Mystery Mondays: Will Macmillan Jones on What Makes a Mystery Successful

Demon_s_Reach_Front_CoverWelcome to this week’s edition  of Mystery Mondays. This week, author Will Macmillan Jones is here. You can probably tell by the cover, Demon’s Reach – 5th in the series – falls under the horror category.

Demon’s Reach will be released Oct, 20 2017 but you can pre-order now. Congratulation, Will!

The first in the series is The Showing.

Will is shares his journey in writing and along the way gives us his take on a successful mystery.


What makes a Mystery Successful

By Will Macmillan Jones

 Come on admit it: we all love a mystery. There’s the challenge of trying to outguess the author by picking up clues too early*; the sneaky pleasure of realising that you were right all along where other readers would have failed to identify the killer so soon – more commonly achieved on the second or third reading of a book, in my personal experience; the satisfaction in a decent denoument; and (hopefully) appreciation of the author’s skill in hiding the real villain of the piece until almost the last minute through careful misdirection.

It is the reason Agatha Christie was so successful. Many of her books have, with some justification, been accused of being formulaic: but all the factors for a satisfying reading experience are there in every book. Be it Poirot, or Miss Marple – the reader knows that the main character will uncover the truth, whether or not the perpetrator is ever brought to justice. In fact, the latter point is usually the least important (with the honourable exception of Christie’s book Nemesis, which is all about Justice, with a capital J), and the intellectual chase is the main point of the book.

This is where mysteries are a step removed from most crime novels, where the murderer is sometimes revealed early, to allow the reader to focus on the efforts of the Detective to uncover the truth. Wire in The Blood, a highly successful crime novel by Val McDiarmid (another successful novel transferred to TV by the way) is a great example, while Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels are more akin to a Christie style with the perpetrator hidden for as long as possible.

Next up are the new generation of ‘Cosy Mysteries’. I’ve read more than a few of these, and while the crimes involved are frequently less grisly than Christie’s favoured felonies, for me they feel like the direct descendant of the tradition of Miss Marple, where an innocent (for a given value of innocent!) and certainly non professional character with no real police connections both uncovers and then solves the crime, all in a quite genteel way.

 A successful mystery novel may, but does not need, to hide the malefactor. This is just as well for me, when we move a little outside the comfortable zone I have considered so far, then we can move over to some of the darker stories around. Stephen King is normally considered just as a writer of horror, but that really isn’t strictly true. The supernatural forms a significant theme in a number of his books – Needful Things is a great example, and of course his breakthrough book Carrie, but several are mystery stories in their own right – although the characters involved may not be human, or even alive. Bag of Bones is the example I’d chose here.

Then of course we meet Dennis Wheatley, an author both revered and reviled in equal measure, mostly by people who have never read his work. For the record, he always describes the Black Magic he portrays as fundamentally wrong, and something to be avoided at all costs – and Evil never triumphs in his work, which always seems to me to be fundamentally highly moralistic. But besides the mystery of the abuse thrown his way, there are the mysteries portrayed in his books.

When I decided that I needed a change from writing humour, another niche genre to horror and carrying its own rules and challenges (not the least of which is finding readers!), I knew that I wanted to write in the paranormal genre. Not Romance, of course, anything but that! I loathe sparkly vampires and not-very-hairy werewolves** who have other designs on attractive men or women than ripping their throats out. Besides, as my ex would tell you at great length if you were to ask her, I am one of the most unromantic people to ever walk the earth. My last publisher once invited me to a Romance Writers Convention, probably after reading my work Bass Instinct, which was written just after my ex and I had parted, an event that might have somewhat coloured my views on Romance. I digress. Sorry.

Anyway, I had grown up reading some Dennis Wheatley novels that I had quietly removed from my Grandfather’s library without my parents’ knowledge, and worked out that while the settings of the novels were reliably Gothic and Magical and very dark, the story in each novel was fundamentally a mystery. A murder or an abduction perhaps? Illictly gaining money is always a motivating factor, is it not? Both in life (according to the lesser quality of newspapers) as well as mystery novels. These were in Wheatley’s books, I was delighted to discover when I started rereading them. As, inevitably, was the desire for Power. In fact, all the myriad of vices known to the human race could become the subject of a novel, viewed through the right prism. Just, of course, as they are in conventional mystery or detective stories. The paranormal just adds an extra dimension and offers an opportunity for the writer to deceive the reader in fresh and unexpected ways.

That was the great pleasure that, as a writer, I found in sailing blithely into the Paranormal Mystery genre. The joy for the reader is, in any mystery, accepting the challenge laid down by the author; and trying to discover the hidden secret of the novel from the clues laid out before the reader in the text. The joy for the writer lies in setting out these clues, and then using misdirection and red herrings to conceal the truth of the mystery for as long as possible. Hopefully to the final chapter. Adding the Paranormal into the mix gives the writer many, many more opportunities to have fun!

And of course, to offer the reader a few frights, chills and scary delights along the way. If I make you go to sleep with the lights on for a night or two, well that’s my bonus payment for the labour involved in writing the book, isn’t it?

*I have a friend, a well known author with an Amazon released film or two to her credit, who writes the first draft of a novel, and then rewites it to change the identity of the killer in an effort to prevent readers catching on.

** Ooops. Just alienated a huge potential audience, there, I suspect. But I’m a bit of a traditionalist and like my monsters to be more evil than your local Bank Manager or Traffic Enforcement Officer.


Who is Will Macmillan Jones?

fwrness 2Will Macmillan Jones lives in Wales, a lovely green, verdant land with a rich cultural heritage. He does his best to support this heritage by drinking the local beer and shouting loud encouragement whenever International Rugby is on the TV. A just turned sixty lover of blues, rock and jazz he has now fulfilled a lifetime ambition by filling an entire wall of his home office with (full) bookcases. When not writing, he is usually lost with the help of a satnav on top of a large hill in the middle of nowhere, looking for dragons. He hasn’t found one yet, but insists that it is only a matter of time.

When not performing as an oral storyteller and poet, he writes Dark Fantasy, fantasy he fantasises is funny, and books for children. Some of his pieces have won awards but he doesn’t like to talk about that as it draws attention to the fact that other pieces haven’t.

Will Macmillan Jones is responsible for the ‘Mister Jones Mysteries’ collection of books, released through Red Kite Publishing. The latest, Demon’s Reach, will be released on 20 October 2017. They are available in both paperback and all ebook formats.


15 thoughts on “Mystery Mondays: Will Macmillan Jones on What Makes a Mystery Successful

  1. Very interesting, Will! I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read a paranormal mystery, though I write cozies an YA Paranormal, and I adore Stephen King (I just saw It this weekend…) You’ve just added a new genre to my ever-growing TBR list! (I don’t know whether to shake your hand or sock you one. 😜)

    Thank you Will!
    Kelley Kaye

    Liked by 2 people

    1. you are welcome, Kelley! 😉 King can be great fun, but people easily forget about the older authors. I’ve just been reading a 1936 anthology I was sold by other dealers at a con, paranormal? Yes. Mystery stories? Yes. and all written before 1930, often in the century before that!

      Liked by 2 people

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