Ari Adams is back in Dying on the Vine, Book 8 in the Ari Adams Mystery Series by Ann Roberts, but it’s been a long road to get here.
Nearly two decades ago, my wife, then a real estate agent, returned home after showing houses to a young couple. Our conversation went like this…
Me: How were the showings?
Her: (sigh) Fine. It was boring. All those cookie cutter houses look the same.
Me: Hence the name cookie cutter.
Her (whining): Why can’t something interesting happen, like we walk in on two beautiful women in the shower? Or I open the kitchen pantry and find a strongbox full of money?
Me: Does stuff like that really happen?
Her (laughing): Yeah, it does once in a while. Just not to me.
At this point she kept talking, but “Writer Brain” had taken over, so I adopted my fake “listening face” and my automatic nod. The ruse worked for about 45 seconds, until she said something like, “The dog changed the oil in my car this morning,” and I nodded.
Once I’d apologized enough (and I’m guessing it involved a backrub and bakery sweets) my mind returned to Writer Brain… What if a real estate agent opened the front door of a listing and found a dead body? Thus, the opening for my first novel, Paid in Full, was born, as was Ari Adams, the overly-curious real estate agent who continues to find trouble at every turn. Over the years she’s caught a stalker, saved an art community, solved a thirty-year-old murder, and found her brother’s killer. Seven books later, she’s still going strong. Her most recent adventure: solving the murder of a sommelier in Dying on the Vine.
Amateurs have greater freedom, not bound by voluminous tomes on police procedure, and readers willingly suspend their disbelief about situations or character behaviors when an amateur is involved.
I’ve been asked many times why I chose an amateur detective and why she’s a real estate agent. The above exchange with my wife explains the latter, but regarding the former, amateurs have greater freedom, not bound by voluminous tomes on police procedure, and readers willingly suspend their disbelief about situations or character behaviors when an amateur is involved. There’s less to compare to, whereas, if a cop goes rogue to solve a crime, the purists shake their heads and say, “It would never happen this way.”
It could be said that amateur detectives are by far the unluckiest people on the planet. They’ve chosen run-of-the-mill careers—restaurant owners (Jane Lawless), post mistress (Harry Haristeen), and at least one real estate agent. It’s unlikely they’ll ever visit a hospital for a knife or gunshot wound. Paper cuts or slip-and-fall accidents are more their speed. But still, most have faced the barrel of a gun, been shot or shot at, kidnapped, or trapped in the trunk of a car. But readers let it go, because, well…they’re amateurs.
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of amateur detective writing is dropping—or plopping—the sleuth into a crime scene. This often requires faithful readers to grant some grace and suspend their disbelief. As my Bella colleague and friend Erica Abbott has said about Cabot Cove, the fictitious Maine town where TV’s Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote) resides, that place is a nightmare when it comes to murder stats! Roughly one of every ten townies will commit a murder or be murdered! Yet, viewers turned in for 12 seasons. Of course, by the end, the population of the town was 9.
Poking around is what amateur detectives do best.
Finding somewhat believable situations where the amateur detective happens upon crime takes creativity, especially during the first few books of a series. Fortunately, a colorful set of friends, employers, or exes often find themselves in serious pickles.
Eventually, after a few books, the sleuth should have a reputation. In Dying on the Vine, the vineyard owners have heard about Ari’s exploits and ask her to “poke around.” Poking around is what amateur detectives do best. Also, the local deputy assigned to the case is somewhat intimidated by Ari’s reputation, but she eventually appreciates Ari’s help—of course!
Finally, the amateur detective’s relationship with law enforcement can strain the bounds of believability. There must be a way for the amateur detective to learn little-known facts, acquire evidence, and interview suspects—without being arrested themselves. Ari Adams became the love interest of Detective Molly Nelson in Paid in Full (Book 1), and while Molly sometimes nudges Ari along, usually she is diligently working to keep Ari out of police business. As a couple they find balance (sort of), but it’s reminiscent of Ricky Ricardo learning of Lucy’s hijinks after the fact. But now that we’re in Book 8 and their relationship is sailing along, Molly is only an ancillary character in Dying on the Vine, since Ari and Molly have established separate careers. Joining Ari on this adventure is her ever-faithful sidekick and best friend, Jane. If you’ve never read a mystery that provided comic relief, you will with Dying on the Vine.
What will happen to Ari next? Who knows? But you can be sure, trouble is already out there looking for her.