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October 15, 2019

When a Mystery Blindsides You


THE DEVIL’S OWN GAME is the third installment in Annie Hogsett’s mystery series, Somebody’s Bound to Wind Up Dead, featuring the T&A Detective Agency. When a sniper targets a blind man walking along the lagoon of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the bullet is a wake-up call aimed straight for Allie Harper and Tom Bennington, shattering their illusion that the Mondo Mega Jackpot Nightmare is over. Annie enjoys being in charge of every aspect of her novels --- calling it both a challenge and a thrill --- but there are times when even she is caught completely off guard by how her stories unfold, as she explains in her witty blog post.

THE DEVIL’S OWN GAME is the third in my Somebody’s Bound to Wind Up Dead mystery series about the extemporaneous and exuberant Alice Jane Harper, the irresistibly handsome, smart, blind --- and hot --- Tom Bennington III, and the profoundly unconventional T&A Detectives. (Yes. Of course. They should have put Allie’s initial first.)

So much has happened since the morning Allie Harper popped up inside my head and announced, “You know you live in a rough neighborhood when somebody honks at a blind man in the crosswalk.” At that moment, I didn’t know that her name would be Allie. I didn’t know that the blind man was Tom. I had no clue that Tom had just bought a MondoMillionsJackpot ticket to prove to a kid that gambling doesn’t pay --- and was on the slippery slope to winning 550 million deadly dollars. Or that, in another heartbeat, Allie and Tom would be, simultaneously, falling in love and running to escape “every evil scheming weasel in the city of Cleveland.” By the time the blind man in my real world made it across the street in one piece, I realized there could be a mystery in there.

I couldn’t yet see the story hustling toward me, but I do remember pushing 45 in a 35 MPH zone to get home to my desk. In a matter of days, my laptop was hopping with characters: Margo Gallucci, Allie’s intrepid landlady with her uncensorable vocabulary; Allie’s reprehensible ex, D.B. Harper, “Mr. Tall, Dark & Unfaithful, Esquire”; Rune Davis, the kid Tom bought the ticket for, who’d fibbed about his “true age” --- 7 ¾, not 8 --- as he helped pick the all-important “Mondo Ball” number and sealed the fates of criminals and mostly innocent bystanders all over town. When Otis Johnson, ex-cop security guard and the only real P.I. of the T&A, appeared in the nick of time to save Allie in TOO LUCKY TO LIVE, I was glad to see him, but I didn’t recognize him for the heart of the series he would become. They all seemed to show up when the story called for somebody like a Margo, or a Rune, or an Otis. Or even a D.B.

In Tom and Allie’s increasingly upscale and dangerous world, a mere two and a half years have gone by, but their adventures have kept me occupied for considerably longer than that. The work of writing a mystery is many things for me, including confusion, occasional spikes of pure terror, a liberal sprinkling of the swearing I’ve learned from Margo, and, often, an honest-to-goodness pain in my neck. But the chance to tell the story, to watch it unfold on the page in front of my eyes, is a gift of joy and exhilaration.

We humans have only a moderate amount of control in this world, but in Allie and Tom’s world, I rule. I devise the twists and turns. I hide killers and heroes and make them look like the dead opposite of what they really are. It’s a challenge and a thrill to work at keeping a character’s true nature hidden until the moment of revelation. I’m the person in charge of their futures or lack of one. I get to say who loves, who loses, who dies and who goes to the slammer.

Except. Except! And here is the best part --- I get to decide, unless the characters and plots twist and turn back around to bite the “person in charge.” Walk-ons become fixtures.

Enemies become friends. And vice versa. Plots and people refuse to play. A book or so ago, I took my eye off an appealing young dude for a couple of chapters, and he morphed right into a serial killer. Imagine my surprise when a dead guy under a sheet in the morgue was revealed not to be the guy I expected to see there. Seriously. That was a shock, and I had about a sentence and a half to think, “Wait a sec….”

Sometimes the keyboard decides.

Sure, it’s a writer’s job to keep a rein on her story, but now I can see that it doesn’t need to be hogtied. Even the most rockbound plotters will sometimes freeze the action long enough to ask, “What if it’s never been him? What if this happened and not that? What if everything changes right here?” One of the most fulfilling moments in writing for me is the one in which I find myself staring at the page and hollering out loud, “You are kidding me!”

When my characters become human enough to have minds of their own, they create unexpected puzzles and mayhem in the timeline. That makes my neck hurt. And it’s worth it. Because when I’m caught completely off guard, perhaps my reader will be blindsided by a mystery. Just like me.