When I sat down to write the first book in the Lance Underphal Mystery series, I had only a vague concept of the genre—specifically, Mystery/Thriller. Now that Dark Side of Sunset Pointe is about to be released and the second mystery, Flight of the Tarantula Hawk is in the editing phase, I’m beginning to wonder where these stories fit in.
Mystery/Thriller Genre – The Short List
It’s not as though there is a shortage of categories to choose from. A quick search renders a substantial list of cross and sub-genre categories.
Under Mystery/Thrillers there are:
- Traditional Mysteries
- Crime Novels
- Police Procedural Mysteries
- Cozy Mysteries and its subcategories
- Hard-Boiled & Noir Mysteries
- Legal Thrillers
- Private Eye/Detective Mysteries
- Medical Thrillers
- Espionage & International Intrigue
- Psychological Thrillers
- Paranormal Thrillers
- Serial Killer Thrillers
- Suspense (which can and does incorporate everything.)
And the list goes on…
Investigating a Murder Mystery
In my humble opinion, categorizing a murder mystery—while potentially helpful for a reader—is nothing short of a nightmare for a mystery writer. In my case, not all that cut and dried.
For example, take the following excerpt from Dark Side of Sunset Pointe:
Shimmering black pools of blood stain mottled grey carpet. Reddish-brown blood-smears dance on a vibrating wall peppered with bullet holes. A broken, light-oak desk lists to one side, groaning. Reddish-brown blood spots spatter its caved-in desktop. Blood spray fans the far wall, the ceiling, everywhere. A reddish-black aura hangs in the atmosphere like a poisonous mist. I wonder how anyone could have lived through this. Crackling with intensity—there’s so much blood, so many bullet holes.
Pictures flash through my mind. High-beams and running lights blasting through window blinds, cutting through the gloom like white-hot targeting lasers. More pictures, probably the dead guy and his lover, a deep black stain of stark terror boiling off them in a turbulent frenzy. I’m feeling bullets sting like hot hornets—seeing the silhouette of the shooter in the doorway as muzzle blasts flash and pop. Now they’re flailing, jerking, screaming, writhing, their blood blossoming like dark red kaleidoscopes blotting out the light. Excruciating pain! My vision tunnels. Shit! I hit my knees, shaking. And everything goes dark. As I go down, I hope I got the pictures Lacey needs. Dammit!
It probably fits into a few of those categories.
- Crime, yup
- Thriller, okay
- Noir, alright
- Paranormal… hmm, maybe, depending on your definition.
But then, are they really all that definitive? (If a different category comes to mind, please let me know.)
What about this excerpt?
It’s nearly eleven p.m. and the Lion’s Den is heating up. Black-light fluorescents sparkle off golden glitter sprayed on flat-black drywall. Day-Glo silhouettes of hot naked women in suggestive poses shimmer with iridescence, their lioness ears perked and lioness tails about to twitch. In the cavernous pit of the main showroom, the Lioness Lair, sits a brightly-lit hardwood stage with a gleaming chrome stripper’s pole dead-center. The sound system’s subwoofers pound out a hypnotic beat as a long-legged redhead with twin silicone mounds writhes nude on her back near the front of the stage. She pulls her legs high and wide, arching her back to loud whistles and cat-calls, all accompanied by a flurry of dollar bills. Behind the stage’s front row chairs and the main floor tables, a long black bar hunches against the back wall.
On her break, a sultry Sondra Du saunters up to the low bar, her long blond mane and custom-built breasts bouncing. She slides her tight overworked buns up on the barstool next to Lenny.
Lenny Kantor’s got his back to the action, sipping a club soda. The nature of the job requires him to remain aloof but alert, aware of everything that goes on. The girls, the barmaids, the bouncers, all those who need to know, couldn’t mistake him for anything but the boss—king of the cashflow. He watches his iPhone’s screen with beady eyes under thick black brows on either side of a pronounced hook nose, picking up bits and pieces of the latest shooting across town. Turns out, his partner’s construction company is the headline and he gives a low whistle.
Sondra wants to know, “Whaz up?”
He gives her a sideways glance and turns back to his iPhone, watching intently.
Sondra waits for his reply. Nobody rushes Lenny.
He taps the screen a couple times and says, “A shooting at Big Mike’s.”
“No shit. Looks like they got him.”
Okay, is it still Noir? Certainly not Erotica… Probably not much of a Romance either. Murder for sure, and definitely NOT Cozy.
Talk A Walk On The Dark Side
Then there’s that whole issue of Paranormal, typically a sub-genre of Romance. This is where it gets sticky. (Not that kind of sticky…) Could there be a paranormal mystery genre? Does it cross paths with Mystery/Thrillers?
Paranormal, as defined by the Encarta Dictionary: “impossible to explain scientifically.” Seems lacking in this context—no mention of Horror or Romance. When it comes to popular storytelling, a slew of otherworldly characters pop up at the mere mention of paranormal: vampires, werewolves, vampires, zombies, vampires, shape shifters.. Oh, and did I mention vampires?
Then there’s Lance Underphal. Fortunately or unfortunately, he’s no vampire, just you’re average, garden variety, down and out psychic. And he’s not happy about it. Here’s an example:
I turn toward the MJR Development compound, the location of the shooting. It’s as though the whole scene is alive, breathing—inhaling, exhaling. It’s immersed in a filmy residue, dark, oily and it smells bad. What really happened here?
