Day 5: The 30-Day Book Launch Challenge

DAY 5.  Suspects and Alibis, Motives and Opportunities.

This week is all about story development and getting new words onto the page.

W/c Monday 27th November. What has to be done by the end of this week?


1 Work on a pro-forma template 4-Act structure for a cozy mystery story.

Develop the list of 5 suspects and their motives, means and opportunities.

3 Select one suspect who is going to be the main antagonist and an equal match for my heroine sleuth. Build up their backstory. Why now?
4 Recreate how the first murder was committed and then create the clues that will lead the sleuth to the killer. Add in possible fake clues and distractions from other suspects.
5 Start filling in the outline text with expanded scenes and dialogue.
5 Track the wordcount for each scene sequence every day.



One of the delights for any reader of cozy fiction has to be working out the identity of the real killer, from the range of possible suspects identified by our sleuth.

It is a delicous puzzle where the reward is justice for the victim and a rebalancing of the world order, in times when the real world seems to be in chaos.

My job as a writer is therefore to present the readers with a range of suspects who have convincing and credible reasons why they want the victim dead/injured. So lots of brainstorming is required.

In a short cozy mystery like Murder and Merlot, I think 5 suspects is enough for the reader to work through, but they do have to be compelling and individual. This can work especially well when we are in a small English village like Kingsmede in Hampshire, where people know one another – or do they?

  • Who has most to gain from the victim’s death?
  • Give everyone a secret and a motive – from paying for a nursing home for a beloved relative to revenge to greed. Passion and money are classic motives, but what about the deep secrets they are hiding?
  • Keep the motives different for each suspect but based on the relationships between people – envy, greed, revenge, resentment, fear of exposure etc..


Suspect 1 – the OBVIOUS KILLER

Suspect Roger Fitzpatrick
Motive Simon Lewis was theatening to take away his daughter’s future and everything he had given his life to achieve. Roger has given his life to his passion for wine and rose was his late wife’s favourite summer drink. The first time they met in the south of france she was drinking chilled rose.
Why now? Simon was buying the prime land that Roger had wanted for the expansion of red grapes to make his award winning rose wine. Simon paid 50% over the asking price and offered the farmer’s son a job in the vineyard.
Means Roger had access to the kitchen when the food was getting ready to go out – he could have added the peanut paste.
Secrets Roger has heart disease and is planning to retire and hand over the winery to his daughter Amy. This is his legacy.
Opportunity He knew this house  and where the food was – he delivered the wine earlier that day and had plenty of time when Amy was chatting with Lottie.
Alibi He stomps out the second after Simon is give the award  – shouting and angry. Amy goes after him.
How are they caught? Roger shouts at Simon and accuses him of cheating.


Suspect 2 – THE POSSIBLE KILLER linked to the victim.

Suspect Simon’s wife Margot Fraser
Motive [passion for Simon and her home]

Simon is moving to New York. She loves him, but he is bored. He is bored here and has done what he set out to do, and he is bored with her.  He wants to go back to the city. Once he has this award he doesn’t have any more interest in the vineyard.

Why now? He has asked Margot for a divorce that day, just before the awards. That was why he was late. He wanted to get it out of the way before he got the award. Took the prize. Leave on a high.
Means She feeds the birds finely chopped peanuts.
Secrets Margot knew all about a new girlfriend because he told her. Not the first and certainly not the last other woman in his life. But this time he wants to marry her – an American divorcee with taste in fine city life. Exactly the opposite of homely Margot and her country dogs.
Opportunity Margot runs the kitchens. Easy to add the peanuts.
Alibi She was in the house recovering from the shock then went down to the woods with her dogs to think.
How are they caught? Reveal – Simon was leaving her.


Suspect 3 – THE POSSIBLE KILLER who lives in the community

Suspect Hugo Fraser– Simon’s nephew who works for him. [money]
Motive Simon sacked him and told him to get packed and get out of the house by the end of the day. Simon knew all about Hugo’s gambling and drug problems. He had threatened to go to the police  – but Simon knew the pain that would cause his sister, Hugo’s mother. He is an only child.
Why now? Hugo sold all of his shares in Simon’s company a weeks earlier to try and pay back gambling debts. But Simon found out and they had a massive row that morning because Simon did not want the word getting out until he was ready to announce it to his investors.
Means Well known that Simon was allergic to peanuts.
Secrets Hugo has been covering up his drug and gambling problems for 10 yrs – without Simon he would be bankrupt.
Opportunity Hugo lives at the house during the weekends – he is a complete cheapskate. Knew the kitchens.
Alibi He was in the house drinking with the estate workers when Simon went to the front – so not in the room at the time – but full access to the kitchen fridges where the canapes were stored that morning.
How are they caught? Reveal – he was sacked that day. No more bail outs from simon.


Suspect 4 – THE OUTSIDER

Suspect Marcel DuBois. The judge at the Kingsmede Wine Festival.
Motive Simon was threatening to blow the whistle on him.
Why now? Simon had blackmailed him to turn the judges decision his way and was getting greedy
Means Marcel was one of Simon’s clients – knows all about the peanut allergy.
Secrets Simon had him in his pocket – he owes Simon a big favour which would ruin his career if it got out. Simon found out that Marcel had taken bribes in the past and has paid him to cheat and give his wine the award.
Opportunity Marcel was staying at the Fraser house and had full access to the festival rooms and kitchen.
Alibi Marcel was in the judging room when Simon ate the contaminated food.
How are they caught? Police find that Simon was paying Marcel a lot of money on the day before the contest.



Suspect Rachel Ellis.  Office manager for the Wine Growers Association
Motive Retribution and passion. She has been Simon’s mistress for the last 8 years but Simon went back to his wife when his business collapsed.
Why now? Simon means to divorce his wife and marry his super rich american girlfriend.
Means Rachel was responsible for organising the Wine Festival. She slips in to help clear the tables, wearing a black skirt and white blouse.
Secrets Her real name is Araminta Hargrove [Minta] She has changed her appearance and dress. Gone back to being a brunette. Unrecognisable to anyone who had known the old Minta.
Opportunity Nobody questions a waitress clearing tables. They are invisible, especially when the awards are just to be announced. Plus she was on the organising committee. Familiar face. Went into the kitchen when Simon came in, did not make eye contact. He did not recognise her.
Alibi She had already left the room with a tray of glasses and plates when simon collapsed.
How are they caught? MARCEL is attacked but not killed- witness.


So there we are – five suspects. Now to select one and make them into the real killer.

PS.  CLICK HERE to find out more about How to Write a Cozy Mystery.