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The Social Work Detective

 

I keep thinking about writing a mystery novel with a social worker as the protagonist. I never took a class in forensics or criminalistics (they weren’t offered at my schools), but I think one of the things that draws me to social work is the craving to be a detective; to find out the mystery of the person or family or couple sitting in front of me, telling me they have no idea what went wrong. My protagonist would be curious about everyone she meets, though, so I’d have to be careful to try to limit her focus to the people who are pertinent to the particular case at hand, or else the book will be never ending.

In real life, death and destruction, or any kind of physical pain or gore, horrifies me, but in a novel, murder calms me down. Maybe murder mysteries have the same paradoxical quality as Ritalin or caffeine: calming a hyperactive mind with a stimulant. The intensity of murder, in a novel, helps me to focus on one thing at a time, instead of on the thousands of priorities running through my mind: I need to lose weight, pay off my student loans, do my homework, find a second dog, get to work on time, keep up with friends, fix the world, and find the right outfit to wear on Thursday.

But would it be as calming to be the writer of the mystery instead of the reader? Would I have to do a ride along with the local police in order to get the details right? Would it be a cozy or a thriller? Would I have to kill off characters I like? Or worse, make one of my favorite characters into the murderer?

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Cricket, with the trowel, in the garden.

I don’t even know why I’m trying to plan a new novel right now, given all of the work I have to do for school. I feel swamped this year. The work seems harder and more all-encompassing, and the stakes seem to be higher too. But, it’s not so much that I want to write a mystery, it’s that my mind goes there on its own. Some part of my brain is always working on story ideas, and coming up with plot points and character names. Taking the time to put it all down on paper at least gives me some sense of order for these random thoughts, so that they don’t think they have to repeat themselves, endlessly, out of fear of being forgotten.

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“Listen to me!!!!!!”

The only thing I know for sure about my social work mystery is that there would have to be a dog in the book. This isn’t a social worker thing, just a me-thing. I would feel bereft trying to write a whole novel, or even a short story, without a dog in it. Cricket is auditioning for the role, but I’m worried she’d want to be the protagonist herself.

puppy in November 005

“I am always the star of the show.”

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

74 responses »

  1. I have no doubt that Cricket will end up taking over the novel and writes her own legacy:)

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  2. Since I am a lifelong consumer of whodunits, it would seem reasonable that, if I ever wrote a novel, it would be a mystery, but in fact the only novel I’ve ever made any progress on is a middle-grades book inspired by Edward Eager. Never going to finish that one, anyway, but at least it got farther than my high school (Nancy Drew-inspired) detective novels or the one adult attempt, which expired after the first paragraph.

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  3. Like those cat mysteries. Cricket would be the detective.

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  4. That last photo is so cute. Cricket would definitely help solve the crime. Excuse me, Cricket. I meant to say Cricket would solve the crime. What was I thinking?!

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  5. Maybe you could solve mysteries about dogs. Like what is so very appealing about raccoon poop, why do they hate the U.P.S. driver, why any time is dinner time. Or conversely you could use the dog to identify the perpetrator. Dogs seem to have a good sense about people.😂🤣😂

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  6. Rachel, by all means write that book! I was a social worker for many years and I loved my job. Why? So many people–so many stories. I use my experiences in my writing, being careful of confidentiality, of course. I haven’t written a novel about a social worker yet, but one is forming in my mind. Yours will be quite different, as your experiences are different, and you will have Cricket to help you.

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  7. Hey, if Scooby-Doo can have a series, so can Cricket! Mysteries are everywhere and she would be so good at that. I think you could really have fun with this! It could be a serious adult book, or something a bit less serious. But of course, it must have dogs!

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  8. How I loved Clue as a child—Colonel Mustard with a candlestick in the dining room! Cricket takes me back there with her trowel.

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  9. I always put a dog in my books too! 🙂 We have a lot in common. I’m an author, editor, and also obsessively chronicle my dogs’ lives.

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  10. We think you make a great writer, and of course a dog in any story makes it better!! 😉

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  11. I, too, have written many short mystery stories, and TV mystery series in my head.
    I think I need to add a man to my crime team, but it’s hard for me to do somehow…I always end up with two lesbians and a dog.
    I totally get what you mean by the great escape, however, from real life.
    Good luck with finding a second dog for Cricket…maybe that would be the inspiration for the mystery story…how can any dog be good enough for Cricket?

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  12. Jennifer Barraclough

    I hope you’ll go for it – I think you could write a good mystery novel – probably of the “cozy” type (much as I dislike that term!)

