It’s always fun to have Lois Winston as a guest on my blog. She’s the author of the Anastasia Pollack mysteries, among other stories. You can catch her last post here.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m far from an Agatha Christie expert. However, as I think back over my journey of transitioning from writing romance and women’s fiction to writing mysteries, I believe the seeds may have been planted years ago while watching Murder on the Orient Express.
You see, I have this maddening habit of being able to figure out whodunit very early on in a mystery. Doesn’t matter if it’s a book, movie, or TV episode. My husband has made me promise not to say a word while we’re watching mysteries, even if he says something like, “He’s the killer, right?” I have to remind him that I’m not supposed to offer an opinion until the credits roll so that I don’t spoil the ending for him.
I once attended a screenwriting workshop where the instructor asked us to raise our hands if we’d figured out the ending to The Sixth Sense before the dramatic conclusion of the movie. Mine was the only hand raised. Not only had I figure the ending out ahead of time, but I’d figured it out during the first scene of the movie. I thought it was so obvious after being bombarded for weeks by all those trailers on TV of Haley Joel Osment telling Bruce Willis, “I see dead people.”
I think this knack for ferreting out whodunit is a trait inherited from my grandfather. Grandpa Ben was the captain of a major east coast county police force back in the heyday of gangsters and organized crime and was responsible for helping capture some very notorious felons. Who knows? If I’d been born a few years later, I might have gone into police work, but back when I was contemplating a career, that option was never on my radar.
What a movie can do
So, you might ask, what does all this have to do with Agatha Christie and my personal author journey? It all harkens back to that evening in 1974 when my husband and I went to the movies to see Murder on the Orient Express. To my utter shock and amazement, I couldn’t figure out whodunit! Not only couldn’t I figure out whodunit, but then Dame Agatha threw me one huge curve of an ending. I remember sitting there thinking, “Well done!”
There’s an old saying, that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” That saying might be true for many things but not for well-written mysteries. If a mystery author fools me, that author has a fan for life. Even though Anastasia Pollack, my own amateur sleuth, is far more Stephanie Plum than Miss Marple, Dame Agatha will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first mystery author able to fool Ben Schaffer’s granddaughter.
One of the hardest mysteries to write is the closed-room mystery. Dame Agatha was a master of that format. For years I wrestled with whether I could pull off a closed-room mystery. I finally decided to try writing one. A Sew Deadly Cruise, the ninth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, was released in 2020 and is set on…wait for it…a cruise ship. I was so happy with the results that when it came time to write the next book in the series, I again decided on a closed-room format. Stitch, Bake, Die! came out this past October and takes place at a conference during a snow storm. I owe Dame Agatha a huge debt, not only for inspiring my writing but giving me the courage to push myself with my writing.