Amateur Detectives – Writing a Value Read: A Guest Post by R. Franklin James


By R. Franklin James

The amateur detective as a protagonist has a lot going for her. First, any missteps or lack of expertise is chalked up to the amateur side. Second, any keen curiosity or specialty skill lends itself to supporting the detective aura. Give the hero or heroine a unique personality, put her in a compelling storyline—and you’ve got an amateur detective. 

When deciphering genres it is easy to see how a cozy mystery can have an amateur detective protagonist, but not all amateur detectives are written into cozies. 

A cozy reads just like it sounds. There is a minimum of explicit violence and the murder usually happens off stage. The amateur detective in a cozy may have some eccentric behaviors and likely has strong ties to their neighbors, family and friends. 

But some of the most memorable amateur detectives are not presented in cozies. 

Amateur detectives have been around a long time they range in skill across sub genres from cozies to traditional mysteries. From the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes to the superior perceptions of Miss Marple, there is an amateur detective for everyone. But there is one thing the amateur detective has in common—the draw of their personality. It is their personality that attracts the reader and keeps them turning pages to see how they will fare. The amateur detective takes their special skill, or hobby if it’s a cozy, and pushes it to its fullest extent to solve crimes and mysteries. 

Sometimes in a series the amateur detective’s uncanny attraction for death or crime, corpse after corpse, can push the believability envelope. A faithful series reader is usually a puzzle solver who is drawn to, not what the amateur detective is solving but how the amateur detective goes about solving the puzzle before them, and that curiosity draws them to follow that detective over and over again. 


The heroine in The Fallen Angels Book Club is a paralegal/amateur detective. Paralegals by virtue of their profession are heavily research and detail oriented. Hollis Morgan uses her professional skills to leverage her zeal for justice with her unfortunate lack of sociability. As she solves the mysteries that confront her she must also struggle with her personal baggage of betrayal and social alienation. It is her skill in overcoming her personal demons and accomplishing her internal goals that lead to reaching her external goals that much more satisfying. The next book in The Hollis Morgan Mystery Series, Sticks & Stones, finds Hollis moving forward with sharpening her detective skills and balancing her life challenges.   

The key is not to make your amateur detective a one dimensional character. Make them complicated with both good and bad qualities. Give them quirks and distinctive mannerisms. Use the range of these personality traits to help the protagonist solve the crime, or maybe hamper the solving of the crime until the conclusion. The idea is to weave the wealth of personality with the intrigue of the mystery, now that’s a good read.


Sticks and Stones

R. Franklin James, Author: The Hollis Morgan Mystery Series:

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