In 1928, author Willard Huntington Wright published 20 rules for writing fair and suspenseful mysteries. These reasonable points, including that the crime must not be solved by accident, have remained the industry standard. And for good reason: readers who are treated to a fair compilation of facts are more invested in the story – and satisfied with its conclusion.
While some writers have been known to break Wright’s rules (Agatha Christie’s deceptive turn in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” may have inspired rule no. 4), it’s important to remember that if an author is to break a rule, it must be for a vital reason — and it must not disrupt the presentation of evidence.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Deborah Plummer Bussey’s new mystery “The Family That Stays Together,” as she breaks six of these cardinal rules — not out of a deliberate plan, it would seem, but out of sloppiness.
Dr. Kathy Carpenter is a former nun who is a successful psychologist and author. When Jessica, a close family friend, is investigated for murdering her ex-fiancée, Don, Kathy is heartbroken and travels from Cleveland to Atlanta to provide support.
However, providing support for a friend in need is not the same as investigating a murder. Rather, Kathy “uncovers” evidence thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences, including seeing clients who happen to be connected to Don. But this is when Bussey breaks the number one rule of mystery writing: she purposefully withholds the choicest bits of conversations from her readers in an attempt to build suspense.
Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that the characters of Kathy and her sister are so charming. Bussy’s lackluster mystery and disjointed pacing look even worse when set against these amazing women. If Bussey heeded a few more of Wright’s rules, her next book may be worthy of her characters.