The Funny Thing about Murder

After earning a degree to teach Spanish, D.R. Ransdell movedransdell to Durango, Mexico. Her favorite Saturday nights were spent at house parties where guests fought over the guitar. When she returned to the U.S. five years later, she was so homesick for Mexico that she joined a mariachi band. Within weeks she had ideas for dozens of murder mysteries! She’s published six novels using some of those ideas, and has pieces in three of the Chicken Soup … series.  Here’s her take on the difficult job of working humor into murder mysteries.

The funny thing about murder is that it really shouldn’t be funny. Oh, it’s swell to kill off the bad guy when it’s a bad boss, bad relative, bad neighbor, bad lover, etc., etc., but for a mystery to pull any emotional weight, there needs to be an undeserving victim. Some kind of right should be wronged, but since there’s a price to be paid, the story shouldn’t actually be funny, right?

When a friend reviewed a draft of my latest mystery, he questioned me on this topic. “The ending is awfully dark,” he said. “Are you sure that’s what your readers want?” I went back to see if I could change the final paragraphs. I understood my friend’s comment—yes, the ending put a damper on things. The heroine didn’t quite get what she wanted. She wound up more pensive and confused at the end than at the beginning—in some ways she hadn’t made much progress. But she’d also lost someone dear to her. She needed a way to deal with that, didn’t she?

I’ve come across this conundrum in my writing a couple of times. While I like using humor in my mystery series—my protagonist, a male mariachi violinist, does make lots of mistakes that get him into trouble with friends and loved ones—so far the endings have all been gray.

For a while I kept trying to figure out why I couldn’t reconcile the desire to be light-hearted and entertaining with my characters’ reactions to the deaths of their friends and acquaintances.

The useful writing guide Story Trumps Structure by Steven James helped me analyze this issue. James explains that cozy readers want something safe and fun. They’re looking for a light-hearted puzzle. That’s well and good, but there’s a catch: “This genre presents a difficult balance of trying to care for your readers’ expectations while not diminishing the value of human life—a challenge for even the most gifted authors.” (In Chapter 4, “Escalation.”)

James is quite right. The cozy—or any humorous mystery—is tricky. You want your protagonists to care, but you don’t want them to fall apart to the point that they can’t function; after all, they might have to get back out there and save the day. But James’ observation does point to a dilemma. Do I want to simply provide my readers with an enjoyable read, or do I want them to think about moral dilemmas?

In the Andy Veracruz series, I want to provide readers with insight about music or give musicians the chance to ponder familiar situations. I’ve been toying with an idea for a new murder mystery series that would take place in Italy and focus on culture/language/travel. In both cases, I certainly want readers to laugh. I want them to keep reading and be thoroughly entertained. The appropriate level of humor, however, is yet to be determined.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to collect ideas for future murder mysteries. Cozy or not, there are still plenty of people out there who deserve the best fictional death I can muster for them. While I don’t want to let my protagonists off the emotional hook, I’ll try to include some comic relief. Humor is a valuable tool in our daily lives, so we need to embrace it. After all, who hasn’t told a few jokes at a funeral parlor?

What are your own views about the use of humor in mystery? If you’re a writer, how do you deal with the situation yourself? If you’re a reader, what do you prefer?

JIM:  Thanks D.R. for some food for thought.  I hope some of our readers will leave their thoughts on humor in a murder mystery.

ransdell - Dizzy in Durango WEBHer latest release is Dizzy in Durango (funny, but not too funny!) Missing women, abandoned children, and a crazy mariachi fan add up to further trouble for Andy Veracruz. Soon he’s stuck with an angry would-be girlfriend and a self-appointed younger brother who is more reckless than he is. No wonder he feels dizzy!

Take a look at:

And give us your thoughts on this conundrum. Thanks.

Cats Give Way to WWII


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Today’s guest is Elaine Faber, the California writer who generally has a cat as the chief sleuth.  She departs from that to bring us a story centered around World War II in her latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot. (Of … Continue reading

Which Baby Do I Love Best?


