Warning: this post contains spoilers for the first 3 books of the Watchbearers series (and HUGE spoilers for Uncertain Murder) and I recommend reading those books first. Also be warned that this shows the ‘sausage-making’ aspect of writing, which some of you may not want to know about.
Knowing I would be writing a mostly traditional mystery, I’d waited until finishing the previous book in the series before starting to think through the particulars, and I ended up incorporating elements from Centenary Separation into this story. Then I expanded the setup until I knew enough to start writing. And I began with the scene that saw the first murder. (Because I prefer whodunits that have dead bodies drop early on.)
I’d originally thought the butler would be a hitman hired on behalf of that first victim, but then he’d have to be a different butler from the one in the opening scene. So when I actually wrote it, that butler ended up being the undercover federal agent instead, and I showed the murder from his perspective. And since I’d be keeping him around for the rest of the book, I dropped hints he wasn’t who he appeared to be, but saved the revelation of who he really was for later. That also let me have Turner there without identifying him.
Then I wrote Sam and Bailey’s arrival and played out their investigation and the proper introduction of the suspects bit by bit with the ‘haunting’ happening in the background, leaving the truth behind it as another thing to be revealed somewhere down the road. The first twist would be Turner showing up as one of the suspects.
Then the lawyer came to explain Brandt’s testamentary dispositions. He seemed to be the best candidate for an assassin in disguise – especially as he was really the only plausible option left at that point – but he would be known to a number of the people there already. I didn’t see how a hitman could masquerade as Keener’s regular lawyer. Could I have him assume the identity of a last-minute replacement for the real deal? I didn’t care much for that idea either.
Then I realized how he could be both Brandt’s long-time lawyer and a ‘hired killer’ at the same time, and how that would tie in with threads from the first two books. It would fit in perfectly with what I was writing for this book too, and make for another fascinating revelation.
The reading of the will would give me the opportunity to delve further into the characters of the various suspects and their motives (as well as for plenty of wry humor.) But the next big twist would be a second murder. A repeat of the fatal dinner, with the ‘ghost’ setting the scene, provided just the right atmosphere for somebody else to drop dead. And I wanted it to be in such a way that would leave little doubt that Keener had been killed.
Then having their communication being cut off and everyone being stranded on the island with a murderer kicked the story into high gear, and I began disclosing the surprises that had been waiting in the wings at a fast clip. But I still had no idea what the answers to the biggest questions would be. Who had killed Keener, and what was the murderer’s motive?
Next: Part 5 – Solving the Mystery