Cover Image: Sleuth

Sleuth

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Sleuth read part writing reference and part writer's autobiography of her process in writing her own novels. There were many parts where I anticipated learning more about crafting a mystery, but the book fell short of explaining how to craft a mystery. Most of the examples read like summaries of goals, conflict, motivation, which are helpful. There were many other writing books referenced in this book which I've read. This was a short read. The biggest takeaway was the author's history of writing and publishing in her forties, which is inspirational. 

Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley, and the author for the opportunity to rate and review this book.
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This book is wonderful as a teaching tool in a creative writing class. It's a great resource for anyone that's writing a  fictional crime story.
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This guide took about an hour to read and while I enjoyed some of it, I didn't learn much from the contents, though an absolute newcomer to writing would. 
The author lives in a rural province of Canada and lectures in English as well as writing mystery series. Well done, but I have never heard of her books. Constantly telling us that they are beloved and have been adapted for film is not teaching anything about crime writing. She also spends far too many pages discussing her own plots and characters in her lengthy series. 

The basics of fiction writing are listed, including what tenses may be used and which forms of narrator. If you don't know that much, go back to junior school. The author also skimps greatly - she lists third person narrator, but does not explain that this may be third person which follows the protagonist and sees what they see; or follows each person as an omniescent narrator. Character first, then plot, sounds fine to me. When and how to make time for writing.

The author constantly refers to books about writing - Strunk and White, or Stephen King. Okay, but we could just read those books. She doesn't try to improve on them. For instance we are told X decided there are seven basic plots (or reasons to tell a story) including the quest, comedy, tragedy etc. More classic plots have been identified, which include the fool triumphant (Footloose, Jack and the Beanstalk) and the royalty among commoners (The Student Prince, Princess and the Pea). This seems to show that the author found a basic answer and did not look any further in her research.

We're given a whole short-short story by this author which includes blowing up a car by tossing a lit cigarette end at the petrol tank which is uncapped. Never mess around with petrol, but this almost certainly would not ignite the fumes; a spark is required in my experience. 

The author can't have read any current business/ marketing books, because she takes a few paragraphs and tells a story to describe an elevator pitch - surely this is an oxymoron. I found her style occasionally annoying; she starts paragraphs with It was and There were, and leaves the occasional preposition dangling. 'X does it right.' No, X does it correctly. 
The local vernacular is used a few times - "Deep six your prologue." Does this mean examine it deeply, kick it out (a sporting metaphor?), cut it tight, remove it? The paragraph goes on to tell us we should include the contents in the book. Quite correct, as I do not usually read prologues. I get on with the story. On one hand I can understand the inclusion of the vernacular, as a crime writer writes dialogue. On the other, this lady has an editor, she is a college lecturer in English, and she is writing non-fiction. Either she or the editor ought to have spotted that one, in my personal opinion. 
This makes me distrust the lady's advice on adverbs. Yes, Twain said not to use them, but he was a journalist and 'flowery words' are unwelcome in any newspaper. Use them sparingly.

How's about telling the reader to avoid repetition, to do a search for It, remove any double spaces, whether to drop clues early or late, the kind of job a protagonist should have if not police (small business is good as that person makes their own hours), how they find out police information, how they research, if they have a pet/ child/ spouse and what they do with it while sleuthing. Whether they have a skill which means people call upon them to be involved in cases or whether they just have to keep stumbling over bodies. All these would have been useful inclusions. 

At the end the author tells us to persevere when trying to find an agent and then a publisher. No more to be said, is there? Well yes actually, she could tell authors that they have many options for publication, including fan fic sites, their own sites, short story magazines, anthologies, Amazon and other e-book publishers for independent authors. I am told Canada makes free ISBNs available to its authors, presumably to alleviate the depression of a long dark winter. But, having negotiated the gatekeepers of the trad press and signed her contracts, the author is not going to help new authors find their own way to the open market. 

By all means read and enjoy this guide, but do not stop with this title.
I downloaded an e-ARC from Net Galley. This is an unbiased review and all opinions are just personal opinion, not intended to be hurtful.
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Having taught creative writing, my bookshelf is filled with texts offering advice on developing writing skills. I was therefore delighted to receive the opportunity to read an advanced reading copy of Gail Bowen’s Sleuth.

In 2008, Reader’s Digest named Gail Bowen Canada’s Best Mystery Novelist, and in 2018 she was recognized with the Crime Writers of Canada Grand Master Award. She began writing at the age of 43. In Sleuth, Gail Bowen draws on her own experiences as a debut author, on the publishing process of the first Joanne Kilbourn mystery, and her background as a teacher in order to offer advice for those aspiring to write mysteries. 

While I found that the personal anecdotes were at times too lengthy, Sleuth is filled with many valuable pieces of advice, especially about the planning process a writer goes through.

Two points in particular stood out for me:
To understand what makes a good novel, Bowen stresses the importance of being a reader. Approach your own favourite books as though you were in a university level lit class, and identify how that writer uses the elements of fiction to write a successful story. Write what you like to read.

“Good writers are good live-ers.” Bowen stresses the value of finding inspiration by living life to the fullest. Take notes of everyday encounters, record moments, emotions and thereby “keep your well of ideas full”. How can you continue writing compelling narratives, if you remain locked away at your desk?

