Writing the Amateur Sleuth

So exciting to introduce a new author to you! The best thing about having guest bloggers is learning from them. I love how Sally Carpenter breaks down writing the amateur sleuth in cozy mysteries. So glad you’re here, Sally!

By nature, cozy mysteries involve an amateur sleuth, not a trained professional such as a private eye or police office. Why do cozy readers love such a sleuth? Perhaps they can readily identity with the protagonist and feel more involved in solving the crime with someone like themselves. Perhaps it’s because cozies place a strong emphasis on family, and it’s enjoyable to see the sleuth’s home life.

In my Sandy Fairfax cozy series, Sandy is a 39-year-old (he aged up in the latest book) former ‘70s teen idol restarting his career and reconnecting with his estranged family. Along the way he stumbles (sometimes literally) across bodies. What are the qualities that help him solve the crime?

Intelligence. Despite the way the press portrays teen idols as “cute faces,” they’re no dummies. During his career in the 1970s, on weekdays, Sandy learned lines and acted on a TV show. In the evenings he recorded albums. On weekends he traveled across the country to perform in live concerts. During the week he gave endless interviews, posed for photo shoots, took part in charity events, and tried to have a private life. A guy needed smarts and stamina for a schedule like that.

Some cozies have bumbling sleuths who solve a case through blind luck rather than detection. While such characters may be funny and likeable, it’s a cheat to the reader, and the constant fumbling gets stale over several books if the sleuth never wises up.  

Curiosity. Sandy wants answers to questions. He isn’t willing to let things drop. In my latest book, The Highland Havoc Caper, he and his son find a body inside a castle. But when they fetch help and return, the corpse is gone. Sandy’s told to go away and forget about it, but he’d determined to find out what happened.

Charisma. Teen idols have an appeal that pulls in the fans. Sandy turns on the charm when he’s interviewing a suspect. Since he has no police authority, he must reply on his personality to reach people. Some suspects will speak to Sandy simply because he’s a celebrity. 

Creativity. Since Sandy has no law enforcement powers, he must find clever—and legal—means to talk to people and search buildings. Any evidence he finds may not be admissible in court, so he must go the extra mile to build a case against the culprit.

Free time. Sandy isn’t tied down to a nine-to-five job. He has down time between gigs and rehearsals to snoop around. Many cozy sleuths are shop owners. Not only does this give them the opportunity to get the news through their customers, but they can have an employee mind the shop while they go tend to a case.

Access. Most of Sandy’s cases take place in the entertainment business. As a performer himself, he’s in close contact with his suspects, more so than the police. He knows how to connect with his fellow singers/actors. 

Attention to detail. At the end of each book, Sandy manages to take the bits and pieces and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a throwaway clue or a chance remark or a physical object found at the scene of the crime that unmasks the killer. Sandy’s good at paying attention and remembering facts.

A sense of justice. Sandy wants to see right prevail and the wicked punished. In the book The Quirky Quiz Show Caper, Sandy’s brother, Warren, is framed for murder. Even though the brothers are not on speaking terms, Sandy is determined to see that his brother’s name is cleared. 

All good amateur sleuths—as well as professionals—have these characteristics. And readers love characters with brains, guts and a sense of fair play.

For more information about me and my cozies, as well the opportunity to download two free stories, go to my website http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com.

For more advice on creating characters, click here.


Former pop star Sandy Fairfax engages in a dangerous hobby—amateur sleuthing. At the Seaside Highland Games in California, he and his teenage son, Chip, discover more than their heritage. In a castle transported from Scotland, they find a body bludgeoned with a curling stone. But when they go for help, the corpse vanishes. Without a body or even a name, how will Sandy find the killer? As he and Cinnamon plan their wedding, more bodies pile up. A piper plummets from the castle tower and into the ocean. Another body is found behind a Scottish pub in L.A. And when Sandy takes a guest role on the Spook Spotters TV show, the worried dad must keep Chip safe from an amorous young actress. Whether you take the high road or the low road, can you solve the case before Sandy does? Buy the Kindle or the paperback.


Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier now living in Ventura County, California. She writes adult retro-cozy mysteries: The Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series (six books) and the Psychedelic Spy series (two books). The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caperwas a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for Best First Mystery Book. She has a M.A. in theater, a M.Div., and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s currently working on a new science fiction/mystery series. Download free stories from her website.

3 thoughts on “Writing the Amateur Sleuth

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  1. Thank you for stopping by, Sally! I very much enjoyed your analysis of creating an amateur sleuth and your advice made me think of how I’ve constructed my amateur detective.

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