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Today’s guest blogger is Linda Glaz.  Linda is that lovely combination of a writer and an agent.  She is an agent with the Hartline Agency  and has nine books in print. Her latest, Fear Is Louder Than Words was released just last … Continue reading

Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg

Holland, or The Netherlands, was guaranteed a slot on our trip. Here is a country that had to literally claim their land from the sea. No, not all of it, but keeping the sea at bay (only a tiny pun) has been a priority and a testament to the will of this country.

Yes, of course we went to see the dikes and the windmills. At one time, therewindmills in holland were ten thousand windmills in this land about the size of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined.   Originally, these pumped water out of the low areas. But they were used for just about everything that required power. They functioned as lumber mills, sawing huge timbers into boards. They ground wheat and other grains. Today there are about eleven hundred mills.

Their most important function now is to draw tourists.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city. It has an extensive canal system, with over one hundred kilometers (62 miles) of canals. Much like a wheel, there are “spokes” radiating out from the city center and then canals circulating around, with the city center acting as the hub. A ride around these canals is a must activity for the tourist so of course we took one. Beautiful homes and buildings along the way, many dating back to 18th century.

Amsterdam is Holland’s largest city at about 800,000 (though its metropolitan population is twice that). But it is not the seat of the Dutch government. That distinction goes to The Hague. Rotterdam is more of a work-horse city, with more commerce than tourists – at least in our observance.

bikes n hollandHolland is a bicycling country. There are many paved bikeways across the countryside that were as wide, and better, than many country roads in Ireland – or the U.S., for that matter. It is claimed that Holland has the most extensive cycling network in the world. Amsterdam has more cycles than people.

Eventually, we headed south and a little least, crossing into Belgium without even a welcome sign to announce that we had left one country and entered another. Belgium was a pretty country with rolling hills, green fields, and lots of beautiful flowers. Brussels is the largest city at over a million . There is very good public transportation both in Brussels and across the country. They claimed trains between Brussels and Antwerp ran every fifteen minutes. We found nothing to dispute that claim.

Luxemburg had not been on our original list of places to visit. But, it was close and Earlene really wanted to see it, so off we went. Luxemburg is about the size of Delaware, and has a population of about half a million people. It is nestled between Belgium, Germany, and France. From Brussels, Luxemburg city (ranked as the safest city in the world) is only 132 miles away. We checked into the Double Tree, high on a hill facing Luxemburg City.luxemburg

The city itself, sits on a plateau which has extremely steep cliffs on all sides. Of course, today, there are roads cut into the side to allow traffic to travel safely into the city. It is a pretty town, with century-old buildings, and of course, a palace. But one of the most surprising things was to walk into the main square and hear Cajun music – honest to goodness Louisiana Cajun music. A festival  commemorated the seventy-first cajun bandanniversary of  U.S. forces entering the city, having driven the Germans out. When we got into the center we could see a stage. A sign proclaimed this performance of French Cajun music was by the Louisiana Band. Eventually, we talked with the leader of the group. He was a native Louisianan, who now lives in Germany.

It is indeed a small world.

After our Luxembourg visit, we headed back to Brussels and too soon were on a flight back to the Texas. It had been a wonderful trip, we had seen many interesting countries, and accumulated years of fantastic memories. Thank you for traveling along with me.

Next week, I’ll talk about something we are ALL interested in.

James R. Callan also finds time to write mysteries and suspense novels. Two of his most recent are:

Over My Dead Body, A Father Frank Mystery,  and
A Ton of Gold A Crystal Moore suspense novel.  Click either name for more information on the book.

“What is truly impressive about Callan’s writing is his gift for characterization.” From a review by John Brantingham of Over My Dead Body .

And, please leave a comment or a like.  Thanks for visiting The Author’s Blog.


What’s It Like To Be a First Time Published Author


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A.H. (Augie) Scott has been a writer all of her life. In grade school she rewrote Charlotte Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights and Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrewd, for classmates to perform in a play. Writing has always been her passion. Currently … Continue reading

What happens to professional athletes after they retire?


