The Making of a Mystery Writer

Guest posts
16/01/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Sarah J. Mason, known to fans of the Miss Seeton Mystery series as Hamilton Crane, describes how she first caught the mystery habit…

To paraphrase Mark Twain: two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would write an explanation they would read it when they got leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand, and herewith tender a history of my first tentative steps in the crime fiction world.

My father, one way and another, began it all. My mother had gone to hospital. “And when she comes home, she will bring you a baby sister! You’ll be able to play together when she is bigger, but for now you must be very kind and gentle with her because she has a hole in her head, and it will hurt her if you touch it.”

My sister is three years and two months younger than me. Once she came home, a very puzzled little girl spent a long time looking for the expected neat black bullet-hole between the baby’s eyes. No splinters of bone, no blood, no mess – just a neat black bullet-hole, perplexing by its absence. The perfect cosy mystery, except that my juvenile query was not Whodunnit? so much as Where is it? (Memo to well-intentioned parents: do explain things properly!)

My father died a week after my sixteenth birthday. Exams loomed at school. For light relief I picked up his copy of The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin and discovered for the first time that a detective story could be, not only well plotted, not only well written, but could also be fun; sprinkled throughout with literary allusions to enhance the enjoyment of those readers who recognised them, without in any way overwhelming those who didn’t.

Many years later, when my own books were first published, I wrote to Edmund Crispin’s widow and explained that I should like to acknowledge my debt by quoting a line from The Moving Toyshop on the topic of coincidence. Would she mind? She replied, by return, that she would not. I was thrilled. That Sarah J. Mason mystery with its Crispin quotation is long out of print, but in homage to the master Hamilton Crane will from time to time sprinkle a modest literary allusion into Miss Seeton’s adventures, so much less fantastic than the “unlikely events” depicted in Edmund Crispin’s pre-war Oxford.

My life might have taken a very different direction if my father had gone to Cambridge – but he didn’t.

And the rest is mystery history!

Related articles