Tag Archives: red herrings

3 Ways to Create Red Herrings in Mystery Novels

Red Herrings plays two important roles in a mystery novel.  One, they heighten the suspense and two, add challenges to solving the mystery by misleading the reader/sleuth.

A writer can create a red herring with characters, the setting, and with objects.


In many classic mysteries, almost every character encountered benefited some way from the crime.  Therefore, give them all motives.

Provide a character with the means and opportunity.  If a person appears capable of committing a crime but has no motive, there are two possibilities created.  The person has a motive that has not been discovered or the person is working with someone who has a strong motive.


Place – Where did the crime happen?  Did it happen in the city, country, a small village? During a New Years Eve party? During Mardi Gras?

Date –  Was the bank robbed on Friday before a national holiday?  If so, who had inside information?

Time – Did the crime happen around a holiday or while the characters were on vacation?

Weather – Was it rainy, snowing or hot outside?


What object appear and what objects do not appear?

What does the detective see at the crime scene? What is not at the crime scene that one might expects to find?  Could someone have removed an item?  Do all the items belong?

Introduce objects with more than one explanation.  Various nuts may be a common item found in a victim’s apartment, unless it is revealed the victim is allergic to nuts.  Does the nuts implicate the killer or did the victim have a visitor who brought the nuts with them?

The more ways a reader can interpret an item, better the chance they will make the wrong assumption.


Do not place “red herrings” in a story just to mislead readers.  Always have an explanation as to why the objects are in the story.  After all, the purpose is to make the mystery more challenging and exciting for the reader.




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Gatecrasher by Robert Young – Will he eventually become the “King of red herrings?”

Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh! What tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Robert Young’s debut novel, Gatecrasher, kept me tangled in the complex web of betrayal, deceit, greed, theft, kidnapping and murder. Although there are many characters in Gatecrasher, Young’s writing was such that helped me keep track of the many characters involved without ever asking, who is this character.

I have to wonder if Young will eventually become known as the “King of Red Herrings.”  The book has several “red herrings” and like Rowling’s huge “red herring,” Snape, in the Harry Potter series, Young has his own special “red herring.”

The characters in Gatecrasher come to life through physical description, unique voice, actions and their thoughts.  Working in financial service probably gave Young his eye for detail in financial analyses, especially as the main character, Daniel Campbell said, “…if you know where to look.”

While the ending of many novels can be predictable, Young’s ending will slap you hard across the face!

For a debut novel, I have to give Gatecrasher 5 stars.  As an upcoming author, Robert Young is one to watch and I look forward to reading his next book.

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