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Today, Canadian Kate Preston talks about how her first novel, A vintage Year, came about.  She  explores the life of a professional tennis player a few years after he retires.  She also reveals a lot about growing grapes and the … Continue reading

Emergency Room in Sweden

We left Oslo, Norway and were quickly into Sweden. We traveled about 175 miles over good roads and through a pretty countryside. That took us to Karlskoga, a lovely town on one of Sweden’s largest lakes (and I do not remember the name of it). We decided to stay there and booked into a nice hotel just a block from the center of the city.

There was a nice sized river that ran through the town, emptying into the lake. The bridges were decorated with many baskets filled with bright flowers. A park ran along the side of the river and people were sitting at tables having lunch.

It was a delightful town and we decided to stay another day to explore a bit more. So, after two nights in Karlskoga we headed on toward Stockholm, a hundred and fifty miles to the east. With good roads and a generous speed limit, we were in Stockholm before noon.

Stockholm-1What a beautiful city. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, claims nearly a million people in the municipality, with perhaps two million in the metropolitan area. It sits on fourteen islands in what is called the Stockholm archipelago. All this connects to the Baltic Sea twenty to twenty-five miles farther east.

We checked out the Stockholm City Hall and Concert Hall, where the Nobel Prizes are given out. (The Peace Prize is actually awarded in Oslo, Norway, but I wasn’t going to get that one, so we didn’t bother to look up the location where it is awarded.) These are near the Stockholm Palace, which is quite large and not all that good-looking from the outside. We did not go inside. We took a boat tour around much of the city, getting off a few places to investigate further. There were many beautiful parks. Added to the great weather (days in the mid seventies and nights close to seventy), it was a very pleasant day. We stayed at a nice hotel on a shipping harbor and watched large cruise ships come and go.

Since we were driving, we frequently found ourselves in tunnels that seemed to go on forever, with many branches here and there in the tunnels. One could be lost in those for days, but we managed to limit it to only hours.

The following night we stayed in the Stockholm suburb of Kista. Here we Texas Longhornencountered the largest mall we have ever seen. And it included the largest food court by far, with food from every country we could think of, and a number we could not think of. But again, you can see the American influence here as well, with many U.S. chains represented. When we are traveling, we try to experience the local foods. But when I saw the sign to the left, I had to stop for a hamburger and a Dr Pepper.

The next day, we headed south. We explored some of the mills, and small towns, and felt obliged to go into an IKEA store as it was founded in Sweden by a seventeen year old kid and now the largest furniture retailer in the world. This one was quite different from stores we’ve seen in the U.S.

We stopped in Jonkoping, a lovely town on the south end of the long lake Vattern. Earlene had developed a bad throat, to the extent that we went to the hospital emergency room. It was Sunday late afternoon. The nurses there talked with Earlene a bit, put their heads together and then said that it was not an emergency and if they did anything with here, they would have to charge us and then send us to another doctor. So, they made us an appointment with a doctor at 5:30 on a Sunday afternoon. We went to see the doctor. He took a culture, ran some tests, and decided it was not strep, gave er a sht and prescription and told us where we could get it filled on a Sunday evening. We were favorably impressed with their medical system.

Malmo sculpture-21The next day, we drove to Malmo. We found this town an interesting place to spend our last day in Sweden. It is ranked fourth in the world in the number of patent applications per 10,000 residents, and the sixth most bicycle friendly city in the world. We found it visitor friendly with many interesting buildings, distinctive architecture, and beautiful sculptures. It was a nice way to end our Swedish adventure. The next day, we returned to Denmark again.

Next month, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg.

jim callan


Postmark from the Past


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Today, I’m interviewing Vickie Phelps, a woman who has published over 200 articles in both regional and national magazines.  She has also published five gift books with Barbour Publishing and is the co-author with Jo Huddleston of How to Write … Continue reading

Ideas, Characters, Twists, Endings


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Today, Award Winning author Vannetta Chapman writes about how stories come about, and what makes them into a book.  Vannetta has published over a hundred articles in Christian family magazines, has won dozens of awards from RMA chapters, and been … Continue reading