Sleuth is well worth a read, especially if you’re looking for a guide on how to develop an engaging mystery.
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Writers that want to write mysteries this book is helpful. It has an interesting approach for the steps of writing the clues, characters and every important element of a mystery. It is a powerful book that is useful and helpful. I like that the experts in sleuth writing are also discuss including Agatha Christie.
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''Sleuth'' is a must-read for every aspiring writer and even though Gail Bowen, the Canadian playwright and mystery novel writer from Ontario, focuses mainly on crime fiction, her book will prove to be a useful tool for all wannabe fiction authors. Bowden divides the subject into clearly defined and separated from one another categories such as Theme, Characterization, Plot and Structure, Style and Syntax etc., which helps the reader to approach each aspect individually and step-by-step he becomes capable of integrating each subject into a whole. ''Sleuth'' is rich in references about crime novels and writers, some of them concern Bowden's own work, and it also offers the reader some simple and pragmatic advises about the art of writing. Apart from the above, it is a relatively short book and it can be read in one sitting. I think that ''Sleuth'' is a book that deserves wider recognition and I will be definitely be checking Gail Bowden's bibliography from now on.
I want to thank the publisher and NetGalley for providing this free e-book.
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The book was not what I thought, but I ended up liking it. 
Reading lots of mysteries in no way prepares anyone to write one. Some of the suggestions she makes are really helpful as both a reader and writer.. 
Her attitude is great, humorous and supportive, great book to have around for all kinds of writing.
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I was interested to see what makes a best seller, unfortunately for me it concentrates  too much on one specific style, personally I do not like modern crime, and I do not like books that rely on building on the same characters. It is a pity a well developed plot and puzzle is hard to find - even if the characters are wooden - they do make a good read 
For me this book was interesting, but I certainly expected a little more.
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If you never took or only vaguely remember a college English 100 class, Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries is a perfect read for aspiring or new writers.  It is also extremely useful for book reviewers like myself.

Within Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries, Ms. Bowen extensively covers all the elements of the novel:
•	Theme
•	Characterization: protagonist, secondary and minor characters
•	Narrative perspective
•	Setting
•	Plot and structure
•	Style and syntax

She also divides up the writing process into prewriting, writing and editing.  Unfortunately, many of her tips may only work for her. Some of her suggestions are to:
•	Write in the early morning.
•	Take a break for 5 minutes after every 25 minutes of writing.
•	Never leave your writing in a bad spot (because you won’t want to return tomorrow).
•	Buy a paper notebook with pockets that you can stuff with interesting news clippings. 

Personally, I haven’t seen a paper newspaper for at least a decade or two plus I type all my notes on my phone.  That said, many of her ideas were useful and new. Here are only a few examples:
•	Ask why the authors of your favorite five novels chose the specific elements within their novel. 
•	Create intriguing backstories for your secondary and minor characters so you can expand on them in future books if your book turns into a series. 
•	The opening sentence should contain the entire novel.
•	Don’t include research in your novel just because you did the research—it must further the plot. 
•	The ending should fully resolve the mystery but leave the protagonist’s inner longings unfulfilled.

Most of the information found in Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries can be used by an author of any type of novel—not just mysteries.  The examples she uses within the book include both classic English literature and mysteries.  While the majority of examples are from her own mystery series, she also reveals the ending of Gone Girl and The Sopranos.  If you are planning on reading/watching those, you should avoid reading this book or at least skip those sections.

For those writers that have a few books under their belts, Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries may be too rudimentary for their needs. For aspiring writers or reviewers, this book is worth 4 stars for being clearly focused on writing procedures and suggested processes that will increase the reader’s knowledge and abilities.  

Thanks to the publisher, University of Regina Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
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3.5 stars
As a mystery writer, I was thrilled to be approved for this book! I was expecting practical strategies to improve my current writing process. While Sleuth offered valuable insight and examples, it read more like Stephen King's On Writing or Janet Evanovich's How I Write  than the how-to guide I was expecting.

Gail Bowen clearly knows her genre and craft. She is a multi-award winning author with several titles that have been turned into movies. The first few chapters are dedicated to how Gail Bowen became an author and the events that led to her personal success. 

She is also a college professor which shows in this book. The chapters read like classroom lectures. The information is couched with examples from both classic literature, well-known authors, and Bowen's own work. These can overwhelm her point and leave the reader digging to discover what strategy she is trying to recommend.

If you've studied the craft of writing, many of the quotes used to launch the topics will be familiar to you. Topics such as POV, Pre-Writing, and Characterization are covered on a basic level. For someone just starting out, this would be a great primer, but an experienced writer might have difficulty discovering any fresh wisdom in this. 

A great deal of the book is dedicated to examining Bowen's own work. One chapter is devoted to her subplots and secondary characters. A writer familiar with her fiction series might benefit more from this approach. Since I am not familiar with the series or the characters, I struggled to make the connection from this that I could apply to my own writing. I was also put-off a bit by Bowen's assertion that a writer "must" follow the process that works for her. Every writer is different and should find the path that works best for his/her style. 

Overall, Sleuth gives a nice overview of writing in general. Very little is dedicated strictly to writing mysteries. Her strategies could be applied across most genres. 

I would recommend it to aspiring authors taking the first steps toward a career.
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Regardless of what you write and how you write, this book deserves a place on your shelf.  An easily accessible but utterly engrossing guide to planing literary clues  for the maximum reveal later on.
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An excellent and engaging book.  This was written in a way that felt like a conversation with Ms. Bowen.
Informative and helpful.
 I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
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