A mystery starts with a crime. Obvious, right? It might be depicted in the first pages, or even in a prologue; it might only be in the author’s mind at the beginning and then we the readers are led up to it.
For most crimes, and certainly for murder, that means there is a victim. The telling of the tale will revolve around that person. That’s something the reader may not even notice, because the story seems to revolve around the main character in a series, the sleuth, the protagonist, or the narrator. The victim probably isn’t even a living character for most of the book. Nevertheless, if there is a murder, the investigation will have to reveal around who the victim was, in order to figure out who wanted him or her dead.
The second book in my series, Brooklyn Graves, had a victim with not one enemy in the world. For the new one, the fourth, I thought it would be interesting to write about a victim who had nothing but It is called Brooklyn Wars, but it could have been called Clouds of Enemies, after Dorothy L. Sayers Clouds of Witness.
My amateur sleuth, Erica Donato, witnessed the murder. It was a plausible case of “wrong place, wrong time. “ She doesn’t see much but it becomes impossible to forget. In addition to the natural horror of the event, the detectives continue to hope she has more to tell them, and it’s all over the news because the victim was prominent in local politics and killed in a public space, the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Then she learns she has a neighborhood connection to him, just three degrees of separation, and later, a family connection not to him but to the Navy Yard location itself. And the more she asks questions, the more people she meets who had good reasons to hate him. The crucial question, “Who wanted him dead?” begins to change into, “Who didn’t?”
The sweet elderly first wife, who is long over him? Or so she says. Her surprising friend, the younger second wife, who may be on her way to ex-wife status too? The bitter daughter? The estranged and missing brother? Or could his death be the actions of a business enemy? This man has made his career around New York harbor, at one time known for criminal activity. There seems to be only one person who will miss him.
The setting presented lots of opportunities for conflict. It was a major arsenal of democracy during World War II, an important piece of Brooklyn’s economy, a place where that seemed like a whole world to lifetime workers. It was all that and more: a nexus of political infighting, then, a large dead piece of valuable real estate, and nowadays, a phoenix rising from the ashes. They were big stories. Which of them could support my story of a crime?
Creating the book this way gave me some interesting dead ends, otherwise known as false leads. Lots of enemies make for sub-plots, hidden histories, and wrong conclusions. In fact it took me awhile to find the right conclusion myself, the angriest of all those angry people, hidden in plain sight all along.
I hope readers will enjoy figuring it out as much as I did.