Monday, April 7, 2014

A Theme Runneth Through It

The other day my friend and fellow writer, Pat Gligor, was a guest on my blog  to talk about her new mystery, Dangerous Deeds. She discussed When a Child Goes Missing, one of the themes of her novel.

It got me thinking about themes. All novels require a powerful theme, and that includes mysteries. Love, betrayal, friendship, whatever. The theme of a mystery runs through it, impacting the lives of victims, suspects, and murderer. Theme adds a dimension. It provides ballast. It adds interest to your story.

In my latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, Lexie has her hands full trying to discover who’s knocking off the members of her mystery book club as she leads discussions about novels by Agatha Christie. She’s also at a crossroads in her life. For one thing, she’s begun a budding romance with an intelligent, good-looking world-renown architect. Allistair West has made it very clear that he’s interested in a long-term relationship. Then why is she drawn to Detective Brian Donovan? Hasn’t she had enough of “interesting” men? The last “interesting” man she got involved with was her second husband. He proved to be unstable. And when she began divorce proceedings, he burned down her house with himself inside.

Lexie finds herself house sitting in the upscale village of Old Cadfield, blocks from where Rosie, her best friend and former college roommate, lives with her husband. Hal was Lexie’s college boy friend, until she decided he was too serious. Now Hal is a successful financier. Has Lexie been making wrong choices all her life or simply being true to herself?

Lexie feels out of place in this posh neighborhood. The surviving book club members close rank and refuse to answer her questions. Even Rosie tells her to stop playing Miss Marple. Lexie wonders: don’t they care about finding the murderer? Has Rosie changed that much since college? Is it possible that Rosie is the murderer?

Lydia Krause, in A Murderer Among Us and Murder in the Air, is fifty-eight when she moves to Twin Lakes, an over-55 gated community. She's about to embark on a new phase in her life. Newly widowed, she has recently sold the company she’s headed for many years. In A Murderer Among Us, Lydia's older daughter, who still resents her for having gone to work full-time when she was in elementary school, constantly asks her to baby sit. Lydia knows something's wrong. She unearths her daughter’s secret and takes steps to heal their relationship. She also forms friendships with other women, something she didn’t have time for when she was busy running a company.

The problems and concerns of dating among the older set is a theme in Murder in the Air. Lydia’s on and off relationship with Detective Sol Molina is affected by his fear of forming a serious relationship and his not liking Lydia’s involvement in the homicide investigation concerning her murdered neighbor. And what is she to do when one of her neighbors invites her out? Lydia’s part-time job, which she took to keep busy, is leading to a more

important and time consuming position. Should she take on more responsibilities at this point in her life? All questions that retired people ask themselves each day.

There are many themes to write about. Love, betrayal, aging, new beginnings. What are some of the themes that run through your mysteries?


Helen Macie Osterman said...

I agree about themes. In my Emma Winberry mysteries, my protagonist is a senior, has a sixth sense, and talks to her Guardian Angel. But, sometimes the Angel takes a day off and Emma gets in trouble. My readers love the Angel theme.
Helen Osterman, OTP author

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post and I love your books!
Theme is very important to me. Although my Malone Mystery series deals with some serious issues (a serial killer, a missing child, etc.), the overall theme I hope to convey is one of hope. If my characters can overcome the obstacles I give them and come out better for it, we all can!

Amy Bennett said...

The recurring theme in my Black Horse Campground mysteries is family... and not necessarily blood relations. Both parents of Corrie, the campground's owner, are deceased, yet she finds family among her friends and employees. Most of the characters have some sort of "broken" family, but together they bond to form a family of friends (or "framily", to quote a current cell phone plan commercial) and this is what helps Corrie solve the mysteries that come her way.

Nancy DeMarco said...

Great post, and a subject I've been mulling over of late.

I seem to repeat the same themes: being true to oneself, doing the right thing (especially when it's hard), following your dreams, and realizing the importance of the family you've created for yourself, even if it's not the family you thought you were supposed to have.

Sharon Arthur Moore said...

Like Amy Bennett, I am dealing with what is family, and it's not always blood relatives. Betrayal, abandonment, and trust are huge issues in my books. An interesting post, Marilyn, and one I concur with heartily.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Helen, Pat, Amy, Nancy, and Sharon,
Thanks for stopping by and telling me what themes you write about. Thanks for stopping by.

Amy, Nancy, and Sharon--I like what you say about family not always being your blood relatives but people who are important in your lives. I always felt that them was so well portrayed in Wally Lamb's "She's Come Undone."

linda maria frank said...

Hi Marilyn. Themes are great for authors because a theme can generate ideas for books, and they are great for readers because author's themes can help the reader find books and series they are interested in. I often choose authors because of their themes, whether it be mysteries with a connection to historical themes like Steve Berry's books, or a particular type of location.

marja said...

I try to present unusual themes and places. For instance, in Old Murders Never Die, the place is a ghost town and the theme is, well, history, an unsolved mystery and a mysterious cowboy, among other things. Thanks for asking.
Marja McGraw

Jacqueline Seewald said...

The great thing about mystery writing today is the diversity of themes in the literature. Authors are increasingly creative.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Hi Linda,
Thanks for stopping by. I agree, themes certainly generate ideas for books.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I love stories that involve the past and unsolved mysteries. Sooo intriguing.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I agree with you. We've mysteries that run the gamut
from literary to comic. Something for everyone.

Vonnie said...

Interesting points, Marilyn. And the theme has to be constant too, not suddenly jettisoned for another one, which I've seen a bit lately i.e. the family theme and mystery theme need to run concurrently and be equally strong.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Good point. As I said, the theme should be a ballast. It gives the story a steady foundation.

Sandy Cody said...

Interesting post. I find theme hard to nail down, even when I have my story firmly in mind. In my most recent book, I didn't realize what the theme was until I had finished the first draft and was reading it over.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Your theme was at work, impacting your story.
I often have to write to find out more about my characters.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I love theme discussions, Marilyn. When a book club focuses on the book's theme, the discussion turns out so much richer. Your book sounds so enjoyable. Allistair West is a name right out of a Christie mystery.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I seldom start out with a special theme in mind, but as I write, often more than one arises. Good post.