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  13. Agatha Christie, watch out. I see a series coming on. There have certainly been mystery novels with librarian protagonists, so why not social workers? Hope you pursue the concept.

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  14. Your post made me smile 🙂 I hope you get around to writing your book!

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  15. It’s that time of year to start thinking of writing…apparently. I’m not done with my first mystery, but I have story ideas coming at me from all directions (usually when I don’t have much time to write them down, of course). But go for it…The social worker could unravel the mystery, but it would be her trusty dog who would point out the last clue that solves the mystery…and helps sniff out clues along the way of course. I think it will be a grand adventure…perhaps we should make some small goals to get those ideas on paper and see which ones take off for us.

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    • I need to learn how to use the microphone on my iphone, then I could talk all of these ideas out while I’m driving, which is usually when I get my best ideas and cannot find a place to pull over and write them down.

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  16. We just had a very good drama on TV here, about a social worker involved in a murder mystery concerning a young girl she was responsible for. It was hard-hitting stuff, but interesting to see it from her point of view. If you can ever access it there, here’s a link.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7157494/
    The star was Sarah Lancashire, one of the best actresses on British TV.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  17. The Cricket Chronicles! I can see it now………………….

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  18. Instead of novels, come out with a game. Call it “Clue” and the object is to find the murderer. “Cricket in the garden with the trowel” might win.

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  19. Rachel and Cricket Shake Up Manhattan, First in the Cricket Series

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  20. I recently finished a set of six Samantha Darling mysteries. She’s a social worker with ADHD and a psychic dog. Cozy type murders.

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  21. I’d volunteer to be a first reader of your novel.

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  22. I’d totally read that!

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  23. A social work mystery sounds like a great idea! A few years back I worked for a child welfare non-profit and it was a true collaborative effort between social workers, police, and the courts. Endless possibilities!

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  24. I love your book idea. Start now!

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  25. Do write your novel! You could run it as a serial on your blog. Like you, I love murder mysteries. I think it is the sense of order they provide. Justice is invariably satisfied by the end.

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  26. Cricket is adorable. Is there going to be a doggie sidekick?

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  27. Since the story keeps coming to you and you are writing notes, it will be a natural next step to pull the notes together into a novel. I look forward to reading it.

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  28. I like the idea of running it like a serial on your blog, like the fella who wrote The Martian. He wanted to sell it to Amazon for free but they insisted on a small charge, then it went viral. Cricket would be a star (or should I say even bigger star).

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  29. Rachel, you must read Anthony ONeill’s The Unscratchables, It’s a gritty crime thriller with a cast of cats and dogs.

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  30. I think it sounds like a great idea! I had to have a dog in my book, too. If I can’t have one in real life right now at least I can write one.

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  31. Of course Cricket would have to be the lead dog in your mystery novel.

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  32. HaHa! You are a great writer. Just remember the competition is stiff. If you want to write because you HAVE to write to survive…welcome! But if you’re expecting to make money, you will probably be disappointed – even if cute Cricket makes it to protagonist! Your column proves how talented you are as a writer, so don’t give up your dream if that’s what you want. God bless you.

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  33. Oh, do it! How fun. I think you could have a few offshoots to lead the reader off the track or distract them or annoy them . . . . making look as if these other people have nothing to do with the story and then in the end — wham! Tie it all together! They COULD be along the lines of the Cat Who . . . books. Where the cat doesn’t ACTUALLY solve the murder but unknowingly (or not) helps!

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  34. I suppose there are five kinds of fictional detectives. Bad writing selling on gore and action can get away with a detective who’s a nullity. Forget that. There are a few fictional detectives who are not cardboard figures, but who aren’t very memorable or distinctive except that they’re good detectives. Not the most saleable and such detectives survive through the distinctive settings like some bit of supposedly quiet rural England with an improbable murder rate or a setting which is exotic for most of the readers (China? Tropical Africa?). There are detectives who have memorable characteristics, but/and are quite predictable and not conflicted (Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple and also humorous characters like the Inspectors in our TV series Death in Paradise). Increasingly, there are severely conflicted detectives, conscientious, driven, with a talent for alienating their superiors and one or more major character flaws: I suppose Sherlock Holmes is the standard for this group and Ian Rankin’s Detective Inspector John Rebus and Colin Dexter’s Detective (Chief) Inspector Morse are the recent UK leading examples. Most detectives of this sort are policemen (I’ve yet to come across a female police detective main character, though I have found a female – Jewish, English – private eye). I did think of a fifth group, but I’ve forgotten it!

    So is your social worker going to be a memorable eccentric or driven and conflicted? I suspect more social workers are the latter than the former.

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