others—Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series and Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian series for example—that rely heavily on a mystery as the central plot but are viewed more as fantasy than mystery.
Does an author working in a paranormal element make a story less of a mystery? Is it a sign of a poor writer? I say “no” to both questions. If it does anything, a supernatural component should enhance the story as adding spices to a recipe can enhance the flavor. Granted, too much salt can make a dish inedible, and pushing too far into the territory of deus ex machina with the paranormal can cause the reader to walk away. However, if peppered throughout the story and woven into the plot, the supernatural can take a mystery to an entirely new depth.
So when does a mystery stop being a mystery? Should the inclusion of the supernatural automatically shift a mystery into another genre?
# # #
Knock yourselves out, kids!
I'm in St. Augustine this week, so I probably won't be stopping by a whole lot, but have fun without me. I just wanted to say that cozy mysteries are all over paranormal. It has it's own sub-genre. There aren't vampires so much as witches and ghosts and things, but there are certainly a lot of paranormal cozy mysteries out there for anyone who likes them. And yes, they're mysteries. As long as the mystery is the focus, and the thing that gets 'solved' at the end, it's a mystery.
See you next month, and be sure to check out Jeannie's books!