Detective Stories

In the suspense novel, a detective hero is usually a member of some public police force; private investigators are reserved for use in mystery novels where there is a puzzle to solve and an identity to uncover. These stories deal almost exclusively with violent murder or kidnapping; in either case, remember that the unveiling of the criminal, to the suspense reader, is less important than how to stop him.

When a suspense novel centers on a kidnapping, the child is rarely murdered. If you kill off an innocent child, your reasons must be more complex and artistically justifiable than "for the shock value."

If you are thinking of tackling a kidnapping story, you should understand that the form has been used many times and that the basic plot progression—child kidnapped, child threatened, child traced, child rescued—is so familiar to suspense readers that a new novel of the type can only be successful if it contains a fresh slant or gimmick.

Evan Hunter's 87th Precinct novel, King's Ransom (under the pseudonym Ed McBain), is a kidnapping story that works. King, the wealthy man of whom ransom is demanded for the return of his son, is on the edge of making a business deal that will make or break him financially. He can't afford to put up the cash for the ransom without missing out on the deal and losing most of his fortune. When it turns out the kidnappers have accidentally taken a servant's child, and not his own, King's moral dilemma is knottier rather than more simple: just because the child isn't his own, is he now free of all responsibility, even though the kidnappers were after his son? King's conflict of values gives the novel a dimension without which it would have been far less successful.

Stanley Cohen's fine novel, Taking Gary Feldman, deals with the kidnapping of a rich man's son. When the boy and one of his abductors begin to take a strong liking to each other, and when the abductor finds out that the child's parents do not give him much love or respect, it becomes clear that Gary Feldman would be better off if he were not returned to his family. This slant, marvelously developed by Cohen, makes for a suspense novel as fresh and innovative as the reader could wish.

When murder, not kidnapping, is the subject of a suspense detective story, the chase and capture of the killer is more important than learning his identity. Usually, he is a psychotic, for such a man does not need intricate reasons for murder and does not provide grist for a mystery-type plot.

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