I see them. He’s at the desk, bent over her, his designer denims around his thick ankles, his broad hairy back and butt glistening with sweat. She’s on her back, legs in the air, bare-ass naked except for that wad of rumpled clothing wrapped around her jiggling waist. Quite a show. And it would be innocent enough, but it doesn’t feel right, gross and icky, as though they’re reveling in it, tacitly violating each other. Each covertly taking advantage of the other. Some sick game of him abusing her and she’s slurping it up to use against him. The games people play.
I watch with morbid curiosity, trying to get a handle on whatever it is I’m supposed to glean from all this. I have to laugh. She’s not my type. And he certainly isn’t. And is there anything more comical than observing a couple run-of-the-mill humans fucking? All that moaning, grunting and sweating, nothing really romantic about it when you’re watching a couple of rank amateurs in heat. Just plain ol’ fuckin’, a real hoot.
A cell phone chimes in. At first the guy (must be Rodriguez) ignores it and keeps on ramming the girl. Must be that Diane Telafano chick. Rodriguez stops thrusting and leans over her, panting and sweating. Must’ve cum or run out of gas. Her moaning dies down as she lets her legs drop, resting her feet on the desktop. She lets out a deep sigh. The cell starts in again after a minute or two and he pushes back, looking for the cell.
I see him grab the ringing cell.
Rodriguez says, “Damn, Gary. Whaddaya want?”
Okay. Who is Gary?
Rodriguez gives a short chuckle, lowers his tone, “I’m kinda in the middle of somethin’.”
Right. Seems like he’s bragging to me.
She sits up, clothes still wadded around her waist. She tries to stand and plops her butt back down heavily. She coos at Rodriguez and says, “I’m not done with you yet.”
Rodriguez gives her a sideways glance, rolling his eyes and grinning, still talking to this Gary person on his cell. “Yeah, like I said, we’re kinda in the middle of somethin’ here.”
Diane giggles and grabs his package.
Still grinning, he tells her, “Stop that.” Then to the guy on the phone he says, “She’s never done it on the desk before.”
Diane laughs then says, “Do I get overtime for this?”
This breaks him up and now they’re both laughing.
Rodriguez talks into his cell. “Hey, don’t sweat it. It’s almost seven, no one’s around, yard gates are locked, lights are off. No one’s gonna know.”
Diane coos and giggles.
Rodriguez speaks closer into the phone, “That is, as long as you keep your mouth shut.”
Hmm, seems like Rodriguez wants to keep his little romantic liaison quiet. Fat chance. In a few hours the whole world will know.
I hear an engine rumble as bright light filters through the blinds.
Diane lets out a short yelp, and says “What was that?”
“Shit!” Rodriguez whispers, “Shit.”
I feel more than see a dark presence hovering outside.
Still talking into his cell, Rodriguez says, “Hold on, I think someone’s here.”
I watch them scramble to get dressed. Rodriguez waddles to the window, grabbing at his pants, to peer through the blinds
Under his breath, Rodriguez says, “Who’s that?” He whispers to Diane, “Get your panties on.”
Diane whines, “I’m trying.”
Rodriguez whispers to himself, “Who is that? How’d he get the truck? Is that … ? I’ll get that bastard.”
“Gary, hold on, I gotta take a picture with this thing, hold on.”
Rodriguez pulls the slats apart and holds up his phone to take a picture. As he turns away, he’s talking to himself, “Damn, it’s dark . . . but I think I got ‘em.”
He puts the phone back to his head. “Yeah, I’m back, hold on. Gotta check this out.”
As the door bursts open, I watch a boiling cloud, spitting black filth, form at the doorway. Enveloped in the turbulent energy is the shifting black shadow of the shooter.
Diane screams as Rodriguez yells, “You, you asshole! What the fuck do you want!?!”
Muzzle flashes erupt. Ear-splitting gunfire, POP, POP, POP!
Diane screeches, grabbing her head, ducking, jumping, her body twitching and writhing with the impact of the bullets.
I feel the searing slugs tear through her soft tissue as though I’m wearing her ruined flesh. It’s too intense. I cry out, flinching from the holes bored into her torso as the wounds well up with blood.
Scrambling to get away, Rodriguez’s dive over the desk falls short, collapsing the desk.
I get a glimpse of what he’s after—a semi-automatic pistol in the desk’s upper right-hand drawer. Even as I grit my teeth I marvel at the vision of a pistol inside a closed desk drawer. I see it!
More ear-ringing pops and blinding flashes as bullets thud into his back, neck and head. His grunts come fast with each penetration, turning to deep rattling gasps wet with blood as he slides to the floor.
Like Rodriguez, I’m gasping for air as though drowning in my own blood. I know with a cruel and intimate certainty his wounds are fatal.
Diane’s long wail fades as she hits the floor in a lump, grunts and lays still.
I can’t get away from either of them, my empathy for them too much. Yet, I already know their fate. It’s the shooter I need to know. I attempt to reach, to seek out the shooter, but the pain is too great. And as I struggle, it all fades away.
I find myself staring at the wide-eyed visage in the mirror, my head swimming. I stand, shaking, jerking my head from side to side to clear the horror.
While the story has paranormal elements, there’s nary a vampire to be found anywhere.
My solution? How about a new genre? Instead of Paranormal or plain ol’ Mystery/Thriller, let’s call it Mystery, Surreal.
You may have a tough time finding it with Amazon tags, but it’s official. Dark Side of Sunset Pointe, along with rest of the mystery novels in the Lance Underphal series are now Surreal Mystery/Thrillers.
More excerpts from my Surreal Mystery/Thrillers can be found at http://michaelallanscott.com/
And I’m greatly interested in all your comments along these lines. Please let me know your thoughts.