Why do good people do bad things?
By Maggie Toussaint
One of the first-in-series mysteries in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, is my In For A Penny, featuring amateur sleuth Cleopatra Jones. Cleo resonates with readers because she’s got her hands full with her family, and she’s been wronged by the man she loved with all her heart.
The betrayal cut so deep that Cleo is still angry after the divorce, after Charlie married the younger woman who came between them. She turns to golf as an outlet for her frustration, whacking the heck out of the ball, not caring that her score climbs to ridiculous heights.
Golf therapy makes her feel better, as does hanging out with her golfing partner and all-time best friend, Jonette. In For A Penny opens with Cleo’s errant golf ball landing on a dead guy, and subsequently, her best friend is accused of his murder.
Turns out that solving mysteries is better divorce therapy than golf. Who better to follow the money in a small town than an accountant? Cleo knows everyone’s business, knows who has money troubles. Until the divorce she was trusting of everyone. Now her suspicions run deep.
With her eye set resolutely on the bottom line, Cleo navigates through the weeds of red herrings, failing finances, and unrequited love to find the killer and solve the murder. But, even though she thinks she’s objective, she quickly learns the things that seem black and white are more truly grayed hues of subjectivity.
The people on her suspect list are people she’s known for years, people she’d never thought about beyond the outward appearance they present or their actions. These were good people, people she saw every week at church, in the grocery store, and at community functions.
She quickly discovers it takes courage to learn people’s secrets, and it takes integrity to keep those secrets. The question in the back of her mind is “what makes this person tick?” Further, she has to ask, “Is this reason powerful enough for this good person to have done a bad thing?”
The answers she finds are surprising, which makes for a compelling read. Mystery fans love characters who resonate with them, characters who are genuine even if they’re offbeat.
As an author and Cleo’s creator, my challenge was to layer means, motive, and opportunity for the villain of the piece throughout the story. Another challenge was to frame every suspect with both fatal and redeeming flaws and to have some of them rise above the flaws, while others succumbed to temptation and misdeeds.
Thankfully, book characters are like real people. The reasons they do some things aren’t linear, and their actions don’t always fit their pattern of behavior until you know their history or life experiences. Understanding character backstory and keeping it off the pages of the book until the absolute last possible second is crucial to engaging readers and keeping them hooked throughout the story and series.
That brings us full circle. Why do good people do bad things? The same reasons bad people do bad things: greed, power, lust, revenge, jealousy, anger, love, and self-defense, to name a few.
At least one character in Cleo’s first mystery gave in to temptation when it knocked on his/her door. This person thinks they have it made, until the bubble bursts. Then they’re bewildered by the consequences and wish they had their old life back.
Can a character (or a person!) experience defeat, humility, and contriteness and return to the straight and narrow path? My answer to that question unfolds on the pages of In For A Penny, one of the 10 full-length cozy mysteries included in the Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, a collection of full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in the set is the first book in an established multi-book series—a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars. Titles include:
Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston—Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder…
Murder Among Neighbors, a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths—and handsome detective Michael Stone.
Skeleton in a Dead Space, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery by Judy Alter—Real estate isn’t a dangerous profession until Kelly O’Connell stumbles over a skeleton and runs into serial killers and cold-blooded murderers in a home being renovated in Fort Worth. Kelly barges through life trying to keep from angering her policeman boyfriend Mike and protect her two young daughters.
In for a Penny, a Cleopatra Jones Mystery by Maggie Toussaint—Accountant Cleo faces an unwanted hazard when her golf ball lands on a dead banker. The cops think her BFF shot him, so Cleo sets out to prove them wrong. She ventures into the dating world, wrangles her teens, adopts the victim’s dog, and tries to rein in her mom…until the killer puts a target on Cleo’s back.
The Hydrogen Murder, a Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—A retired physicist returns to her hometown of Revere, Massachusetts and moves into an apartment above her friends' funeral home. When she signs on to help the Police Department with a science-related homicide, she doesn't realize she may have hundreds of cases ahead of her.
Retirement Can Be Murder, A Baby Boomer Mystery by Susan Santangelo—Carol Andrews dreads her husband Jim’s upcoming retirement more than a root canal without Novocain. She can’t imagine anything worse than having an at-home husband with time on his hands and nothing to fill it—until Jim is suspected of murdering his retirement coach.
Dead Air, A Talk Radio Mystery by Mary Kennedy—Psychologist Maggie Walsh moves from NY to Florida to become the host of WYME's On the Couch with Maggie Walsh. When her guest, New Age prophet Guru Sanjay Gingii, turns up dead, her new roommate Lark becomes the prime suspect. Maggie must prove Lark innocent while dealing with a killer who needs more than just therapy.
A Dead Red Cadillac, A Dead Red Mystery by RP Dahlke—When her vintage Cadillac is found tail-fins up in a nearby lake, the police ask aero-ag pilot Lalla Bains why an elderly widowed piano teacher is found strapped in the driver’s seat. Lalla confronts suspects, informants, cross-dressers, drug-running crop dusters, and a crazy Chihuahua on her quest to find the killer.
Murder is a Family Business, an Alvarez Family Murder Mystery by Heather Haven—Just because a man cheats on his wife and makes Danny DeVito look tall, dark and handsome, is that any reason to kill him? The reluctant and quirky PI, Lee Alvarez, has her work cut out for her when the man is murdered on her watch. Of all the nerve.
Murder, Honey, a Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen—When the head chef collapses into baker Carol Sabala’s cookie dough, she is thrust into her first murder investigation. Suspects abound at Archibald’s, the swanky Santa Cruz restaurant where Carol works. The head chef cut a swath of people who wanted him dead from ex-lovers to bitter rivals to greedy relatives.
Bio: Southern author Maggie Toussaint loves writing mysteries. She’s published twelve novels in mystery and romantic suspense. Under the pen name of Rigel Carson, she’s published three dystopian thrillers. Bubba Done It, book two in her dreamwalker series, is her latest mystery release. The next dreamwalker book, Doggone It, releases October 2016. She’s a board member for Southeast Mystery Writers of America and LowCountry Sisters In Crime. She lives in coastal Georgia, where secrets, heritage, and ancient oaks cast long shadows. Visit her at www.maggietoussaint.com.