You can tell a lot about people by the books they read. Or don’t. The same is true of fictional characters. Putting books on your characters’ shelves can illuminate aspects of their personalities. It can also enhance your mystery novel in other ways. Here are some examples.
In MURDER AT PLIMOTH PLANTATION, two books my protagonist, Miranda Lewis, notices at the apartment of Nate Barnes, a Native American activist, whose help she needs in solving a murder, reveal his interest in computers and jazz. A third book, WHERE WHITE MEN FEAR TO TREAD, the autobiography of American Indian Movement activist, Russell Means, reflects Nate’s own background as an AIM activist. It also adds tension to the scene. While Nate’s out of the room, Miranda opens the book at random, and reads a passage in which Means describes a plan to escape from a courtroom by taking white women as hostages, taping guns to their throats, and making a run for it. As a white woman in the home of a man she barely knows, she’s understandably worried.
In MURDER AT SPOUTERS POINT, I set the stage for the climax, which takes place on a sailboat during a storm at sea, with references to FASTNET, FORCE 10, THE DEADLIEST STORM IN THE HISTORY OF MODERN SAILING, a book I read to learn about worst case scenarios on sailboats during storms. When Miranda discovers the book in a friend’s apartment, she’s horrified by its photos “of mountainous seas, a de-masted sailboat floating adrift and, most chilling of all, a rescue worker from a helicopter recovering the body of a dead seaman.”
Still later in the novel, I reference another book about sailing to help prepare the reader for an important revelation that occurs near the end. The book is called. . . But wait, if I tell you the title, I’ll risk giving too much away.
Unlike works of non-fiction, novels don’t usually contain bibliographies, but I like to include mention of the books that were helpful to me, either on the acknowledgements page, or within the text itself, where they can add to the story. Do you use books within your books? If so, what purpose do they serve?