Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mysteries That Make Us Laugh--Guest Author: Shelley Costa

Book 1 in series--Edgar Nominated!

What’s So Funny About Murder?

by Shelley Costa
The answer in the real world, of course, is nothing.  So how do we mystery writers who put humor on the page get away with treating the subject lightly?  In some ways, funny murder mysteries are actually about something other than, well, murder.  The murder becomes a kind of springboard for writing a comical tale about a set of interesting characters flung together to investigate the crime.  The victim -- in a cozy – is typically someone we readers either don’t know particularly well (usually because s/he’s killed off in the first or second chapter), or the other characters don’t know particularly well, or is someone odious enough to take the edge off just how much we care about what’s befallen him or her.  In some sense, the lighthearted mystery is more about the mixed-bag relationships among the living than it is about whatever led up to the murderous moment between killer and victim.
Book 2 in series--Guaranteed to make you laugh!
But infusing some humor into a tale about something as ancient and dire and wicked as homicide is also a way of distancing us – writers and readers alike – from the awfulness.  Is that a good thing?  What does that little bit of distance do for us?  I think it lets us experience a story about crime and punishment from a place other than fear or disquiet.  If we’re not scared or disturbed (which is the work, say, of the thriller or suspense novel), then we’re freed up to investigate alongside the sleuth.  To employ our own little grey cells in the contemplation of the crime.  In that, I do believe, there is great pleasure.  Humor is a way of setting us up in our own little Olympian heights, safe from the fray on the page. There we take in the overview, consider the clues, glance skeptically at the suspects’ stories, formulate a hypothesis.  And along the way, we laugh.  It’s a ride I’m always ready to climb aboard.  Join me!
Shelley Costa

A 2004 Edgar nominee for Best Short Story, Shelley Costa is the author of You Cannoli Die Once  and Basil Instinct (Simon and Schuster 2013, 2014).  Cannoli was a 2014 Agatha nominee for Best First Novel.  Shelley’s mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands,The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and Crimewave (UK).  Next up is the first book in a new series, Practical Sins For Cold Climates (Henery Press, January 2016), featuring thirtysomething sleuth, Valjean Cameron, a New York editor sent to the Canadian Northwoods to sign a reclusive bestselling author to a book contract.  But first she has to find him — a tricky thing to do in her Prada heels.  Practical Sins is a traditional amateur sleuth mystery. Shelley teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  Find her at
Note from Jackie King: 
This is the second post in my series of MYSTERIES THAT MAKE US LAUGH featuring my panel-mates at Malice Domestic 27, held the first of May. 
More to come!


Bill Kirton said...

Hard to refuse such an invitation, Shelley. I don't understand those who criticise crime/mystery writers for using humour as part of their armoury. As you say, it's a fundamental (and, in my mind, necessary) ingredient in nearly all human interactions. A gore- or horror-fest needs some sort of thematic counterpoint (especially that of humour) to sustain its tension. And laughter makes any experience more realistic and more enjoyable. I've just downloaded Death Roll (it was first on the list) and look forward to reading it.

Jackie King said...

Thanks Bill for your input, which was wonderful, as always. There are some days I wouldn't get through if I didn't find humor in something. Laughter is healing.

Jackie King said...

Thanks for agreeing to be a guest on Murderous Musings. I loved your post, and I love your books! Keep them coming.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I enjoyed the guest post and agree with you and Bill that humor is a necessary ingredient in a mystery writer's arsenal. I also think that at least one quirky character helps to liven the plot. : )

Jackie King said...

Well said, Jean. And you will find plenty of quirky characters in Shelley Costa's books.